Most fishermen have concentrated on walleyes and bass since these seasons opened within the past few weeks. Certainly everyone likes to catch these bigger fish but one shouldn't forget sunfish because the best time to catch the bigger ones is right now.
As spawning draws near big adult sunfish move into the shallows to fan out nests where they will later lay their eggs. Nesting usually occurs in shallow protected areas with one to six feet of water. Sunfish prefer to spawn on sandy bottoms with a little weed cover. In Minnesota, nesting often takes place in beds of bulrushes, among submerged stumps and below
overhanging branches. Sunfish nests are circular depressions where the male clears away shells, sticks or debris. Often the shiny shells and discarded debris around the rim of the nest gives it a "halo-like" appearance. The nests will be from six inches to three feet in diameter.
Sunfish usually return to the same spawning sites year after year.
Sometimes sunfish build nests in groups where there are only a few inches separating each nest.
You may spook the sunnies out of the nesting area if you get too close. When you find a group of nests mark the area by sticking a branch in the bottom or by leaving a Styrofoam marker. Then you can leave while the fish settle down and sneak back later.
After the female lays the eggs and the male fertilizes them the male remains at the nest to protect it from other fish that would eagerly eat the eggs. The guardian male will aggressively attack any lure or bait you cast to the nest. It is important to cast accurately, however. If your cast is too far from the nest the sunfish will not leave the nest to chase your bait.
A favorite method to catch bedding sunfish is to tie on a hook and add a tiny bobber to suspend the bait about 18 inches over the nest. This puts the bait in a threatening position right where the sunfish can see it. Worms are always great bait, but small leeches may be even better.
Use a light action spinning rod that is fairly long, about 6.5 to 7 feet long. Some people prefer to use a cane pole. The added length makes it easier to drop the bait through reeds and bulrushes.
Some people may think catching spawning sunfish is unsportsmanlike. But it's actually beneficial to the sunfish population to remove many fish each year. Sunfish are very prolific and underharvested populations soon result in high numbers of small, stunted fish.
So when the walleyes and northerns won't cooperate give sunfish a whirl. You will probably be glad you did.
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