The Sun Is Shining and So Are the Sunfish
Story by Tom Pagliaroli
This is the time during the spring-through-autumn fishing frenzy season that we take a breather, and back it down a bunch of notches.
The bass, the pickerel, the channel catfish, the carp, the hybrid stripers...all are put aside for a few days. Ditto the fluke, the sea bass, the ling, the bonito.
Enter the sunfish, aka “sunnie”, that slab-sided, shallow water bully with a big fish appetite and body built for pulling broadside. Dubbed by an angling scribe who know how many generations ago as the “Prince of Panfish”, the sunnie clan in New Jersey is comprised by the bluegill and the pumpkinseed and, to a much lesser extent, the newcomer invasive, the green sunfish.
It’s the former pair most of us are familiar with since childhood, as these were most likely the first fish caught when introduced to the game on a pond or lake.
Yeah, a kid’s quarry: dangle a piece of garden worm or a meal worm or a cricket under a bobber, and there you have it. Sunnies, especially the smaller ones, say 3 to 5-inches, are generally caught in numbers and can really get a youngster fired-up for fishing. A giant first step, if you will.
However, when they’ve added some length and girth, these palm-size over-achievers make for great fun on ultra-light spinning tackle and 4-weight fly fishing outfits.
And they fry up “real good”.
The ubiquitous sunnie is found just about anywhere, save for the acidic waters in the pine barrens creeks and bogs. Chances are your local pond or lake is loaded, and most likely they are ignored. This makes for wide open opportunities, and one can make it as simple or esoteric as one wants.
Ideally, if fishing with youngsters, the aforementioned bait-under-a-bobber setup is perfect. Kids of all ages (including yours truly) thrill at the sight of a float jiggling and then disappearing under the surface. By all means keep the size of the bobber on the smaller side, i.e. avoid the hand grenade sizes. Sure, a sunnie can pull, but keeping things downsized will give the fish a chance to show its mettle.
At first light until full sun up, and then again from the first hint of sunset through dusk until dark, the “bulls” emerge from their deeper water haunts and invade the shallows. This is when an ultra-light spinning setup, complete with 2-4lb. test mono and a 1/16 to 1/32 oz. jighead/grub offering, such as a Mr. Twister Meeny or Nymph, or Trout Magnet (don’t let the name fool you) really shines. So pugnacious are these 7 to 12-inch antagonists that they’ll whack tiny surface plugs, or chase and grab miniature crankbaits. Our faves are the Yo-Zuri Snap Bean and Goby.
Either time phase provides rare sport via the fly rod. Bushy #8 and #10 dry flies such as the Irresistible, Elk Hair Caddis and/or Wulff (white or brown), or a small cork popper will be sucked down within a subtle twitch or two once the rings of its landing have subsided.
Summer sunnies mean summer fun. Take a break and return to where it all began. As Capt. Ken Gallop emphatically states, “We’re all big kids!”
Bonus Tags: The striped bass bonus tag applications are available via the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s website. Remember, even if you had a tag last year, you must re-apply. Visit www.njfishandwildlife.com, click the Saltwater Fishing link and scroll down to the Bonus Tag information.