The redbreast sunfish, one of the prettiest game fish in all North America, is known for its bright colors, long and narrow black gill cover, and of course the red breast. The red breast isn’t always red though. In some males it appears as a yellow breast or orange, and in females it is nonexistent. The surest way to distinguish this fish is by what looks like a long, distinctive black flap above its fin which is actually a narrow extension of its gill cover.
This is one of the most fished and easiest caught fish in the United States. And with good reason too, the redbreast sunfish is among the sweetest tasting freshwater fish and is often dipped into a pancake batter before being fried and consumed.
Redbreasts usually congregate around rocks or logs at the sandy bottom of lakes, rivers, and streams. They love to hide in aquatic vegetation and can often be found feeding among the roots at the bottom on their varied diet of snails, insect larvae, shrimp, crayfish, and even other, smaller fish. The redbreast has one of the most varied diets of all North American sunfish.
Probably the simplest and most time tested way to catch a redbreast sunfish is the cane fishing pole way. Before the diversification and commercialization of fishing, the redbreast was caught with nothing more than simply crickets and worms, a staple of their natural diet which they love to feast on if given the chance. If you decide to go this simple way, you will need a small hook, small weight, and a very thin line. When fishing for the redbreast sunfish make everything smaller, as small as possible, because these fish are small. Any fish above six inches is considered large and if you catch one over eight inches you should probably check the record books.
When fishing for redbreasts, using a large or brightly colored bobber will most likely scare them away. Go thinner and smaller instead. Try out a narrow spring bobber or a simple sponge bobber to help you remain inconspicuous.
The best bait to use for these fish is all natural. Because their diet is so varied, the redbreast sunfish will take almost anything. Try using grasshoppers, worms, flies, crickets, even small minnows or other tiny fish to see what gets them biting.
If you’re fishing from the bank or from an overhang of some sort, make sure your line drifts naturally and slowly but doesn’t move around too much. Like any other fish, jerky movements will scare them and a heavy handed fishing technique will prevent them from biting. The redbreast sunfish must be coaxed.
Because they like to gather in the shallows and are almost never found in any water deeper than 20 feet, if you decide to fish from a boat make sure to stay shallow. Sometimes fishing from a drifting boat or one that is moving quite slowly through the water can make the motion of your bait even more attractive to the redbreast. If they still don’t bite, try switching bait to see what’s on their particular menu for today.
For even more fun and good sporting satisfaction, the redbreast can be lured with a fly rod. Always cast toward stumps and logs on the water or to where you know there are underwater boulders. Overhanging limbs can be a great place to deposit your fly but you’ll have to get good at casting side arm. To get under a low hanging limb, make your cast low on the water and watch it slip across the surface and then slide to a stop right where it should.
Remember, the redbreast sunfish will not take your fly if it is moving around too much. They like to wait until their prey is relatively still before eating it so have patience and let them work up the courage to approach you. If you notice them sneaking up close to your fly and just watching it, try giving it a little jerk. Although this sometimes scares them away, it could entice them to strike with the thought of a live meal. Developing a rhythm and then sticking to it is the best way to fly fish for the redbreast sunfish.