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Michigan's Best Sunfish Waters - Out In Michigan


BluegillIf there’s a favorite family of fish in Michigan, it is no doubt the members of the sunfish family. Found virtually everywhere in the state, sunfish – bluegills, redears, pumpkinseeds, green sunfish, rock bass and warmouth – are small but prolific. They are often the first fish an angler catches in his career and some fishermen continue to target them throughout life. They offer year-round angling opportunities with liberal daily limits (25 in combination).

Bluegills are the most abundant and most commonly pursued, though it isn’t unusual to catch other sunfish species while fishing for them. They readily take all manner of live bait; although they have small mouths so smaller offerings – leaf worms, red worms, wax worms or crickets – are preferred.

girl with bluegillBluegills can usually be found year-round around aquatic vegetation. The most traditional way to fish for bluegills is with live bait under a bobber, though they will take small artificial lures (spinners, jigs and spinner-jig combinations) and can be taken on both surface and subsurface flies. Bluegills can usually be found in shallow water, but they will often go deep in both summer and winter. They are popular with ice fishermen who typically use small flies or teardrops tipped with insect larva. Because they sometimes suspend in the winter, ice fishermen often use depth finders to zero in on the appropriate depth. At any time of year, light line (2-pound test or even monofilament sewing thread) and small (No, 12) hooks are appropriate.

Sunfish spawn in the spring and it is during the bedding season that they easily taken. Community nesters, most sunfish make their beds in the shallows and anglers offering any manner of bait in and around the beds are usually rewarded. Fly fishermen using popping bugs, rubber spiders or nymphs can be rewarded with fine sport. Anglers will sometimes catch a variety of species from the same spawning beds and the fish will sometime hybridize.

Readear sunfish are not native to Michigan but have been planted in a number of lakes in the lower two or three tiers of counties in southern Michigan. boy and girl with bluegillAlso known as “shellcrackers” because they often feed on small mollusks, redears are less likely to take artificial baits and flies than bluegills and are often fished with tight lines on the bottom.

Rock bass, green sunfish and warmouth (also known and goggle-eyes) all have larger mouths than the other sunfish species and can be taken on larger lures. Like other sunfish, they are usually associated with cover – more often around brush or rocks than the other species – and are often taken incidentally by bass fishermen.


pumpkinseedAlso known as the common sunfish – or just plain sunfish – the pumpkinseed is a popular panfish that tends to stay in shallower water than its better-known cousin, the bluegill. Like bluegills, pumpkinseeds have dark, rigid gill flaps, though the pumpkinseed’s gill cover has a spot of red on the tip. They can be distinguished from bluegills by the aqua-blue lines that radiate from the mouth and nose and typically sport a bright orange belly.Shaped slightly differently than bluegills – they are typically “taller” from belly to dorsal fin than bluegills and often weigh more at the same length – pumpkinseeds prefer weed patches, sunken logs or docks for cover. They are easily caught on a variety of baits, lures or flies and are more willing to take small fish or minnows than bluegills. As a result, pumpkinseeds populations are less likely to be stunted; as they tend to thin their own numbers.

Like bluegills, pumpkinseeds are community nesters, with spawning beginning in late May. They are often taken from the same areas as bluegills when bedding and in lakes with populations of both sunfish, a typical catch would include members of both species.

Rock Bass
rock bass photoRock bass are the Rodney Dangerfields of the sunfish family. Also commonly called “red-eye bass,” because of one of their most distinguishing characteristics, they are perhaps the least targeted of Michigan’s sunfish. Elongated in shape (more like black bass than other sunfish such as bluegills, red-ears, pumpkinseeds), rock bass are hearty pan fish that differ from most other sunfish in one major way – they have large mouths. It isn’t necessary to go to diminutive lures or tiny flies when fishing for rock bass; they are often caught incidentally by bass fishermen targeting much larger fish.Rock bass, which are rarely targeted by many anglers, are aptly named as they are often found around stone rubble or large rocks, though they can be caught in the weed beds or around submerged brush, too. Commonly found in association with smallmouth bass, rock bass, like other sunfish, travel in schools and can be found in both rivers and lakes. Like other sunfish, they move shallow to spawn and are often caught by crappie fishermen in spring. As table fare, their flesh is comparable to that of other sunfish.

Rock bass will take all manner of artificial lures, flies and live bait. Although the state record is 3.26 pounds, two-pound specimens are rare and a one-pound rock bass (or an 11-inch specimen, caught and released) is recognized as a Master Angler fish.

Redear Sunfish
Though not native to Michigan but to regions to the south, redear sunfish provide good fishing opportunity in more than 40 lakes in Michigan, most of them in the lower two tiers of counties in the Lower Peninsula.Michigan fisheries biologists began experimental stockings of redear sunfish in the mid 1950s and had some success in creating self-sustaining populations. In the mid 1980s, fisheries managers began stocking more lakes with the idea of creating Photo of redear sunfishfisheries with larger panfish in them. Results have been impressive; trap net surveys conducted in 30 lakes with mature redear populations showed the average specimens to be 8.7 inches, more than two inches longer than the average bluegill or pumpkinseed caught in the same surveys.

More likely to be associated with woody debris and/or open water than bluegills or pumpkinseeds, which prefer vegetation, redear populations do not appear to negatively impact other sunfish species. Redears prefers mollusks as food items – hence one of their common names, “shellcrackers” – and are less susceptible to anglers using artificial lures or flies than other sunfish species.

Anglers typically fish for redears on the bottom, rather than higher in the water column, with live bait such as red worms or leaf worms. Because of the plumpness of their bodies, redears can be kept for food at shorter lengths than bluegills.

Coldwater Lake in Branch County, Baw Beese Lake in Hillsdale County and Wamplers Lake is Jackson and Lenawee counties have all produced multiple Master Angler (weighing one pound or more or measuring 10 inches or longer) redears in recent years.

Sunfish Better Fishing Waters 
Sunfish Better Fishing Waters


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