About Green Sun Fish
Green Sun Fish
By Jack Ellis


A two-inch black body crawling awkwardly over the gravel bar gave the angler his first clue. He stooped to examine the fat dragon fly nymph as it struggled in a desperate attempt to find safety. It pushed its chunky body into the loose limestone rubble, but he dug it out with a stick, exposing the pattern of its belly colors in the process. Powerful legs kept up a frantic scramble until the nymph reached the relative security of the water and swam forcefully out into the current. As he stood to watch it swim away down the creek, the angler clipped the fly from his tippet and replaced it with a woven vernille dragonfly imitation.

One hundred yards upstream, he cast the nymph into a patch of sunlit water beneath an overhanging oak,The fly sank below the flat surface of the pool; then the water boiled. The two-weight rod bent as the fish turned its stout body perpendicular to the angler's pull and raced to the middle of the stream. Side pressure brought it back to the bank, but once again it ran. The fight was strong, but short. In a few minutes, the angler was holding the eight-inch fish admiring the deep green of its body and the bright yellow borders on the rear fins. Rolling the fish on its back to remove the hook, the angler marveled at the fish's thick body maybe two inches wide, and the sharp rasps inside the large mouth, Observation and luck had rewarded him with the fish of the day a large green sunfish.

The green sunfish is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Centrarchids. It even has to share its nicknames, "rock bass" and 'goggle-eye", with other species. Its close cousin the warmouth gets an occasional mention in fishing literature, but the green sunfish rarely shows up on anybody's list of favorites. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department even dismisses it as too small (rarely exceeding .75 lb.) to be of much angling importance. The only thing I can say to that this is it's a good thing brook trout don't live in Texas! Green sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus can be found in lakes and ponds, but they are usually associated with streams. They are able to survive a wider range of environmental extremes than most other sunfish. This makes them particularly well suited to prairie and urban streams where conditions fluctuate during the year. Once found only in the central plains between the Rockies and the Appalachians green sunfish are now in most of the continental United States, except for Florida and parts of the Pacific northwest. They are shaped somewhat like a small bass. They have large mouths and eyes. The body is a dark bluish green (hence the name cyanellus) with faint vertical bars along the sides- Some scales have turquoise spots: and die anal, dorsal, and tall fins are bordered in yellow. They are among the most beautiful of the sunfishes Like bluegill, they nest in shallow water colonies and defend the nest aggressively. Spawning begins at the age of two years when the fish may be only three inches long. They are prolific spawners (up to 65,000 eggs per female) and can quickly overpopulate. The commercially produced hybrid sunfish is a cross between the green sunfish and the redear.

Green sunfish feed on aquatic insects, terrestrials, crustaceans, and small fish. They tend to stay at the edge of slow currents in streams and around piles of rocks. With their large mouth s and aggressive nature green sunfish only a few inches long will be hooked on flies as large as a #6. The record green sunfish weighed only slightly more than two pounds, but anything over six ounces is considered a good size fish. Rather than ignoring them because of their size, I prefer to scale down my tackle and enjoy their scrappy fight.

My preferred tackle for urban stream green sunfish is a short two- weight rod with a nine-foot leader and a 5X tippet. The flies I carry include damselfly and dragonfly nymphs, soft hackles, small woolly buggers, clouser minnows, marabou minnows small poppers, hoppers, and tiny deer hair bugs (Jack's fathead diver is a good choice). One small fly box is more than enough for a day of pursuing these fish. Rock piles are a good place to catch several green sunfish. You will sacrifice a number of flies to the rocks, but the action is worth it. These fish seem to get a greater sense of security around rocks and won't spook as quickly. All of the large green sunfish I have caught however, have been taken individually in large pools where they have room to run. Just like mature bluegill, large green sunfish have to he approached cautiously and delicately presented with good imitations of their natural foods.

Two facts: that many so-called experts place little value on these fish, and that they can live under stressful conditions which are intolerable to most other species except carp (another under- appreciated fly rod quarry); combine to offer uncrowned fishing in very pretty areas. My only competition on most of the streams where I find good population of green sunfish are small children from nearby houses. My usual companions are a wide variety of birds, brilliantly colored dragonflies, damselflies, and other wildlife. Coyote and beavers can sometimes be spotted. I can often wade a limestone stream under a canopy of shade trees for hours without seeing another person….even in the middle of the city Maybe 1 should just leave well enough alone and keep what I know about green sunfish just between myself and a few like-minded friends.


The article first appeared in Jack Ellis's monthly newletter, Refections on the Pond. The newletter is not in publication any more. The reprint of this article was granted by the publisher.

Jack Ellis lives in East Texas on the shore of a secluded private lake. Jack has published two books: The Sunfishes A Fly Fishing Jouney of Discovery (A must for any warm water fly fisher) and Bassin' with a Fly Rod.