It’s the week for pumpkins and hauntings, so let’s look at a fish whose haunts include pretty much all of Connecticut’s freshwater lakes and ponds: the pumpkinseed sunfish.
Because they’re abundant, live to close to shore and aren’t picky about bait, “sunnys” are the fish that many of us caught the first time we ever cast a line.
Pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus) are among the most common of the sunfish – a family that includes bluegill, crappies and the black basses.
They’re shaped less sleekly than how you picture most fish; they’re shaped more like discs or … like pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkinseeds range in North America from New Brunswick down the East Coast to South Carolina and west into the Midwest. They’ve been introduced in Washington and Oregon.
They’re generally 6 to 8 inches long and weigh about half a pound. The record pumpkinseed in Connecticut is 1 lb., 3 oz.
Sunnys tend to hug the shoreline of lakes, ponds and slow streams, especially around weed beds and docks. They eat smaller fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects and worms. When hooked, they put up a good little fight. They’re generally too small to try to make a meal out of, so most are catch-and-release.
Their willingness to bite sometimes annoys anglers whose bait is meant for bass or other game fish.
(Another way that sunfish are unappreciated involves an invasive species: the aquatic plant called Eurasian watermilfoil. This noxious plant is the bane of such Connecticut lakes as Candlewood Lake. Studies have shown that attempts to introduce aquatic insects to eat the milfoil are … er … foiled when there is a larger population of sunfish. The sunfish eat the insects before the insects can eat the milfoil.)
Did you just catch a bluegill or a sunfish? Pumpkinseeds are more vibrantly colored but here’s the best clue: look at the black spot by its gill slit. Pumpkinseeds have a bright red half-moon-shaped spot there. Bluegill don’t. Also, both species have vertical dark bands on their sides, but those on a bluegill are more obvious.
Here’s a helpful website that makes it easy to figure out of you caught a bluegill or a sunfish or something related: http://www.tnfish.org/FishIdentificationID_TWRA/TWRA_Sunfish_Identification_Key.htm