Species Spotlight: Redbreast sunfish

Redbreast sunfish are among the most colorful freshwater fish in the United States. (Photo by Brian Cope)

The redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) is one of the most colorful sunfish, and among the most colorful of all freshwater fish in North America. This species thrives throughout the southeastern US, but isn’t found in as many places as its more popular cousin, the bluegill.

Unlike bluegills, redbreasts are rarely found in large lakes or even ponds. They can live in these areas, but they prefer moving water. They are most often found in rivers, streams and swamps that have current. They have the same basic shape of bluegills and other sunfishes, but are slightly longer than most of them.

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of redbreasts is the bright red or orange chest and belly. But this is less bright on some of them, depending on water quality. Redbreasts in some rivers are more yellow than red, but in other rivers, the colors are a much brighter red or orange.

Within the moving waters that redbreasts prefer to live, they can most often be found near downed trees, stumps, the undercuts of banks, rocky points and collections of sunken or floating timber. They generally shy away from heavily vegetated areas.

Long earflaps

The truest way to distinguish redbreasts from most other sunfishes is by taking a good look at the gill cover, or earflap, which extends far longer than the gill cover on all other sunfish except the longeared sunfish. And a redbreast’s gill cover is almost always solid black.

The fish’s diet is mainly made up of insects, mollusks and small minnows. They also love crawdads and will pass other opportunities if they know crawdads are available.

Redbreasts typically spawn from May through July, but can start sooner and continue later as long as the water temperature is between 65 and 75 degres.

During spawning, males use their tales to fan out large circular nests in shallow water. These nests can be in singles or in groups of 100 or more. They are often located near, or even intermingled with, nests of other sunfish species.

Redbreasts have many regional nicknames, including redbelly, yellow belly, robin, long ear, swamp bream, and red bream.

Small spinners and crankbaits like Mepps Aglias, and Rebel Wee Craws are great lures for redbreasts, especially when fished with ultralight rods and reels. Crickets, small crawdads and catalpa worms are great live baits.

About Brian Cope 2605 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@sportsmannetwork.com.

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