The Sunny Side of the Stream

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Longear sunfish are the most numerous and widely distributed sunfish over the southern half of Missouri. They're the brilliantly colored fish that spawn in groups along the shallows of stream pools from mid-May through early-August.

Longear refers to the elongated opercula or gill flaps especially prominent in males. The color of spawning males--bright orange-red along the belly with mottled emerald back and sides--rivals that of the most beautiful tropical fish.

Longear sunfish may be confused with another colorful panfish, the pumpkinseed. Pumpkinseeds, common in the northern United States, have been recorded only twice in natural waters in Missouri.

Though many stream anglers stop to admire clusters of spawning longear sunfish, most do not try to catch them because they are small. Adult longear sunfish average between 5 and 6 inches long and weigh less than 6 ounces. Yet longear sunfish more than make up for their small size in their abundance and their willingness to bite. They are also wonderful to eat.

You can catch longear sunfish with a variety of artificial and live baits. They readily take small jigs, spinners and spinnerbaits. If you prefer to use live bait, a small minnow or a piece of a big minnow threaded on a size 6 hook works well. Longear sunfish also eagerly strike crickets, grasshoppers and worms; however, these are often stripped from the hook by small longears before larger ones have a chance to bite.

To catch longear sunfish when wading or floating clear creeks, locate and approach a cluster of spawning males. Cast a minnow weighted with a small split shot past them, then drag the weighted bait onto a bed and wait. A strike is all but guaranteed. When floating some of the larger, deeper streams in the Missouri Ozarks, where a lack of water clarity might prevent spotting clusters of spawning longears, cast small lures to rocky or weedy cover. A small grub and spinner usually will do the trick.

When caught on ultralight gear, a hooked longear sunfish puts up quite a fight. They pull and tug, darting this way and that. And you can catch and keep large numbers--both on and off spawning beds--with a clear conscience. Longear sunfish are officially recognized as non-game fish. Accordingly, limits are liberal. You can bring an aggregate of 50 non-game fish home in a day.

Like longear sunfish, green sunfish in Missouri also are considered non-game fish. Often called black perch or pond perch by

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