Going Back to the Sunfish
The first fish I remember catching as a child without any help was a sunfish. I was given a cane pole and told to practice. Down an old Pennsylvania dirt road and past an ancient one room school house was a small bridge. The bridge stretched over a creek so small that it was a trickle most of the year. However, just below the bridge was a deep pool where the creek widened and the fish gathered. They were small, but these sunfish were my white whales.
My parents warned of water snakes that hung out in the area, but allowed me to ride my bike to the bridge. I would cruise down the dirt road with my eight foot pole stretched across the handlebars. It must have been a sight to see. My father would let me have hooks from his tackle box, but for bait I was forced to check the pantry and refrigerator. My bait of choice was typically either kernels of sweet corn or pieces of hot dog.
All summer I would sit on this bridge and dangle my hook in the water. The pool was crystal clear and you could see every fish. As the bait would get closer to the larger fish, I could see them suck it into their mouths. I learned to set the hook by watching the fish as I jerked the rod. This process of watching the fish take my bait, reeling it in, setting it free, and then repeating was the best fishing education for which I could have asked.
While I have always seen sunfish as fishing for kids, I have found circles of anglers who target them regularly. They are a reliable catch, so bringing in your limit is relatively easy. In addition, they are quite tasty compared to the bass and catfish that I normally catch and eat. In this article I will cover some tips to help you be more successful when targeting sunfish.
Gear and Rig
The biggest mistake that people make when targeting sunfish is using gear for larger fish. Almost all of the sunfish I have caught are less than two pounds. Their bites can be subtle, and it is easy to jerk the hook out of their mouth as they have soft lips. Because of this, I suggest an ultralight rod and reel. Your line should be a thinner line, and two to six pound test is ideal. Anything stronger than this will reduce your odds.
The best way to learn to catch sunfish is using a bobber. Always use a small hook, and a #6 or #8 is about right. A small bobber or slip bobber is the best option, as these are small fish and have a hard time pulling down the bobber.
On windy days, fishing the bottom may be the best bet. You can keep using a bobber giving more line below and adding a 1/8 ounce or ¼ ounce split shot to weigh it down. However, the best option for windy days is using a few split shots with no bobber.
Where and When
Sunfish are mostly fished in the warm waters found during the spring and summer. They will almost always be found close to shore. During the heat of the summer they can be in water as shallow as a few feet. In colder weather they can go as deep as 30 feet. Either way, you are best to fish right from the shore or from a dock.
You can also icefish for sunfish if you have the time and patience. During the winter they are always within three feet of the bottom. Use the smallest line you have with a very lightweight bobber. Weight it down and put a small spoon or small jig on the end. Then bait the hook and drop it in the hole in the ice. Be sure to set the hook early as the fish will try to pull your bobber under the ice.
There are several forms of bait that can work for sunfish. The real question is the size of bait to use. If you only want to target larger fish, then minnows or leeches are a good option. Only the larger fish will be able to swallow this bait. For a variety of sizes you can use any type of worm. Earthworms are probably the most popular. Corn kernels are still quite popular and work fine if you have no other type of bait.
If you prefer to go for something artificial, you have a few options. Tube jigs are about the right size to go after this type of fish. Beetle spins and power bait are also commonly used.
Sunfish are found to be lacking intelligence, and are not very picky on what they will strike. There have been times sunfish have even struck a bare hook because of the motion on the water. However, they can be great fun and good eating. If you want fish in the pan and like numbers more than size, get your ultralight and get after them.