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Hooks and Antlers: The sunfish is colorful and popular North American delight

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Centrarchidae is the scientific name for the members of the sunfish family, and the translation of this technical term is “nest builders.”

The sunfish are native only to North America. In addition to 30 native species, there are over 20 hybrids due to cross breeding between species such as the pumpkinseed and blue gill or the black crappie and the white crappie.

Members of the sunfish family prefer warm-water habitat such as ponds, shallow lakes, and protected bays of deep lakes and large rivers.

During spawning, the male builds the nest, protects the fertilized eggs, and guards the fry until they abandon the nest.

The three major groupings in the sunfish family are the true sunfish, the crappies, and the black bass.

THE TRUE SUNFISH

The most popular species in the true sunfish grouping include the bluegill, pumpkinseed, and redear sunfish, all of which have a brightly-colored appearance that merits the fish being labeled as sunfish.

The true sunfish are very popular among anglers because the fish are abundant in numbers, easy to catch, excellent table fare, and scrappy fighters.

If there is a negative aspect to sunfish, it lies in their tendency to overpopulate and become stunted in waters where there is a lack of larger predators.

The true sunfish do well in a wide range of water temperatures and water qualities. Their habitat preference is the quiet, warm, and weedy water of ponds, pits, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. Like their largemouth bass cousin, sunfish prefer shallow-water habitat where favorite feeding times are morning and evening.

CRAPPIES

Like the true sunfish, crappies can be found in waters in just about everybody’s backyard. In addition to widespread availability, the crappie’s popularity stems from its sporting and eating qualities.

The crappie group consists of the black crappie and the white crappie.

Though the two species have overlapping ranges, black crappies are more abundant in the northern portion of the United States while white crappies are more plentiful in the southern part of the country.

Crappies, pronounced “croppies,” have soft mouths, a characteristic that earned the fish the nickname of papermouth. Among the crappies other common names are calico bass and specks.

Crappies are similar to the true sunfish in the types of water the fish inhabit, in their spawning behaviors, and in their food preferences. Crappies differ from the true sunfish in that they spawn at slightly lower temperatures, they handle lower-oxygenated water better, they are roamers in their habitat, they suspend varying distances from bottom, and they have larger mouths so they have a stronger tendency to feed on small fish.

BLACK BASS

Most people don’t think of bass as sunfish, but black bass are members of the sunfish family. The three most popular bass are the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass, and they are likely called black bass because of their dark appearance as fry and their dark upper half as adults.

The black bass rank as North America’s favorite game fish for various reasons.

First of all, bass thrive in waters from coast to coast. In addition to their native waters in the eastern two-thirds of the United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico, bass have been stocked in waters throughout the United States and southern Canada.

Also, bass inhabit a wide range of waters from small ponds to massive reservoirs. Other factors contributing to the bass’s popularity are its aggressive feeding nature, susceptibility to a variety of presentations, and great fighting ability.

More so than other sunfish, bass are pursued for sport rather than eating.

Much of the sport fishing interest in bass likely stems from Ray Scott’s founding of the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society (B.A.S.S.) in 1968. B.A.S.S. has also played a key role in the popularity of catch-and-release fishing among the bass-angling fraternity.

Outdoors Calendar

June 9: Trap and Skeet Shoot at Lisbon Sportsmen’s Club on Pray Rd. at 5:30 p.m.

June 10: Monthly meeting of Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of SLC at Canton BOCES at 7 p.m.

June 11: Trap Shoot at Black Lake F&G Association at 7 p.m.

June 12: Monthly meeting of SLC Trappers Association at Lisbon Library at 6:30 p.m.

June 14: SLRWA 8th Annual Smackdown Walleye Tournament(www.stlawrenceriverwalleyeassociation.com).

June 21: Bass and muskellunge seasons open in New York State.

June 21: SLVSC Annual Opening Day Bass Derby.

June 21-22: Annual Henderson Harbor Smallmouth Bass and Walleye Derby.

June 28-29: Free Fishing Days in NYS.

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