Species spotlight: Green sunfish

Green sunfish are small, but also fun to catch, and good to eat.

Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) are one of the most misunderstood, and most misidentified, of all panfish species.

These fish have slender, thick bodies, which are usually greenish-brown and marked by irregular, vertical bars of blue-green along the sides. They are slightly longer in proportion to their bodies than most other panfish.

Green sunfish also have a larger mouth than most other sunfish. This leads to the fish being misidentified often. Some anglers even mistake them as a hybrid between bream and bass or between crappie and bream. But it’s just another species of panfish.

It is also often misidentified as a warmouth sunfish because of the size of its mouth and other factors.

A series of iridescent bluish lines radiate from the fish’s mouth to its earflap. It is quite a colorful fish, with many shades of blue, green, orange, brown, black and even white, mostly on the very edge of the fins.

The ear flap, or operculum, is black and outlined in faint orange, yellow or white. The breast of a green sunfish is usually orange or yellow, but can appear dark green or black in certain bodies of water.

Although usually thick-bodied, these fish do not generally grow very large. The average length is 6 to 8 inches, with an average weight of 5 to 8 ounces. They are, however, valiant fighters, and will put ultralight tackle (and anglers) to the test when hooked.

Where they can be found

Green sunfish are among the longest-living panfish, with a life expectancy in the wild of about 7 years.

The fish are found throughout the southeast, in many different types of water bodies. They thrive in lakes, ponds, swamps, rivers and streams. Although they can adapt to most any type of water, they prefer to live in the slow pools of rivers and streams.

Green sunfish are opportunistic feeders, eating insects, small fish and crayfish. Many anglers catch them on crickets, worms, Beetle Spins and tiny crankbaits.

Beginning in the spring, and continuing all summer, these fish create nests by fanning out areas like most other panfish do. They are fond of creating large groups of nests, usually near some type of structure like logs, banks or aquatic vegetation.

Females can lay between 2000 and 10,000 eggs in a spawning season.

Green sunfish are fun to catch and are known as great tablefare.

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