Green Sunfish
Dave Davidson
Dave Davidson
Pond Boss Forum Moderator

The Moderators' Corner is a monthly series featured on Pondboss.com that features a view on one aspect of pond management as told by a Pond Boss Forum Moderator. This series is focused on providing a fresh perspective on a variety of topics. See something you like here? Visit our Forum to continue the discussion.

Lepomis cyanellus. This much-maligned fish is considered by many as the mutt of the sunfish family. Called “Rice Field Slicks” in Arkansas, green sunfish don’t grow as large as a Coppernose Bluegill can or regular native strains of Bluegill will. Some say it spawns annually, but will absolutely take over and ruin a pond, if they have the chance to be the dominant species. Green sunfish readily spawn with several other species of sunfish, creating hybrids. Who wants that? Seems to be the dominant thought process.

Pondboss.com Green Sunfish article

Typical Green Sunfish

One highly opinionated southern fish farm tells their prospective clients (and I am selecting and paraphrasing), “The Green Sunfish has destroyed more new ponds than Carter has pills. They are not good for anything and should be outlawed even for fish bait. They will take over a pond. New clients who catch 30% Green Sunfish in their new pond should rotenone and start over.” 

IN 2015, the U.S. Geological Service classified them as an Invasive Threat and took steps to eliminate them from the Green Canyon portion of the Grand Canyon. No results were posted and I wonder just how they rotenone a portion of a river to target a specific species without collateral damage to preferred species. Green sunfish are native, or have been stocked, in many watersheds…but not that watershed.

Various State Fish and Wildlife Departments have enacted laws that all Green Sunfish caught must be immediately destroyed. Where they aren’t native, they’re considered invasive…which is true of many species.

Pondboss.com Green Sunfish traits

Green Sunfish have a large mouth when compared to Bluegills and Redear Sunfish.

Sounds pretty grim and when professionals speak, I guess I ought to listen. At first, I did. My ponds have these pond-killing bad guys and when caught, I tossed them on the bank.

At the first ever Pond Boss get together of about 15 attendees, Bob Lusk brought up the question of the Green Sunfish. His question was,“So what’s the problem?”

The silence was deafening. Then one guy said that they would take over and ruin a pond. His next question was “How are they going to do that? Bluegills spawn multiple times and green sunfish only spawn annually.” He continued his simple, logical explanation. In a pond with bass as the dominant predator, green sunfish can’t keep up with bass eating them or bluegills out-reproducing them, especially in their native southern and Midwestern habitats, with a few exceptions.

Once again, a Professional spoke and I listened. This time I thought.

While some of these "rice field slicks" grow larger, this is a big Green Sunfish.

I have two ponds.

One has bluegills, green sunfish, about a dozen 12-inch catfish and, hopefully, Redear sunfish that I’ve yet to see since they were stocked. It is third-acre that becomes a quarter-acre or less during the Texas summers. I use it as a forage pond and lightly seine it during the late spring for transfer to my other pond. The results are about 75% bluegills and 25% Green Sunfish. All are transferred to my larger pond for forage. However, when I fish it, using a very small spinner bait, I catch about 80% Green Sunfish. They are more aggressive and willing to hit my lure than the bluegills. I like that aggressiveness about those mutts. And, in my experience, ounce for ounce, they outfight a bluegill every time. They just don’t have enough ounces to suit most tastes.

The other pond is about 1.5 acres and has bass, native bluegills, coppernose bluegills, some large green sunfish, about 10 hybrid stripers and two ancient channel cats. The green sunfish that I stock there are seldom caught. Well, why is that? After all, they are extremely aggressive in the forage pond. They get eaten. Being more fusiform than a bluegill, bass seem to target them. I consider them an excellent forage fish in the presence of predators. Still thinking, I’ve never heard of the Green Mutts taking over a pond in the presence of bass.

Green Sunfish are easy to catch and highly aggressive.

So, what happens when the hoodlum of the pond crosses and back crosses multiple times with regular bluegills? In my experience, you wind up with a big, bluegill-looking fish with a large mouth and some iridescent green color on the side of its mouth. And those mutts out-fight a pure-bred bluegill every time. 

As Lusk said “What’s the problem?”

Dave Davidson is a retired IT headhunter, entrepreneur, and long time member of the Pond Boss discussion forum. Dave manages his own ponds and gives solid advice with his folksy charm. He is a charter member of the Pond Boss forum moderator crew. Actually, Dave is the man who figured out the forum needed moderators. In his own inimitable words, “I subscribed to Pond Boss magazine before it was in color." You can reach Dave through the forum.