Be a "Sunfish Expert:" A Simple Guide for Identifying your Small Catches

Hello, Readers!

Lately, I've seen a lot of people having trouble with fish identification. Identifying fish can be a very painful process depending on the Species of fish being identified. After all, what is the difference between a Spotted Bass and a Largemouth Bass? How about the difference between a Satinfin Shiner and a Spotfin Shiner? Channel Catfish and White Catfish?

The truth is: those are difficult Species to identify! Even for professionals, fish identification can be hard to achieve at times. As an angler with a photo of an "unknown" Species of fish to him/her, the first step is usually to search the Internet and see if there's an online photo that matches his/her photo (and that's when people learn that not everything can be "googled"). Then, sometimes, the person can end up in frustration because not a single photo matches his catch!

For this reason, I've decided to write a little post on "Sunfish Identification."

For many anglers, a "Sunfish" is simply defined as a "Sunny." When asking for what they have caught, I've heard this sentence from many anglers already: "Hmm...only a couple Sunnies." But what exactly are those "Sunnies?" Are they all the same Species of fish? What about their different coloration? Are they Bluegills? Are they something else?

In reality, the Sunfish family (Centrarchidae) is composed of many different types of fish: the Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Spotted Bass, Rock Bass, Green Sunfish, Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, Redear Sunfish, Redbreast Sunfish, Longear Sunfish, Warmouth, Mud Sunfish, Banded Sunfish, Blackbanded Sunfish, Bluespotted Sunfish, White Crappie, Black Crappie, etc. Some of them appear to be the same in terms of shape and color, but they turn out to be different Species of fish!

Being a Multi-Species type of angler, there's nothing more rewarding than catching a new Species of fish! Even for the anglers that do not focus on Species hunting, it's still nice to catch a fish that they have never caught before and be able to identify that fish.

Therefore, this guide will focus on the five most common different types of Sunfish in the Philadelphia and South New Jersey area: the Bluegill (most known by kids and adults alike), the Pumpkinseed, the Redbreast Sunfish, the Green Sunfish, and the Rock Bass (least known).

I'll also use my personal photos to portray them! When "googled," hand-drawn pictures of the fish show up most of the times. Those pictures are a generalization of the Species represented, but they do not portray every single fish in every single body of water (that is simply impossible). Coloration, for example, is a dependent variable: some Bluegills may be darker in muddy bodies of water whereas others can be lighter in clearer water. Some fish may be colored differently than others of the same Species because it's spawning season for them (mating depends on water temperature, and water temperature varies from place to place), and so on.

The video above portrays all the different types of Sunfish covered on this post: the Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), the Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), the Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), and the Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus). The four of them together are considered to be the "Sunfish Superfecta" in Philadelphia. The video also portrays Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu), and Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides). The best part? All fishes in the video came from the same body of water -- the mighty Neshaminy Creek! 

The first factor in identifying Sunfish is the body shape:
After successfully landing your catch, place it in your hand. If the body of the fish (not counting the tail part) is longer than rounder (Type 1 - Ellipse/Oval), it fits better as a Green Sunfish or Rock Bass. If the fish is rounder than longer (Type 2 - Oval/Circular), it fits better as a Bluegill or Pumpkinseed. The Redbreast Sunfish, on the other hand, could be either Type 1 or Type 2 (see pictures of Redbreast Sunfish, below), proving that body shape isn't enough for identifying a fish. It is, however, a very useful hint!

And that's when the 2nd factor comes in: coloration. Each Species of Sunfish have their own body colors, and that's what defines them the most.


Note: Click on the pictures for magnification.

Bluegill #1 - Concourse Lake, June 12th, 2013.

Bluegill #2 - Kirkwood Lake, April 15th, 2012.

Bluegill #3 - Delaware River, June 18th, 2013.

Notes and observations:

- All three of them are oval/circular body shaped and have a small mouth opening.

- A very strong blue-shaded operculum is a typical physical characteristic of a Bluegill (#1 and #3)! #2 also has one; however, due to the age of the fish (youngest among three), this trait is not as strong yet.

- #2 has a very strong striped pattern on its body, another typical physical characteristic of a Bluegill. #1 and #3 have a fairly uniform color distribution with faded striped patterns. The reason is mainly due to the clarity of the water: Concourse Lake is heavy on vegetation, which could explain the "green" on the Bluegill's body. Kirkwood is clear when there's no rain, explaining why #2 is light-colored. The Delaware River, on the other hand, is always muddy, explaining why #3 is darker.

- Bluegills tend to have a black-shaded spot at the end of the soft dorsal fin. Sometimes they are hard to spot (like in #1) due to many different environmental factors (i.e. water clarity and water quality).


Note: Click on the pictures for magnification.

Pumpkinseed #1 - Schuylkill River, September 15th, 2012.

Pumpkinseed #2 - Delaware River, June 20th, 2013.

Pumpkinseed #3 - Pennypack Creek, September 5th, 2011.

Notes and observations:

- Even though all three of them were caught in different years, they all have oval/circular body shape, small mouth openings, and a strip of red on the opercular flaps.

- Blue-colored "rays" throughout the operculum is a prime characteristic of a Pumpkinseed. In the Philadelphia and South Jersey area, only Pumpkinseeds and Longear Sunfish have them, and they can be distinguished by many other color factors. This trait is least seen on #3 - the water at Pennypack Creek is clear, which could explain why the fish is so light. #2, on the other hand, has the strongest rays - the Delaware River is muddy, meaning that the fish should be darker, not to mention that #2 was also in "spawning mode" (brighter colors to attract more mates).

- Shades of orange/blue/yellow are common in Pumpkinseeds. The "dots" definitely give them away. The color density varies with water clarity, amount of vegetation present, and water quality.

Redbreast Sunfish:

Note: Click on the pictures for magnification.

Redbreast Sunfish #1 - Wissahickon Creek, May 20th, 2012.

Redbreast Sunfish #2 - Pennypack Creek, April 10th, 2013.

Redbreast Sunfish #3 - Byberry Creek, May 6th, 2013.

Notes and observations:

- Even though they are all Redbreast Sunfish, their body shapes differ dramatically. #1 has a oval/circular body shape; #2 has a ellipse/oval shape; and #3 is in-between.

- All three Redbreast Sunfish have a medium sized mouth (enough to hit a 3 inch Senko), a red/orange colored belly, a long and black operculum flap (prime physical characteristic), orange dots that range from the pectoral fin to the caudal fin, and shades of orange and red on their soft dorsal fin and caudal fin.

- Since Redbreast Sunfish tend to live in Creeks and Streams, where water clarity is best, their coloration doesn't vary a lot. It makes their identification a little bit easier.

Green Sunfish:

Note: Click on the pictures for magnification.

Green Sunfish #1 - Pennypack Creek, April 10th, 2013.

Green Sunfish #2 - Tacony Creek, May 2nd, 2013.

Green Sunfish #3 - Concourse Lake, June 12th, 2013.

Notes and observations:

- All Green Sunfish have Blue-dotted stripes throughout their bodies. They also have a large mouth opening, broken blue rays in their operculum, and an elliptical/oval shaped body (#3 is a little bit circular because it's full of eggs).

- The coloration of the Green Sunfish varies dramatically and depends on seasons. They usually have white/yellow pelvic fins all year long; however, they will have yellow/white marks on their soft dorsal, pelvic, anal, and caudal fins during spawning seasons (which is the case of #3).

Rock Bass:

Note: Click on the pictures for magnification.

Rock Bass #1 - Wissahickon Creek, May 4th, 2013.

Rock Bass #2 - Schuylkill River, May 17th, 2013.

Rock Bass #3 - Neshaminy Creek, May 12th, 2013.

Notes and observations:

- All of the Rock Bass above have an elliptical/oval built, a large mouth opening, as well as red eyes and black-dotted stripes throughout their bodies.

- Another prime physical characteristic lies in the black shades on their anal fin. They are fairly easy to distinguish; however, not all of them have all the traits that a Rock Bass is supposed to have.

- Since Rock Bass tend to live near rocky structures and other types of cover, they have similar habitats in every body of water. Therefore, their colors don't vary a lot.


For amateurs and people new to the sport, identifying fish is certainly a challenge. However, keep in mind that even the "pros" and veteran anglers can have a hard time identifying fish as well!

If you don't believe me, give it a try below. Now that you know the prime characteristics of all 5 most common Sunfishes around these areas, how about trying to identify the fishes below?

Some of them are hybrids (a breed between two different Species), others are pure-breed, others are just hard to identify! Look at their pictures carefully and try to point out which physical traits make them be what they are. If its a hybrid, point out the two Species in it. If you send me in your answers (, I'll send you the answers. Good luck!

Haddon Lake

Ridley Park Lake

Neshaminy Creek

Upper Cooper River

Upper Cooper River

Audubon Lake

Pennypack Creek

Neshaminy Creek

Dinosaur Lake

Schuylkill River

Driscoll Pond

Schuylkill River

Upper Cooper River

Tacony Creek

Wissahickon Creek

Dinosaur Lake

Dinosaur Lake

Tacony Creek

Schuylkill River

Kirkwood Lake

Best of luck for all of us!

Long Days and Pleasant Nights,


Leo S.

A Little Favor to Ask...

Hello, readers!

Today, I'm here to ask you guys for a favor. As you all may know or may not, the Extreme Philly Fishing Blog has been around for 3 years already. I'm proud to say that it's been providing information regarding fishing and other topics without making any profit at all (the World isn't always about money!).

Since I came to the United States of America as an international st
udent from Brazil (2007), I've been enjoying the fishing here in Philadelphia! I feel like I've accomplished a lot: shared tons of information, fished a lot, met lots of friends through the Blog, etc.

While doing all of that, I truly developed a love for this country, and I've been trying my best to portray our sport positively while emphasizing the "educational approach." I've seen many people progress, and I've seen many children pick up the passion for the sport!

I have high standards and goals for where I want to go with all the fishing and the environmental aspects of the Blog and FB page. However, my stay in this country is not permanent.

I'm currently here as an international student, meaning that I would have to leave the country after finishing my degree at Temple University. For now, I can only stay legally in this country until the end of 2014.

Therefore, since I want to stay here and continue doing what I do, I've decided to apply for a change of status with the US immigration office. This process that I'm applying to is painful and long, not to mention that the success ratio is very small.

That's where the favor comes in: if possible, I would like to request a letter of recommendation from you - the reader.

If you can - could you please write a one page recommendation letter for me? Perhaps include how "Extreme Philly Fishing" helped you on fishing, and how? If it changed any of your approaches on the environment? How did it positively affect you or your life, if it did? Did you learn anything from here that became truly important to you? Did it change your lifestyle in any aspects (i.e. no more littering)?

Also, feel free to talk about anything positive in your recommendation letter, as far as it it's related to the Blog and fishing. If you decide to write it, you will have to add your name, your age, your home address, your e-mail, and your phone number at the end of the letter, so the immigration office will know that you are a real human being. Single spaced will be fine.

Every one-page letter will be printed and attached to my forms, and then sent to the immigration office to request for a change of status. Therefore, every single letter will help me in this process.

In case you decide to help me out, you can send the document to my e-mail:

And, if I don't get denied by them, I'll be one step further with my dreams: to improve the Blog and create more activities in Philadelphia related to fishing and environmental conservation, to fight for a better fishing community, to create a sponsorship for a pay lake in Philadelphia for entertainment and educational purposes, etc.

Therefore, if you are helping me out on this - thanks in advance! It means a lot to me.
Best of luck for all of us,
Long Days and Pleasant Nights,
Leo S.

Hello, Readers!

I'm bringing you guys the results of the 2nd Catfish Tourney on the Banks that was held on the Schuylkill Banks (tidal Schuylkill River) on the 23rd, from 9-3 p.m. It was very hot and humid (max of 90F), but all participants were able to endure all six hours of the competition.
The number of participants increased dramatically in comparison to the first Catfish Tourney on the Banks! I had less than 10 participants for the first competition. 24 participants registered for the second tourney, and it was a blast! 90 fish were caught from 9-3 p.m., totaling 143.81lbs of pure Catfish! I guess the word is spreading out. =)
The results are below, and they were posted a couple days on the EPF's Facebook page as well:
The winners of the second Catfish Tourney on the Banks: 1st place and big fish - Ronald L. Jackson (with his son on the left), 2nd place - Kevin Weyl (with his friend Big Jim on the left), and 3rd place - Keith Smith (with his cousin, perhaps, on the right). Pictures are at the end of the post.

The prizes were as it follows:
1st - $154+Trophy
2nd - $115+Trophy
3rd - $77+Trophy
Big Fish - $38+Trophy
Smallest Fish - Surprise prize: donation by participant Chris Jones for a $25 gift card for the Roosevelt Pub located on 23rd and Walnut. Thanks, Chris! You guys should stop by there one of these days - Chris is a nice guy, and the place is good to chill.

20% of all proceedings ($96) went to the nonprofit organization "Recycled Fish" (you can read about their mission here)
. All participants that gave me a valid e-mail address will receive a confirmation e-mail about the donation.

The ranking for all 24 participants is below:

Ronald L. J. - 21.75 (5.44, 4.56, 4.36, 3.85, 3.54)
Kevin W. - 14.65 (3.41, 3.10, 2.79, 2.75, 2.60)
Keith Jr - 11.90 (3.30, 2.51, 2.13, 2.05, 1.91)
Jose N. - 10.03
Keith Sr. - 9.85lbs
Michael M. - 9.06lbs
Ronald D. L. J. - 8.62lbs
Donald G. - 6.35lbs
Daniel G. - 5.50lbs
Steve C. - 3.85lbs
Ralph O. - 3.82lbs
Thomas B. - 3.76lbs
Chris J. - 3.6lbs
Linda Z. - 3.52lbs
Steven G. - 2.80lbs
Matthew - 2.78lbs
Marcus Q. - 2.78lbs
George T. - 2.26lbs
Patrick G. - 1.52lbs
Blaise F. - 1.21lbs
Michael M. - 0.63lbs
Kathleen S. - 0.00lbs
Michael S. - 0.00lbs
Vince A. - 0.00lbs
And here are the pictures taken during the competition:
Participant Patrick G. with a Channel Catfish.

Participant Keith S.'s teammate with a Channel Catfish. Each adult participant (16+) has a right to bring another person (15-) as a teammate. The 2 rods per person/team rule still applies, though.  

Participant Ronald D.L. J. with a Channel Catfish caught under the Walnut Street Bridge.

Participant Steven C. with a Channel Catfish caught at the end of the trail, close to Locust street.

Participant Keith S. (2nd Place) with a Channel Catfish, caught under the Chestnut Street Bridge.

Participant Steven G. with a Channel Catfish caught between Locust and Walnut.

Participant Matthew G. with a Channel Catfish caught at the end of Locust street.

Participant Ralph O. with a Channel Catfish caught between Chestnut and Walnut.

Participant Michael M. with a Channel Catfish caught between Walnut and Chestnut.

Participant Kevin W. (1st place in the 1st Catfish Tourney, and 2nd Place in the 2nd Catfish Tourney) with a Channel Catfish, caught under the Walnut Street Bridge.

Participant Thomas B. with a Channel Catfish caught between Walnut and Chestnut.

Participant Daniel G. with a Channel Catfish caught under the Chestnut Street Bridge.

Participant Linda Z. (2nd place in the 1st Catfish Tourney) with a Channel Catfish caught between Locust and Walnut.

Ron L. Jackson got not only 1st place in the competition, but also the Big Fish prize for a 5.44lbs Channel Catfish caught on a piece of cinnamon raisin bagel, right on the right of the Walnut street bridge.

Blaise F. with a Channel Catfish caught between Walnut and Chestnut.

The only unusual "Catfish Catch" of the competition this time: a 0.81lbs Flathead Catfish on a whole Creek Chub by Kevin W.. Unfortunately, no big monsters (biggest Channel Cat was 5.44lbs), but still a neat fish to look at.

Participant Don G. (3rd place on the 1st Catfish Tourney) with a Channel Catfish caught between Locust and Walnut.

Almost the whole crew at the end of the 2nd Catfish Tourney on the Banks. If you missed the group photo, make sure you stay until the end for it next time!!! =)

And here are the winners of the second Catfish Tourney on the Banks: 1st place and big fish - Center - Ronald L. Jackson (with his son on the left), Left - 2nd place - Kevin Weyl (with his friend Big Jim on the left), and Right - 3rd place - Keith Smith (with his cousin, perhaps, on the right).

Close up picture of the 3 winners with their trophies.
Once again, thank you very much for everyone that participated in the competition! Your 20% contribution is making a different on a national level.
The next Catfish Tourney on the Banks will be on July 28th, 2013: 9a.m.-3 p.m. I'll make a proper post about it on July 1st or 2nd!
Best of luck for all of us,
Long Days and Pleasant Nights,
Leo S.