Panfish are some of the most sought-after fish in North America. They are abundant and relatively easy to catch, and due to their prevalence in shallow water can be caught from shore, making them accessible to anglers who do not own a boat. They are also great table fare.
There are many types of panfish commonly found throughout North America. In this article, we will take a look at the different types of panfish you are likely to catch when fishing for them.
Bluegill is known by many names such as bream, sunnies, and brim, and is probably the most commonly sought and caught panfish. They are probably the most common type of panfish.
The bluegill is part of the sunfish family, of which there are many different subspecies, and there will be more members of this family included in this post.
Bluegills have deep and flattened bodies, and while the coloration of the fish can vary from one body of water to the next and by the region in which they live. The bluegill has a blue and green coloration on the side of their head and chin, hence the name.
Bluegill has a very wide native range in the United States, and places where they do not occur naturally, have most likely had the species introduced. With the fish being so common around the entirety of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, it’s no surprise that they are the most popular panfish to target.
Another sunfish family member, the Crappie comes in two different subspecies, the white crappie, and the black crappie.
The white crappie is prevalent in the Western and southern regions of the United States, while the black crappie is more prevalent in the Northern and Eastern United States and Canada.
Author Note: Crappies have a somewhat similar body shape to other types of sunfish like bluegill but typically grow much larger, with trophy crappies coming in at 14 to 16 inches.
The black crappie has dark black splotches on its sides with a blue-green upper body that turns to a yellowish gold as it gets closer to the belly.
The white Crappie is lighter in coloration compared to the black crappie and can be found with dark bars instead of the more random appearing splotches found on black crappie.
Crappie can be found around Dense brush and other structure as well as being found suspended in deep water where they roam in large schools in search of pods of minnows. It’s not uncommon to find them schooling around shallow water docks adjacent to deep water and around swimming rafts.
3. Yellow Perch
Next on our list of types of panfish is the yellow perch. Perch are the favorite panfish of many anglers, and is incredibly popular as table fare, with many bars and restaurants having fish fries with perch being the most popular offering in places like the Great Lakes region, in particular the state of Wisconsin, where Friday fish fries are ubiquitous.
Yellow perch are the first on our list to not be a member of the sunfish family but are a member of the Percidaefamily, meaning they are also related to walleye, zander, and sauger.
Perch have a torpedo-shaped body that is more narrow and streamlined when compared to the fish in the sunfish family, and large specimens can reach 14 inches in length, but the average length is around 7.5 inches
Perch have a distinct coloration that is golden yellow with some having green hues along the upper flanks. The yellow perch also has prominent black-colored bars that run vertically on its sides accompanied by bright orange fins.
Perch can typically be found in many of the same places as other panfish like weed beds, brush, and other areas that provide cover.
Perch can also be found roaming in large schools around sand flats, muddy bays where they feed on insects, and even in deep water.
Another type of panfish is the sunfish. As mentioned earlier, many of the species commonly referred to as panfish are in fact part of the sunfish family. There are many types of sunfish, to go along with bluegill and crappie.
Green sunfish, red ear sunfish, spotted sunfish, warmouth, redbreast sunfish, and pumpkinseed sunfish, are all commonly caught subspecies of sunfish.
All are very common and found in the same bodies of water as many of the other panfish species, and all look somewhat similar at first glance.
The range of some of these subspecies like the red ear sunfish and the spotted sunfish are more localized, with the red ear sunfish stretching from Illinois to Florida, and west to Texas.
The Spotted sunfish has a very small range where they are found throughout the state of Florida, Georgia, and parts of Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Sunfish are found in the same habitats as bluegill, crappie, and perch, and can be prominently found in shallow weedy areas and lilypads along with brushy areas, docks, and other man-made structures.
5. Pumpkinseed Sunfish
One of the more commonly recognized sunfish subspecies known to anglers is the pumpkinseed sunfish.
The pumpkinseed can be found featuring a variety of colors which include orange, green, blue, and yellow.
Pumpkinseed is known for having very bright colorations with worm-like vermiculations and bars, making them stand out among other sunfish like bluegill or the commonly found green or red-breasted sunfish.
Other Types of Panfish: Species that may be Called Panfish
There are also other species that some anglers might refer to as panfish either in the past or currently, depending on the region and angling culture.
Some of these species include white bass, flier, creek chub, bullhead, Rocky Mountain whitefish, yellow bass, sand rollers, and saltwater species like balao halfbeak and candlefish.
Many of these species are popular to catch for consumption and are small in size, in some cases much smaller than a typical panfish, like the candlefish which is a type of smelt.
The term has been used for hundreds of years and was first recorded in 1796 in a cookbook called American Cookery, which is considered the first cookbook to be written by an American.
While there are many fish that can and have been called panfish, we listed the species that are most commonly referred to as panfish by anglers today.
As mentioned in the introduction, one of the reasons for the high popularity of panfish is their abundance along with being very accessible and easy to catch.
Author Note: You don’t need to be an avid or knowledgeable angler to be successful at catching panfish, and the gear can be very affordable when compared to the gear prices for other species like big game saltwater species, musky, and catfish.
In the northern regions of the United States and Canada, ice fishing is a very popular way to fish for panfish, and can at times be challenging when the larger trophy-sized fish are targeted.
Many ice anglers will seek out one particular species like perch or crappies, and entire guide services will offer trips for one specific species on lakes and rivers where they grow to trophy sizes.
Lakes like Devils Lake in South Dakota are known for giant perch and some of the best ice fishing in the United States.
There are numerous reservoirs and lakes in the Southern U.S. known for exceptional white crappie fishing.
Nebraska, and the States of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, are home to numerous lakes that harbor trophy-class bluegill fishing.
Most states allow for your year-round fishing or panfish, so you can fish them from spring to fall, and early ice to late ice in the northern regions, and when the ice is gone, you can simply take a boat and target them respawn.
While many states have high limits for panfish, like Wisconsin’s older regulation of 25 panfish of any type allowed in a single day, it’s important to be conservative when pan fishing.
25 fish in a single day is a lot, and many anglers will keep this limit daily whenever possible, even several times a week. It’s important to release panfish, especially the larger specimens.
The larger fish have superior genetics, and while many anglers are tempted to keep them.
Overharvesting can lead to bodies of water with stunted fish over time due to removing the superior genetics present in large fish along over-harvesting, this is particularly prevalent on small lakes or lakes with heavy fishing pressure.
Some types of panfish, like the pumpkin seed sunfish, are much more difficult to catch due to overfishing.
Author Note: Instead of keeping all the 10 inch bluegills from a small lake, let some go to carry on their genetics, and keep the 7-8 inch fish for the frying pan, this will help ensure that the lake continues to produce quality fish into the future.
Panfish make up a diverse range of species and are an important link in the food chain for predators, their abundance makes for great fishing, and is a type of fish that is great for introducing someone to the sport.
We hope you enjoyed reading about all the different types of panfish.