4 Simple but Effective Tips on How to Catch Sunfish

By Tom Keer

Jul 19, 2017

All anglers like to catch fish, and here are some tips for hooking more sunfish.  If you think they're easy to catch then elevate your level of play and make it a game.  Use tackle and techniques that are more challenging and you'll turn the common sunfish into an exciting fish to catch. 

Question of the day; when you started out freshwater fishing, what was the first species of fish you caught?  Odds are it was a freshwater sunfish.  There are a lot of different sunfish species like bluegill, pumpkinseed, redear, and johnny roach among others.  But it seems that because sunfish are easy to catch they don't get the respect they deserve.  A 10-pound plus largemouth bass is revered while a freshwater sunfish is tossed in a bucket for a fish fry.  Think about it; how many sunfish have you seen mounted and hung on a wall?

Over the years I've introduced several new anglers to fishing by first teaching them how to catch sunfish.  How can you beat the best bait for sunfish which is the bobber and worm?  That combination doesn't just catch sunfish, but it develops freshwater fishing skills that can be used with other techniques.  Beginners learn to cast, set the hook, fight and land a fish.  But I like to go fishing for sunfish on my own, and they're fun to catch with other tackle, especially on a light fly rod.  Here are a few  sunfish fishing tips that will make it even more fun.

1.  Small hooks

The first step in how to catch sunfish is to remember they have small mouths, so if you're using a large hook you'll miss a lot.  Sunfish become bait stealers and they'll follow and pick but you put many in the net.   Hook sizes in 12-16 increase hook ups.

2.  Worms in the spring, flies in the summer

Sunfish species move into the shallows to spawn in the spring, and you'll see their redds along shore.  I don't fish for them when they're on a nest, but it's game on during pre-and-post-spawn.  Worms and bobbers work great in the early season, but fly fishing with wet flies and small streamers like Wooly Worms or Wooly Buggers are a hoot. 

3.  Go light

Sunfish can put a bend in a light 2 or 3-weight fly rod. Of course, they're not like a bluefin tuna on standup gear.  That said, they're fun to catch on light tackle.

4.  Make it fun by stalking or sightfishing  

Look for sunfish cruising in the shallows or along the edges of a pond.  Pitch a small ant, inchworm, or beetle under a tree limb.  Live bait or a fly are fun.  That kind of visual fishing is fun with any kind of fish, but it changes the way we think of the common sunfish.

The age-old question of how to catch sunfish is simple; any way you want, any way you can.  But go catch them.  They're a whole lot of fun for anglers of all abilities. Check for places to go fishing for sunfish near you with our interactive map.


Tom Keer
Tom Keer
Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.