The Mid Atlantic region is home to a variety of sunfish species. These small colorful fish are closely related to bass and crappie. Although biologists recognize a large number of sunfish species, freshwater anglers are are likely to encounter just a few types.
In the Mid Atlantic, several species of sunfish are called by generalized terms such as “sunfish”, “sun perch” or “bream”. Several types of sunfish occur in the Mid Atlantic, with each species occupying its own niche in local eco-systems. In some areas, several species of sunfish occur together.
The bluegill is by far the most common species of sunfish found in the Mid Atlantic. Adult bluegills are very attractive fish, especially males during the breeding season. The coloration of bluegills can vary considerably, depending on season, location, water conditions, and other factors. Adult bluegills are instantly recognizable by their prominent gill flaps which are deep blue to almost black in color. Bluegills display some amount of barring, especially on the upper body.
Often found with bluegill is the pumpkinseed, a similar species. Pumpkinseed are brightly marked with a brilliant crimson edge on their gill flap. Pumpkinseed are found in tidal rivers as well as freshwater creeks. They are also found in ponds, remote pools, and even small warmwater streams.
Pumpkinseed and bluegill are frequently stocked together in ponds as a forage species for largemouth bass. Occasionally pumpkinseed hybridize with bluegill, resulting in exceptionally large, brightly colored offspring.
Although not native to the Mid Atlantic, the redear sunfish, or shellcracker has been stocked extensively in lakes and reservoirs. They are the largest of North America’s sunfish. redears average 1 pound or less; trophy fish occasionally exceed 5 pounds.
The redbreast sunfish is found throughout the Mid Atlantic in small, warmwater streams, where it is sometimes one of the most plentiful species of fish. The redbreast is one of North America’s most colorful species of freshwater fish.
Green sunfish are another species that occurs in the Mid Atlantic. They are recognizable by their relatively large mouth and brightly colored fins. Although they can grow larger than most species, they have a reputation for overpopulating small ponds, resulting in stunted fish. Green sunfish are also found in cool creeks where they specialize in feeding on crayfish and other invertebrates.
Regardless of the species, sunfish that are large enough to clean make excellent table fare. Sunfish are considered to be among the best tasting freshwater fish found in North America. Large fish can be filleted while smaller specimens are simply headed and gutted. Traditionally, sunfish are served breaded and fried. Their flesh is mild tasting with a delicate texture.