How To Catch Sunfish | Seasonal Guide | Awesome Fishing

by Dalvin
Freshwater Sunfish with Boy at Texas Lake

Learning how to catch sunfish is almost a right of passage in the fishing community.  For both newbies and veterans alike, sunfish represent awesome fishing and catching opportunities.  Undoubtedly, sunfish are the number one species to get beginners and kids hooked on fishing. There are a few reasons for this.

First, we believe freshwater sunfish species are among the most beautiful fish in the world. Second, they are perfect for beginners because they are so aggressive. For this reason, we should all be thankful that sharks don’t have the personality of sunfish!  Because if they did, there would be many more missing body parts worldwide.

As a result of their aggression, they are easy to catch.  In addition, even advanced fishermen enjoy catching them on light tackle or a fly-rod.  Despite their small size, pound for pound,  they put up an outstanding fight.

We will provide you with the tips and tactics you need to catch fish now! Therefore, we have organized this article by season. In this way, you can jump to spring if you need it and come back and read about fall fishing in October.

Before we move on, this article will be a ‘living document’.  Even though I have been fishing for over 40 years, we are always learning something new. What this means is we will update as we learn new tactics or gain insights from readers. Our hope is that with your help we can provide a resource for many new anglers to come.

How to Catch Sunfish in Spring

In early spring the shallow water bite starts to get good.

Late spring is the perfect time to introduce a kid or new fishermen to sunfish because you can see the fish and the bite can be non-stop!

As the Water Warms Where do They Go?

Big Bluegill with Boy at PondSpring means the sunfish start to move out of their deep winter haunts. The move shallow will continue through spring.  Freshwater sunfish start to spawn in Texas around the first of May and will continue through June.

In early spring, sunfish will start leaving the channel breaks, creeks, and deep docks that held them in winter.  In ponds and lakes, they will start moving into sun-warmed shallows to feed on insects.  As a result, spring is an excellent time to use a small beetle-spin or crankbait cricket imitation.

During this time, you can also target rocks in sunlight.  Since rocks hold heat, these areas will be some of the first to warm.  As a result, you can find them loaded with sunfish.  It is tough to beat a small crawfish imitation at this time of year worked slowly through the rocks for big sunfish.

When the spawn starts, you will see small light-colored circles near the shoreline in shallow water.  These are sunfish beds. This often represents the best bite of the year.  In fact, Walker and I have had many days where we caught fish on every cast.  Target creeks, ponds, and lakes. Just be sure to approach the bank with caution. It’s important to realize, just as you can see sunfish, they can see you. With this in mind, we will kneel down for a stealthy approach.  This prevents the fish from spooking and who doesn’t have fun being sneaky?

What Are the Best Baits in Spring?

The best baits for early spring (February-May):

  • Small spoons – jigged vertically. Start higher in the water column and work your way down.
  • Berkley Gulp Maggots (pink) – Use on a size 6 hook. Watch the line for slack or motion.
  • Red Wigglers – The same as maggots. You can use pinch weights in the wind or deep water.
  • Bug and insect imitations
  • Small crawfish and imitations of
  • Beetle-spins

The best baits during spawn (May-June):

  • Berkley Gup Maggots (pink) – Go weightless or use a small pinch weight and let it sink.
  • Crickets – Same as maggots.
  • Flies – Insect imitations
  • Small crawfish imitation
  • Small crankbaits or spinners

How to Catch Sunfish in Summer

In the hottest part of summer, sunfish often return to areas similar to their winter hangouts.   One difference is they will be relating to shade.

When it’s Hot Where are they?

With this in mind, target the shady side of deepwater docks, timber, or weed beds can offer amazing action.  The clearer the water, the deeper the fish will be.

In creeks look for downstream bends because this is usually the deepest, coolest spot in a creek. Consequently, sunfish will wait in ambush for insects, small baitfish, nymphs, worms, and other bottom-dwellers to wash in. A creek with a little fresh water flowing into a channel break gets our hearts pumping.

Big Bluegill Sunfish Bite at Night in Summer

Summertime represents some fantastic sunfish action especially in the early morning and at night.   As predators, sunfish will often move shallow in search of fry from the spawn and small insects. As prey, their smaller size and the feeding habits of predatory species push them to the bank seeking protection during summer months. For these reasons, sunfish will often move shallow at dusk.

What Are the Best Baits in Summer?

The best baits for summer:

  • Berkley Gulp Maggots (pink) – Use on a size 6 hook. Watch the line for slack or motion.
  • Red Wigglers – The same as maggots. Use pinch weights in the wind or deep water.
  • Bug and insect imitations
  • Small crankbaits
  • Beetle-spin

How to Catch Sunfish in Fall

Fall will result in large insect hatches, baitfish galore, and cool temperatures. It will be glorious and the Freshwater Sunfish bite will be on!

As the Water Cools Where do They Go?

During the fall months, sunfish will make a push back into coves.  This time the move shallow is not for the spawn.  Now, they are going back to gorge themselves on any food they can find!  Winter is coming and they are hungry.  I’m excited already. 

You can find them in many of their springtime and early summer hangouts.

What Are the Best Baits in Fall?

Beautiful Longear Sunfish in HandThe best baits for fall:

  • Berkley Gulp Maggots (pink) – Use on a size 6 hook. Watch the line for slack or motion.
  • Red Wigglers – The same as maggots. You can use pinch weights in the wind or deep water.
  • Crickets
  • Mayflies or imitations of – We have caught mayflies off the dock and each other and put them on a hook for some great sunfish action.  We have even caught crappie and bass using this technique. Fun times as we match the hatch.
  • Artificial Flies – insects
  • Small minnows

How to Catch Sunfish in Winter

This is by far the most difficult season to catch sunfish. It can be extra tough fishing from the bank. As the water temps lower into the 40s, sunfish become very lethargic. This means they don’t feed as often, but don’t give up.  We have still had some fantastic winter days with huge catches of sunfish.

Where do I Find Them When It’s Cold?

Big Green Sunfish with Boy at CreekFor the most part, sunfish will move to the deeper parts of the lake or pond.  In a boat, this means vertical jigging. From the shoreline, it can be tricky.

Channel breaks, creeks, and deep docks on lakes can be loaded with sunfish in winter.  While in ponds, panfish will be at deep spots near the dam or near deeper holes. Our favorite winter fishing is in creeks. Because we have found high numbers of sunfish stacked in a 10-foot area.

Because they are a food source for larger fish, freshwater sunfish will seek structure for protection.  So look for weeds or brush in 4 to 15 feet of water. The clearer the water, the deeper sunfish will be.

While they can be tough to find, once you have found them, the fish can be stacked. We have had days where we only stopped fishing after our arms were tired. Magical days when you find the perfect spot.

What Are the Best Baits in Winter?

The best baits from a boat or deep water dock:

  • Small spoons – jigged vertically. First, start high in the water column. Then, work your way down. You can even tip the hook with a piece of a maggot.
  • Berkley Gulp Maggots (pink) – Use on a size 6 hook. Watch the line for slack or motion.
  • Red Wigglers – The same as maggots. You can use pinch weights in the wind or deep water.

The best baits from shore:

  • Berkley Gulp Maggots (pink) – Go weightless or use a small pinch weight and let it sink.
  • Red Wigglers – Same as maggots.
  • Flies – Nymph Imitations – Let it sink and then fish with small pops.
  • This is one time of year we will use a slip bobber.  Initially,  cast out and free-spool (let your line out) until the bait comes in contact with the bottom.  Then vary retrieve styles until you find where the fish are holding.

Freshwater Sunfish are one of our favorite pursuits.  As you can see, they are beautiful and fighting the big ones is so much fun.  As always, we would love to hear from you.  You may have noticed our go-to bait of Berkley Gulp Maggots. We would love to know your favorite baits and hear more about the techniques that work for you.  We hope you will leave a comment or ask any questions you may have.

For questions about kids fishing poles and tackle read Best Kids Fishing Pole and Tackle Under $40 – Bargain.
If you are planning to take the kids out for the first time be sure to read How to Make Fishing With Kids A Success.

As always, tight lines and fin time! Get out there and unlock thePerfectCombo!

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