I have often said that one of the things I like most about trout fishing is the beauty of the fish. Even a 6-inch brook trout can be a prized catch because they are such pretty fish. I am convinced that is part of the glamour of trout fishing, that and fly-rods, and the fact that cold-water habitats where trout reside typically are also really purdy places.
Likewise, I am awed by the diversity and beauty of fish on a coral reef. No, I have never been to a coral reef, but I am always entranced by an aquarium full of those fish, or even a good documentary on TV.
Unfortunately, many folks, even many anglers, dismiss the warm- and cool-water fish we have in Nebraska as being plain or just common because we do not have anything “exotic” like coral reefs or high mountain lakes.
I have been on a panfish kick recently, oh sure, I have dried off some larger predator fish too, but recently have spent a lot of time just watching a bobber on the water. (And, of course, under the water!) My partners and I have dried off more than a few members of the sunfish family this year, many of them at the peak of their spawning colors, and you know what? They are darned purdy too! Just as beautiful as any trout or reef fish.
Many of us have caught hundreds if not thousands of bluegills in our lives; probably so many that we take for granted just how colorful a male bluegill is:
Although bluegills are certainly one of the most common, Nebraska is blessed with many different Lepomid sunfish (members of the genus Lepomis). I got a hot tip on some redear sunfish last month (thanks, John!) and on a quick afternoon trip managed to catch three or four of them. They were spawning and all dressed for it!
Obviously, what was most striking about those fish was what they are named for–the red “ear”. In relatively clear water I could watch those sunfish posture and guard their spawn beds. Often they would confront the neighboring redear face to face with flared gill covers. Every time they did that, the red on the tab of the gill cover would flash. It was eye-catching and exemplified the beauty of those fish!
This past winter my son pulled a few pumpkinseed sunfish through ice-holes. Those fish are another Lepomid sunfish species and also very colorful.
Now that photo is a little blurry, but even if it was not, it would not show the real beauty of a pumpkinseed in spawning colors. That fish was caught months before the spawn period.
It has been years since I caught a pumpkinseed from open-water, in their spawning colors, but I have saved some pictures of someone else’s fish:
Those are some examples of the Lepomid sunfish in Nebraska and without doubt some colorful, beautiful fish. But, I do not think they are necessarily THE prettiest sunfish. No, if you want to capture the prettiest sunfish in Nebraska, you have to tackle down to what is called “micro-fishing”. Micro-fishing is a fun type of fishing where extremely small hooks and light lines are used to capture some of the smallest fish living in waters right in the backyard. Yes, micro-fishers are targeting minnows, literally minnow species, as well as some others. If you are lucky, one of those “micro-fish” will be what I think may be our prettiest sunfish, an orangespotted sunfish.
See, I told you they were small. A “trophy” orangespot would be all of about 3 or 4 inches long.
You can see that orangespot photo was not one that I took, but I know John fished hard for that fish and was darned proud of it. As he should be! What a beaut!
I am writing this blog mainly to call attention to some of the very colorful sunfish that can be found in Nebraska, but let me make a couple of other comments about beauty being in the eye of the beholder before I quit. . . .
I think I have made a case for our trout or sunfish being colorful, beautiful. Unfortunately, I have seen some wince at the sight of the business end of some of our largest predator fish.
Are you kidding? Yes, they have a mouth full of ferocious teeth, but what could be more powerful, more awe-inspiring, more dominant, more mystical?
Maybe it is just me? Maybe it is just the warped affection of this pointy-headed fish biologist and fisherman? Afterall, I even think that big flathead catfish are beautiful too!