Scientific name: Lepomis gibbosus
Common names: common sunfish, sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow sunfish, round sunfish.
This is the number one fish for kids to catch all over Wisconsin! They are small (smaller than eight inches long) and like the shallow water where they can be caught by kids of all ages from the shore or pier. Wear your life jacket and hold onto your pole, they can put up a good fight! They also taste good when pan fried - that's why they are also called "panfish."
There is nothing common about the appearance of this member of the sunfish family with a rainbow of colorful stripes and spots. Look for a purplish-red half-moon shape on the black spot located on the gill flap - this red marking tells this fish apart from the bluegill with similar markings. The pumpkinseed's breast and belly are orange to red-orange, and its back and sides are brown to olive. The sides and back are speckled with orange, yellow, blue and emerald spots, also found on the rear, bottom and tail fins on some fish. Look for seven to eight dark vertical bands on its sides, alternating orange-brown and emerald or light blue, radiating back from the snout along the head and over the gill cover (operculum). The most colorful of the pumpkinseeds are the males who are breeding. The spiny-ray dorsal fins are joined and look like one big fin on their backs - but watch out for the sharp spines on the top and bottom if you hold one - ouch!
Pumpkinseeds live in ponds, small lakes, bays of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, streams and in the backwaters of the Mississippi River. Look for them in pairs or groups of three or four in areas with plants or submerged brush. They cut through the water by swimming at right angles, like kites in the wind, searching for insect larvae (especially mosquito larvae), mollusks, snails, other crustaceans, and small fish. Their mouths have blunt teeth on brushlike pads along the jaw, and a few teeth like molars. Gill rakers (comb-like structures on gills) help filter small food particles from the water for feeding time in the afternoons.
Like other sunfish, the pumpkinseed builds a nest where they spawn when the water reaches between 55-63 degrees Fahrenheit. Males sweep out a saucer-shaped hole in the lake or streambed with their tail and move rocks with their mouth to form a four to 15 inch diameter nest in late spring. Nests are built in colonies, which may have as many as 10-15 nests. Females may produce from 1,500-7,000 eggs, which are fertilized by the male as they swim together in circles. The eggs hatch in two to three days and males protect the young. Pumpkinseeds live an average of nine years.
To catch these petite beauties, grab any pole and wade in the shallows with some garden worms, insects, leeches, or pieces of fish. Try fly fishing for them. In early and late winter, try insect larvae and grubs. Check current fishing regulations for information on the season and how many you can keep.