I’ve provided information about the biology of bluegill and redear sunfish, Mississippi’s two most-popular sunfish, in the two previous columns.
In this installment, I’ve lumped green sunfish and warmouth together because they share a common trait: They eat fish.
Yes, almost all sunfish eat a few fish now and then. Bluegill are notorious for robbing eggs and fry from bass beds, but their fish consumption is limited to morsels less than 1/2 inch long.
Green sunfish and warmouth both have large mouths, and are capable of eating larger fish. Fish are not usually the mainstay of their diet, but they do eat fish.
In this regard, you don’t want them in small ponds managed for bass and bluegill because they compete with the bass, and make it even more likely that food will become limited for bass and recruitment of “bream” might falter.
Green sunfish, often called pond perch or pool perch, live in a variety of habitats but are most common and become most abundant in shallow, soft-bottom ponds and lakes.
Among the sunfish clan, they are the most tolerant of harsh environmental conditions such as turbid water, low dissolved oxygen and high temperature.
They grow quickly to 4 to 6 inches by age 2, but then growth slows. Green sunfish rarely grow larger than about 10 inches.
The Mississippi state record is 1.3 pounds.
Spawning occurs in late spring and continues through the summer.
Like other sunfishes, males build saucer-sized nests in colonies in shallow water. The male aggressively courts the female to the nest, and is reported produce a series of distinctive grunts to coerce “his lady.”
The male guards the nest and fry. Eggs hatch in about 36 to 48 hours, depending on water temperature.
Green sunfish can mature at sizes as small as 3 inches. This is conducive to overpopulation because even slow-growing, crowded green sunfish are capable of spawning and furthering an overpopulation problem.
Females can produce 15 ,000 to 45,000 eggs per year.
Diets of green sunfish include a wide range of insect larvae, and the size of foods increases with fish size. Large green sunfish eat crayfish and, as mentioned, small fish.
Green sunfish are aggressive and readily caught on a variety of live and artificial baits, including many lures bass anglers use.
Green sunfish naturally hybridize with bluegill and redear sunfish. Hybrids between female green sunfish and male bluegill or redear sunfish are commercially produced for stocking into small ponds.
These hybrids grow fast and to sizes larger than either parent. One local “market” name for these hybrids is “Georgia giants,” a somewhat unusual name because most work on hybrid sunfish started in Illinois.
Also known as the goggle-eye and stumpknocker, among many other colorful local names, warmouth live in a variety of shallow, standing and slowly flowing waters.
But they are most abundant in areas with clear water and dense vegetation. Their mottled brown to gray or tan coloration looks like a fish that would live in dense vegetation.
Spawning occurs during late spring throughout summer.
Males build solitary nests in shallow water, usually in areas of dense vegetation or near a stump or other cover. When a courting male approaches a potential mate, his body color changes to yellow and the eyes become blood red.
The male aggressively guards the eggs, which hatch in about 30 to 36 hours.
Similar to green sunfish, warmouth grow to about 4 to 6 inches in 2 years, but they grow larger than green sunfish, maxing out at 10 to 12 inches.
The Mississippi record is 1.5 pounds.
Warmouth mature at about 4 inches long, and large females can produce up to 50,000 eggs per year. Multiple spawning during a summer has been documented.
Unlike green sunfish, warmouth are not known to over-populate.
Warmouth are aggressive and relatively hard-fighting sportfish, and they can be caught on a variety of live baits and artificial lures.
I had numerous encounters with warmouth when I fished in the densely vegetated lakes in Florida.
Bass fishing in these lakes commonly involved pitching soft-plastic baits into dense aquatic vegetation. While our target was bass, we often caught warmouth and occasionally bowfin.
Often, after setting the hook, the fish would get “pinned” in the dense vegetation. The solution was simple — slide your hand down the line and grab the jaw of the fish.
Execution was a little more exciting. Because you couldn’t see the fish, identification was by feel. Although finding a warmouth at the end of the line was always a disappointment, it was also much less painful than making a mistake and “lipping” a bowfin.
Many more sunfish
In addition to bluegill, redear sunfish, green sunfish and warmouth, Mississippi is home to nine other species of sunfish. These range from the diminutive blue-spotted sunfish that rarely grows longer than 1.5 inches and usually occupies ditches and backwater pools to the colorful longear sunfish popular with stream anglers.