Common Names - redbelly, robin, yellowbelly sunfish, bream, river bream, longear sunfish, sun perch and redbreast bream.
Description - The redbreast is one of the brightest colored sunfishes. Males have yellow, orange or red breast, olive upper sides, blending into blue-tinged bronze on the lower sides and blue streaks on the cheek. Females are less colorful; their breasts are yellowish or pale red. The most distinguishing characteristic of this species is a long, narrow (no wider than the eye) extension of the gill cover. These flaps, which may reach a length of one inch or more, are entirely black.
The Bluegill and other species of the sunfish family make up some of the most common and fished for fish in the US. Although relatively small (usually less than ten inches, rarely over a pound) bluegills and other sunfish are easy and fun to catch. You will often find them in large schools, and can catch dozens of them. They have an extremely good flavor meat when cooked, and you can find them in just about any pond, lake, or river in the US. They are one of my favorite fish for their easiness to catch. Usually if I'm not catching much else I can still catch sunfish. Larger ones of more than 6 inches can be fun on ultralite tackle. Fishing for any species of the sunfish mentioned above is pretty much the same as the techniques mentioned for Bluegill below.
Habitat - Redbreasts inhabit sand-bottom areas as well as rocky areas of coastal-plain streams, rivers, and lakes. They frequently concentrate around boulders, limestone outcroppings, logs, aquatic vegetation, or in undercut tree roots.
Spawning Habits - They reproduce in typical sunfish fashion by constructing circular beds; but not clustered like bluegills, in water from one to three feet deep usually adjacent underwater objects such as stumps and snags. They often occupy beds that have been abandoned by other sunfishes. Spawning occurs from May through August when water temperatures range from 68 to 82 degrees. Males are the nest builders and guard the eggs and larvae for a short period after hatching. The number of eggs laid in a season ranges from about 1,000 to 10,000, varying with the age and size of the female.
Feeding Habits - The redbreast's diet is probably the most varied of any of the sunfishes. Principal food organisms are bottom-dwelling insect larvae, snails, clams, shrimp, crayfish, and small fish.
Sporting Qualities - Redbreasts are prized game fish and are caught on natural baits and artificial lures. They a good fighters and will bite on flies and small spinners, as well as worms, crickets, grasshoppers and small minnows. Unlike most sunfishes, redbreasts bite well at night. Fishing from a drifting or slowly powered boat is the best way to catch redbreasts, although angling from the bank can be productive.
Techniques - First of all you don't want to spook the fish with heavy line, don't use line over four pound test. Look at your summer fishing tackle and make everything smaller. Use smaller hooks with wax worms. You may want to use a small ice fly tipped with a wax worm. Experiment with colors of the ice fly until you find one that triggers a bite. Another way to trigger bites from inactive sunfish, jig your lure slowly and then allow it to sit still because the sunfish won't hit it when it is moving. And finally an important part beginners often overlook is bobbers. Don't use that clumsy red and white bobber. If you must use a bobber make it as thin and small as possible. Some people prefer sponge bobbers or slip bobbers but I like to use spring bobbers.
Eating Quality - The sweet, flaky, white flesh is excellent eating. They are most often fried after dipping them in seasoned cornmeal or pancake batter.
World Record - 1 pound, 12 ounces, caught in the Suwannee River, Florida, in 1984.
Fishing for Sunfish
use ultralite tackle and light line (2-6lb test)
Most of the year sunfish stay in shallow water. Sunfish stay in shallow water throughout the spring and summer usually going no deeper than 20 feet deep.
In the late fall, winter and/or ice fishing season look for them in deeper water (9-30 feet deep).
In a lake that has a variety of other sunfish it is almost impossible to try to single out and catch one of the species. Sunfish will stick in the same areas and eat mostly the same food.
Often the most effective bait and rig for sunnies is a bobber or slip bobber rig with a #6 or #8 hook with corn, worms or a small leech. Make sure the bobber is small and sensitive, using stick like bobbers rather than round bobbers will improve your results.
Sunfish will also feed off the bottom, espically the larger ones. Use a small 1/8-1/4 oz. sliding sinker and a 12 inch leader of the same or lighter line, or use a few small splitshot and no bobber. This method is often more effective when the water is choppy and/or the fish are sluggish. Corn or worms are the best choices for this type of rig.
When aggressive enough, the leech is a better option, it will stay on the hook better and often discourages the smaller ones and entices the larger sunfish to bite it. Make sure it is small (about an inch in length).
Earthworms are also a good choice, they are less expensive and easier to get/keep than leeches and are better for sunfish when they are picky. It is easier for them to pick the worm off the hook and you will catch a lot of smaller ones this way.
Corn on a bobber or bottom rig works too. It is a good choice for larger sunfish. Not as productive as leeches and worms, but a lot more economical and easier to keep, it is often a good bait to use. Smaller sunfish have a problem getting the corn in their mouths, but its often not as effective as live bait. Canned sweet corn, or sweet corn off a fresh cob (make sure the corn is soft) usually works the best. Put 2-3 kernels on a bobber rig or bottom rig mentioned above. Frozen and field corn aren't generally very productive so try to avoid using them.
Crappie minnows can also work. Fish them much the same as you would for crappies. This bait will catch mostly bigger ones only.
For artificial baits, small tube jigs, flu flus and beetle spins are good choices for sunfish (1/32oz-1/8oz). Make sure you use an ultralite rod so you can cast these tiny baits and also feel when a sunfish strikes.
Sunfish are common and fun to catch through the ice. Use a very small jigging spoon (1/32 or 1/64 oz even) or small jig and tip it with a wax worm, maggots or a small minnow. Use a very small slip bobber much smaller than you would use for regular fishing. Set the hook earlier then you normally would, they aren't as aggressive and less likely to pull it as far under the ice. During ice cover they tend to stay close to the bottom; from a few inches off to about 3 feet. Also use extremely light line no more than 4lb test in the winter because they become very spooky and can see an notice heavier lines.
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