Redear Sunfish

If you go fishing in North American waters, the chances of you biting a Redear Sunfish are extremely high. The reason for this is that these freshwater sportfish that are very popular with anglers are fairly common in the US. 

The red gilled (eared) fish are Southeastern natives that have been introduced to the waters of North America as time has gone on. 

There are several reasons that Redear Sunfish has become a favorite for anglers throughout the years–some of which will be explored in this guide to Redear Sunfish. 

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a fishing newbie, there’s plenty to learn about this particular fish. Keep reading to find out more about these fish from what they are, where you can find them, and how to effectively catch them. 

What is a Redear Sunfish Fish? 

The Lepomis Microlophis or Redear Sunfish are also widely known in the angling community as shellcracker, cherry gill, rouge ear sunfish, improved bream, sun perch, chinquapin, and Georgia bream. 

Their scientific name of “Lepomis Microlophus” comes from the Greek of “Lepomis” which means “scaled gill cover” and microporous, meaning “small nape”. The Redear Sunfish is a part of the Centrarchidae family,  that is also commonly called by the name “Sunfish”. While they are often mistaken for Bluegill fish, Redear Sunfish are distinguished by their red ear patch on the gill plate. 

Several factors influence the appearance of the Redear Sunfish, in particular their coloration. These factors are; their age, sex, and the quality of water that they dwell in. However, a common, unchanging feature that makes the Redear Sunfish most recognizable is the red edge of its operculum or ‘ear’ flap. The Redear sunfish is best known for the shades of red or orange at the edge of its operculum or “ear” flap. 

Male Redear Sunfish have the more distinctive red coloration, while the females will have more orange shades. The coloration of the rest of their bodies can range from a dark olive green above and an almost entirely white bottom belly. Most Redear Sunfish will have sides that are green to yellow.   

On average, they weigh 0.99lb, and an adult can range between 20-24cm (7.9-9.4 inches) in length. When it comes to their fins, the spinous dorsal fin is in front of a soft dorsal fin. This dorsal fin usually has around 9-11 spines, but their anal fin has only around three. Something unique to the Redear Sunfish is their set of teeth in their small mouths. These teeth called pharyngeal teeth are used to crush the shells of snails and mussels, giving them their nickname ‘shellcracker fish’. 

Where to Fish for Redear Sunfish 

The Redear Sunfish is an original Florida and North Carolina native. However, they were then introduced to Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Michigan, and Texas. As they became increasingly popular, they were stocked further North and as far West as California. They typically like staying in water where they can hide amongst vegetation, logs, and branches, thriving in still waters such as lakes, ponds and reservoirs, and slow-moving water such as streams and slow-moving rivers.
When in their native range, Redear Sunfish thrice in grassy lakes with water that is rich in calcium. This water encourages the population of molluscs that are the favored prey of Redears. They have evolved over time to be able to use their teeth to chow down on molluscs and spitting out the shells, hence the nickname ‘shellcracker fish’. Additionally, they will feed on a range of invertebrates from aquatic nymphs and shrimp. So if you find these types of shellfish in the right environment, you’re very likely to be able to fish for shellcrackers. 

 Redear Sunfish will typically breed and spawn in temperatures between 66 to 70 Fahrenheit. Like most fish, the best time to try to catch them is during their annual spawn, which happens in late spring and early summer. This is around a month earlier than the bluegill spawning season. 

Anglers will typically begin targeting the shell crackers by around March or April. They will do this by sending red worms to the bottom of the water where the Redears can typically be found foraging for food in clear water with plenty of vegetation. 

If you’re looking to catch Redear Sunfish, a great place to find them is at the Wamplers Lake in Michigan and False River in Louisiana.

Fun Facts About Redear Sunfish 

  • Redear can grow larger than bluegills- while not as abundant as bluegills, they do grow bigger. In the deep south, they can reach up to 3lbs.
  • Redear can withstand higher salt content- the bodies of water that connect to coastlines are more likely to be home to Redears than bluegills.
  • Redear are often confused with Pumpkinseed Bream because they are similar in appearance. However, Pumpkinseed breams have curvy lines on their gill that make them distinguishable.
  • Pumpkinseed Bream are not as good at foraging as Redear Sunfish. Therefore are more likely to be suppressed in number as they are outcompeted for food. 
  • Their diets consist mostly of mussels, snails, and other shelled prey. Redear Sunfish are also known as ‘Shellcrackers’ because of their ability to crush shells, blowing out the hard shells and eating only the flesh.
    They are known communal spawners, which means that they are sometimes seen nesting together–sometimes with over 30 adjacent nests in protected coves. 
  • A male Redear Sunfish will attract females by snapping their jaws together to make a popping sound. 
  • The World Record for the biggest Redear Sunfish caught was recorded on February 16, 2014, in Lake Havasu. The giant was 17 inches long and weighed in at almost 6lbs! Enthusiasts can see the mounted giant Redear Sunfish at the Bass Tackle Master Store at London Bridge Road, Lake Havasu City. 

Top Redear Sunfish Fishing Lures and Tips 

The way you catch your Redear Sunfish will depend entirely on several factors. Many setups will work well for each of the factors. 

When waters are clear some anglers prefer to use a light action 6-7 foot rod with a spinning wheel spooled with a 2-4lb line. They will use a #2 hook with a half worm for bait. Ensure that fishing lines are not too visible. 

For best results in clear water, avoid any extra tackle in your rig. Avoid using a sinker, but watch your line for any movements, feeling the bait for any bites. 

Murkier waters do better with a longer jigging rod. This will require you to swing your bait toward your target rather than casting with your reel. 

Using a drop shot rig<span style=”font-weight: 400;”> is another great option for Redear fishing. Use a weight on the bottom and suspend the bait 5-10 inches above the sinker. This drop shot rig will put your bait exactly where you need it- near the bottom of the water.

You can choose to use drop shot weights, but you can use a pinch on weight or a small bell sinker if you have one to hand. 

Alternatively, a sinker above the hook is a great option for fishing. Use this to slowly drag your rig along the bottom of the water while keeping the weight in constant contact. This method helps you to feel the bottom of the water and lets you know when to slow down your retrieve–typically when you get to areas of vegetation as Redear sunfish enjoy spending time in those areas. 

Bobbers help in certain situations while Redear fishing. They can be used as an indicator rather than as a suspension device, showing you when there is activity on your hook. 

Additionally, remember to bring something to put your catch in. Things like a stringer and a bucket or cooler to keep them in so you can keep them fresh for dinner.

For deeper hooks, a pair of needle-nosed pliers will be helpful to remove them since Redear sunfish mouths tend to be pretty small. 

Can You Eat Redear Sunfish? 

Redear Sunfish are safe to eat and are a great treat for anglers who have worked hard to get their bite. Make sure to clean, gut, fillet and debone them thoroughly. You can choose to lightly season them and fry them on a skillet as they are or make a delicious batter from cornmeal, milk and whichever herbs and spices take your fancy. Marinate your cleaned fish in a mixture of milk and hot sauce for at least 30 minutes. Remove them from the milk mixture and coat in cornmeal seasoned to taste (but garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper are great choices. Fry them in peanut oil for a delicious fresh southern fried taste.