Size: The state record is 0.83 pounds, but most catches of this diminutive sportfish will average closer to a quarter pound. The Big Catch minimum qualifying sizes are 0.5 pounds or 7 inches for adults, and 0.4 lbs or 5 inches for youth (BigCatchFlorida.com).
Identification and similar species: The spotted sunfish is relatively nondescript. As the name suggests, however, its most characteristic feature is the distinct, even rows of small spots along the body. These dots are usually dark, but may be red. In overall coloration, the fish ranges from olive to brown. In general form, this small sunfish also appears somewhat “chunkier” or plumper than other sunfishes.
Angling qualities: The spotted sunfish is often caught incidentally by anglers targeting its larger relatives, the bluegill and redear sunfish. Called a “stumpknocker” because of its affinity for submerged timber, this fish is sometimes deliberately sought after by north Florida stream anglers. Don’t let this fish’s small size fool you—they are very aggressive in defending their bed during the spawning season. The spotted sunfish will take most small lures and baits and puts up a good fight. Its small size makes it ideal for ultralight tackle (see Issue 10). A flyrod also works well, and this fish is particularly susceptible to tiny nymphs. Excellent baits include grass shrimp, live worms, and crickets—standard bream fare. While quite edible, most anglers will likely deem only larger representatives of this species to be big enough for the frying pan.
Where to catch them: Spotted sunfish are found throughout Florida, but are deliberately targeted most by stream anglers in the northern part of our state. Some specific sites to try include the Choctawhatchee River, Holmes Creek and Lake Panasoffkee.
Illustration by Duane Raver, Jr.