Sunfish, also known as Panfish are very popular fish in the USA. Most of us started out learning to fish by catching these scrappy and tasty little fighters. For the purposes of fishing, the term panfish refers to members of the Centrarchidae family, which also includes bass and crappie, but they are in a different class of fishing.
The alternate term for sunfish is panfish, and was first used in 1796 in a cookbook called “American Cookery”, written by Amelia Simmons, and is the first known cookbook written by an American. Sunfish have a firm flaky flesh with a deliciously sweet, almost shrimpy or lobstery taste.
Fishing for sunfish isn’t hard to learn, nor does it require a lot of expensive equipment.
They can be caught forever with nothing more than a cane pole and just about any kind of bait. The bait can be any kind of insect, larvae, arachnid, crustacean, mollusk, worm, small amphibian, lizard, small baitfish, corn, fish eggs, or even just a rolled up ball of bread.
They enthusiastically hit any kind of small lure, like Ultralite-sized Rooster Tails, Mepps, Panther-Martins, jigs, poppers, crankbaits, soft plastics, swimbaits, and especially flies. Low-end rod and reel combos, and fly combos work just fine for all species of sunfish.
Essential Tips On How To Catch Sunfish
One of the things that make sunfish so popular is that they are extremely cooperative about biting.
If you find them, you will catch them. Another thing is that oz. for oz. a sunfish can outfight anything that swims in freshwater. They pull hard, make tight circles, and don’t give up even after they are out of the water.
Where sunfish are concerned, it’s not about the fish in the fight…. It’s all about the fight in the fish. On light tackle, they are absolute demons.
There are many ways to catch them. I like fishing for them with a cane, or fiberglass telescoping pole, 5-lb. test line, a ⅛ oz. split shot, a pencil bobber, and a #8 long-shank cricket hook baited with a piece of worm.
You don’t need to use the whole worm. Just break the worm in a piece big enough to cover the whole hook, shank and all, and save the rest for later.
Thread the worm all the way up the hook and make sure the hook point stays in the worm. If the hook point is exposed, they won’t bite. If you are getting hits, then they stop, check your worm. It is either gone or the hook is showing.
Fix it and go back to the same spot. The fish will be there waiting.
Sunfish are the world’s best bait-stealers. It takes some practice to know when to hook them. Wait until they are moving off with the bait to hook them.
Many times, they will grab the end and hang on, letting you pull the bait off the hook for them. When you catch a fish, check the worm. Many times you can just re-thread it back on the hook and re-use the same worm to catch 4 or 5 fish.
They seem to really like them after they’ve been chewed on a bit. If you lose that part of the worm, use the other half of the same worm from earlier.
You can rig a light rod and reel combo the same way.
They will eat worms, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, or whatever you’ve got. If you plan to use crickets, bring a lot of them because the sunfish are experts at getting them off the hook. They will also hit small jigs, topwater lures, spinners, and crankbaits. Beetle Sins are particularly deadly on sunfish in black and chartreuse colors.
Fly fishing is the most fun way to bag sunfish. Use a 5 wt or 6 wt rod and a light, 5’ leader. No need for long trout leaders here. Sunfish are not line-shy. They will hit any fly you throw at them, whether it is a dry fly, nymph, wet fly, or terrestrial. They don’t care. They are especially fond of green foam spiders with white rubber legs. They also love Chernobyl Ants. Deer-Hair poppers are deadly. To tell a secret, I would just as soon catch sunfish on my fly rods as trout.
What To Do With Your Catch: Tasty Sunfish Recipe
Not only are sunfish easy to catch, they are very easy to prepare.
My favorite way is to simply cut off the head, clean out the body cavity, scale them, and make several transverse cuts along each side.
Then dredge them in an egg wash, cornmeal, and flour, and fry them crispy. This way you get to eat all the fish, bones, fins and everything. If you’ve never had a sunfish fixed this way, you’ve really missed something special. They can, of course, be filleted just like any other fish. They can be fried, broiled, baked, boiled, or used to make outstanding fish chowder.
Here is another way I love sunfish. Fillet them and set them aside. Heat up your oven to 350ºF. While the oven is heating, mix kale and cabbage, toss them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet.
Place in the oven and bake until it starts to get soft. While the greens are baking, mix some lemon or lime juice in some olive oil, garlic powder, and salt, about 1 part lemon juice to 4 parts olive oil, and the garlic to taste. Stir until it makes a nice emulsion.
When the greens are starting to get soft, arrange the fillets on top of them and continue baking until the fish is delectably flaky. Remove from the oven and plate the greens with the fish on top. Drizzle the lemon Olive Oil over the top, and serve with hush puppies, potatoes and a a nice salad. You won’t believe how great this is…
Another great recipe is to fillet the sunfish. Set them aside and boil some water with Crab Boil in it. When it boils, drop in the fillets and let them cook until they float. Remove and serve. For an added kick, you can sprinkle a little Old Bay on them.
These will taste a lot like little lobster bites… no kidding.
Where ever you live, chances are there are sunfish available nearby. It is the most fun fishing you can do. Treat yourself to a great afternoon and catch some sunfish. Don’t forget t take the youngsters with you and teach them as well. Teaching a child to fish is one of the best ways to keep them away from drugs, crime, and other undesirable activities. It builds character.