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Sunfish

General Facts
The sunfish is one of the most widespread and abundant freshwater fish species in New Jersey. They are found throughout the state in water bodies ranging from small farm ponds to the state's largest lakes and reservoirs. There are several species of sunfish, but in New Jersey there are three most commonly fished for species: Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) and the Redbreast (Lepomis auritus).

Their widespread abundance, willingness to bite and high energy make them the perfect entertainment for a family fishing trip on a nice "sunny" day. They grow to an average of 6-8 inches with the pumpkinseed being on the smaller end of the ruler and the bluegill being on the bigger end. On light tackle they can provide exciting action for anglers young and old.

The three species are all brightly colored, especially during the months of June-August when they are spawning. Anyone who has walked along the edge of a pond during this spawning period is familiar with the gravel nests cleared by male sunfish for the female to deposit her eggs in. They spawn when water temperatures reach 68 degrees, usually in 1-3 feet of water. They are best differentiated by color and differences in their gill flaps. The bluegill exhibits a black, rounded gill flap, the pumpkinseed has a black gill flap with a bright red-orange tip and the redbreast has an elongated gill flap with a black spot at its tip.

Where
Sunfish are found in most freshwaters throughout the state. Most of the state's population lives within a five-minute drive of a water body with a population of sunfish. Good populations of bluegill and pumpkinseed can be found in municipal, county and state park ponds and lakes. Shoreline access is very good at these type areas. Many of New Jersey's streams and rivers that warm during summer months have good fishable populations of all three of these sunfish species.

The redbreast is commonly found along with smallmouth bass/rock bass in habitats such as small creeks, rivers and reservoirs. They are more active in cooler waters than bluegills and pumpkinseeds. The Delaware River has a good, fishable population of all three types of sunfish. For the angler looking to fish for larger sunfish try Ryker Lake (pdf, 240kb) in Sussex County or Rainbow Lake in Salem County. These two lakes have "Conservation Regulations" of minimum size limits of 7" and a creel limit of 10 fish instead of the statewide limit of 25. Try fishing the shorelines of any freshwater during the summer months for some fun, fast action.

When
Sunfish can be successfully fished for year round, but the months of May-October, when water temperatures are between 60-80 degrees, seem to be the most productive. If the winter is cold enough many ponds and lakes freeze safe enough to allow some ice fishing. The ice fishing season can be very productive for sunfish. The most popular method through the ice is jigging with small spoons or tear drop jigs tipped with meal worms or grubs. The great thing about fishing for sunfish is that on the bluebird days of summer when all other fish aren't biting, usually an angler can count on good action with "sunnies."

How
The most popular method for catching sunfish is no doubt with hook and bobber. An angler doesn't need high tech gear for these fish. Any department store or sports shop can equip you and your family with rod and reel combos, tackle and bait for hours of fun and excitement pursuing these widespread and popular fish.

Bluegill Sunfish Stocking Summary, 2013 (pdf, 13kb)
Bluegill Sunfish Stocking Summary, 2012 (pdf, 11kb)
Bluegill Sunfish Stocking Summary, 2011 (pdf, 11kb)

Bluegill Sunfish Fact Sheet (pdf, 29kb)
Redbreast Sunfish Fact Sheet (pdf, 27kb)

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: January 29, 2014