Pumpkinseed Sunfish
Typical Size
5-6" (1-5 oz.)
Decent Size
7-8" (6-10 oz.)
Nice Size
8-9" (11-16 oz.)
10.2" (2 lbs. 4 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

1 lb.
Genus/Species Lepomis gibbosus
Common Names common sunfish, kiver, bream, brim
Hot Spots Monponsett Pond West, Island Creek Pond
Best Time April - November
Best Baits earthworms, mealworms, spinners, small jigs
Best Method Still fishing with bait or spinning

Pumpkinseed sunfish are the most colorful of the sunfish family and are easily distinguished by a bright red spot in a halfmoon shape on the rear edge of the opercle flap. Additionally, the pumpkinseed has several narrow wavy stripes, alternating orange-brown or light blue, on the sides of their head. Their sides are an irregular assortment of faint olive bars specked throughout with orange mottling. The lower underbelly is a vivid yellow or yellow-orange. It is a very compressed bodied fish with a relatively small head. It has a spiny dorsal fin that is connected to the soft dorsal fin. The anal fin has three spines with the rest soft. The mouth is small and sports numerous teeth, so tiny that they are completely harmless.

Pumpkinseed Sunfish
Pumpkinseeds are easily distinguished by the red spot near the gill.
Pumpkinseed sunfish are one of the most common of the sunfish species, withstanding a wide range of temperature and habitat extremes and are found in ponds, lakes, streams, and swamps. Schools of young fish tend to stay close to shore, but larger adults are often found in slightly deeper water. Pumpkinseeds are active throughout the day but seek shelter at night near the bottom or in protected areas of structure. Preferring cooler water than most sunfish, pumpkinseeds are most active when temperatures range from 55 to 70 degrees. Pumpkinseed sunfish enjoy a varied diet of insects, tadpoles, worms, snails, small fry, and young crayfish.

Pumpkinseed sunfish are indiginous to the south shore but can be found throughout the United States due to stocking and distribution efforts. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts they often are found mixed with the non-native bluegill sunfish, in just about every pond and lake.

Spawning takes place in May when the larger males start making beds in the shallow waters of the shoreline. Similar to other sunfish, the male fish makes the bed by fanning the sand and gravel areas with their caudal fins and sweep out shallow, saucer-shaped depressions about twice the length of the fish. Once the nest is built, the larger females come in from the deeper water and deposit their eggs. The male pumpkinseed stays on the bed until the young fry hatch and are very aggressive towards other fish at this time.

You can fish for pumpkinseed sunfish with many different kinds of bait. Worm is by far the most popular but mealworms and crickets are just as productive. These feisty little fish are often a child's first introduction to fishing as they tend to hang close to shore, are hard to scare, and willingly accept the simplest of baits. The venerable worm and bobber rig with a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce sinker will catch numbers of these sunfish.

Another popular method for taking pumpkinseed sunfish is with an in-line spinner. Simply attach the spinner to you line and cast it out. When the spinner hits the surface of the water, engage the reel and retrieve the line back quickly to start (to get the blade spinning) and then slow to a moderate pace. Continue this approach for at least two dozen casts. If after that time you haven't experienced any strikes either change your retrieve speed or change your location. I find spinners to be highly effective and, in my opinion, more fun than bait fishing.

Fishing for pumpkinseed sunfish is not considered important commercially nor recreationally, as it is classified as a forage fish, rather than a game or food fish. However, when you consider the amount of kids these little, easily accessible, fish turn on to the sport of fishing, it's importance is immeasurable. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, we are blessed with plenty of accessible locations for great sunfish fishing. Although it is considered an edible fish, due to the questionable mercury and other pollution content of our fresh waters, I would recommend against consuming it.