Bluegill VS Sunfish: Common Pitfalls And Identification Issues

Aspiring anglers are often enthusiastic about potential catches. When you are just starting out, catching any fish is a moment to be proud of. For most, fishing is a relaxing exercise, an alternative form of meditation.

Of course, there are also more challenging aspects of fishing and stocking. The Bluegill vs Sunfish debate is a prime example of that. This post will attempt to clear any confusions about each species’ characteristics, the various ways to identify them, and how you can stock both.

The Centrarchidae family

​To start with, there is a simple but vital piece of information that one might easily miss: all Bluegill are Sunfish but not all Sunfish are Bluegill. Sunfish, you see, belongs to a family of freshwater fish named Centrarchidae. That family includes several similar but distinct species such as the Bluegill, various types of bass, and multiple sunfish such as the Green Sunfish, Redear Sunfish, Longear Sunfish, and more.

​Though some of these fish are quite different from each other, they overlap in many areas of physical characteristics. As such, enthusiastic anglers tend to make a few common mistakes during attempts to identify them.

​Coloration, for example, is often used as the first basis for identification. While this practice can sometimes be useful, it is actually a wild variable. Attempting to identify fish simply by color is usually a risky practice except in specific cases such as the redbreast Sunfish where it can prove useful.

​The main issue is that coloration depends on a number of factors such as the habitat type, maturity, clearness of the water, whether or not itis spawning season, and more. Of course, this only applies to fish found in the wild in rivers and the like, not in private ponds where Sunfish and Bluegill are exceptionally popular and abundant.

Bluegill VS Sunfish
Bluegill VS Sunfish

​Identifying Bluegill vs Sunfish through shape

​The first step in Bluegill vs Sunfish identifications should be the shape. Once you have caught a fish, simply place it on the palm of your hand and take a look at its body. For reference, the tail should be discarded from the measurements. If the shape is more circular than elliptical then you most likely have a Bluegill on your hands.

Shape identification

​In contrast, if the shape is an elliptical oval then you most likely have another type of Sunfish. This rule is not universal, however, as there are too many variations of Sunfish to consider. If you are still unsure, coloration can now be used as a second identifying factor. Bluegill, for instance, have an operculum that is blue-shaded though the exact color will vary wildly.

​Stocking Bluegill vs Sunfish

​Something else to consider in any Bluegill vs Sunfish discussion is how well the two fishes co-exist and how one can stock them. Any fish that belongs to the Centrarchidae family has a wide range of natural predators. Some, like the Bluegill, are vital to the food chain as they are pretty for multiple other fishes as well as other predators like turtles and otters.

​2. Bluegill

​Left to their own devices, Sunfish and Bluegill will reproduce at alarming rates. Though you might think that can be a good idea, a pond overrun either Bluegill or Sunfish will only have stunted, malnourished fish. For ponds, the best Sunfish is probably the Redear Sunfish, a close relative of the Bluegill with some important differences.

Redear Sunfish

​When considering to stock either type of fish, the habitat should be the first thing you should manage. There is no difference here between the Sunfish vs Bluegill. Both like an abundance of vegetation as they tend to hide from predators in water weeds where they also feed. Though they can live in deep waters, both Bluegill and Sunfish are also well-suited to shallow waters. The main difference in stocking is that Redear Sunfish alone may not be able to support a predator population so they should be stocked in conjunction with another species.

​Mating and hybridization

​Mating is the final aspect of the Bluegill vs Sunfish comparisons. What many people might not know is that the two species can crossbreed. In fact, their offspring are excellent more often than not. Hybridization is particularly great in small ponds though that can also vary depending on a number of factors.

​Not so different after all

​In essence, Bluegill and Sunfish are more alike than most people think but still hold unique characteristics that should not be mistaken. Both species can be hard to identify initially but practice should allow anyone to overcome that problem. Furthermore, stocking both types of fishes can be a rewarding experience. As we saw, there are many interactions between them which can be interesting in both fishing and stocking.

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