May is for Sunnies


Although the sunfish family includes crappies, largemouths, smallmouths, rock bass and other fish not called sunfish, in May we seek redear, bluegills and green sunfish.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other governmental agencies add all three of these species to local ponds and lakes in parks and other popular locations. Smaller than their cousins, these sunnies provide great action on ultra-light tackle.

These species spawn in May, with the bluegills leading out, followed shortly by the other two. Bluegills usually begin spawning around the full moon phase of the month and continue the process several more times into summer.

Light sunfish tackle seems awkward at first, but hours spent yanking in those big bass and slightly smaller crappies during their spawning months can make one accustomed to heavier rods and reels. Ultra-light spinning reels and 2-pound-test line takes a little adjustment.

A conventional light float is the choice for most anglers for bluegills and green sunfish. Threading a

waxworm on a small wire hook suspended about 3 feet down is a reliable place to begin. Redears are usually more difficult to catch due to their tendency to stay much deeper in the water column than the other sunfish. However, during the spawn they move up to more shallow waters where they are visible.

In areas with wood and vegetation, bluegills tend to feed vertically along the wood. Redears are more likely to feed horizontally, away from the main wood and along the protruding branches. Green sunfish are likely to feed almost anywhere they can find shade from the sunlight.

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Add a couple of split shot aids for casting. In the interest of finding the best presentation, live bait seems preferable. Gulp Alive artificial crickets and grubs can produce well though. Some anglers do not use the float, preferring instead to using the tight line.

Sunfish have small mouths, so very small hooks and baits are mandatory. By trying a variety of presentations, you can develop a pattern that works best on that particular day.

By casting to concrete walls or riprap, you will often acquire a number of bluegills and other sunfish. Most of the fish taking the live offerings are female bluegills and sunfish. The Gulp success often comes in the form of large male bluegills and crappies. Traditionally, the sunfish can be harder to catch with anything other than live bait.       

       Don Gasaway is a veteran outdoor writer from Marion, Ill. He may be contacted at: or