Question of the day; What was the first species of fish you caught when you started freshwater fishing? It was probably a freshwater sunfish. There are many different species of sunfish such as bluegill, pumpkin seed, redear, and Johnny Roach among others. But it seems that because sunfish are easy to catch, they don’t get the respect they deserve. A 10 pound largemouth bass is worshiped while a freshwater sunfish is tossed into a bucket to fry a fish. Think about it; How many sunfish did you see mounted and hung on a wall?
Over the years I have introduced some new anglers to fishing by first teaching them how to catch sunfish. How do you hit the best bait for sunfish, namely bobber and worm? This combination not only catches sunfish, but also develops freshwater fishing skills that can be used with other techniques. Beginners learn to cast, hook, fight, and land a fish. But I like fishing for Sunfish on my own, and it’s fun to catch them with other tackle, especially on a light fly rod. Here are a few sunfish angling tips that are even more fun.
1. Small hooks
The first step in catching sunfish is to remember that they have small mouths. So if you use a big hook you will be missing a lot. Sunfish become bait stealers, and they will follow and pick, but you put a lot on the net. Hook sizes in 12-16 increase the connections.
2. Worms in spring, flies in summer
Species of sunfish migrate to the shallows to spawn in the spring, and you will see their reds along the shoreline. I don’t fish for them when they’re in a nest, but it runs before and after spawning. Worms and bobbers are great for the early season, but fly fishing with wet flies and small streamers like Wooly Worms or Wooly Buggers is a breeze.
3. Go easy
Sunfish can bend a light fly rod with 2 or 3 weights. Of course, they’re not like a bluefin tuna in stand-up gear. That means it is fun to deal with lightweight equipment.
4. Make it fun by stalking or fishing
Look for sunfish that cruise in shallow water or on the edges of a pond. Place a small ant, inchworm, or beetle under a branch. Live bait or a fly is fun. This type of visual fishing is fun with any type of fish, but it changes the way we think about the common sunfish.
The age-old question of how to catch sunfish is simple; as you want, as you can. But go and catch them. They are a lot of fun for anglers of all abilities. Use our interactive map to find places to fish for sunfish near you.
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Tom Keer is an award-winning writer living on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a contributing writer for Covey Rise magazine, a contributing editor for Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program. Keer is a regular contributor to over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics including fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor activities. When not fishing, Keer and his family hunt highland birds over their three English setters. His first book, A New England Coast Fly Fishing Guide, was published in January 2011. Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or www.thekeergroup.com.