Bluegill vs Sunfish – What Is The Difference

By Get Fishing •  Published: 12/28/22 •  8 min read

Freshwater species can get confusing, especially when they have so many traits in common. It can be hard to tell one apart from another, so in this post we’ll be comparing Bluegill and Sunfish. Read on to find out what differentiates these fish, what stands out about each variety, and where you can fish for them. 

Bluegill vs Sunfish

Is a Bluegill the Same as a Sunfish?

Bluegill vs. Sunfish can be confusing to many anglers, and it’s easy to see why. In short, a Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) is a Sunfish, but not all Sunfish are Bluegills. Confused yet? 

Let’s try to simplify things here: the Bluegill is a freshwater fish native to North America that is a distinct species. It falls under the umbrella of Sunfish, a family of fish better known to scientists as Centrarchidae. 

What’s the difference between Bluegill and Sunfish?

The difference between Bluegill and Sunfish is a little hard to pin down because, as stated above, Sunfish are actually a family of several different species of fish. The Bluegill species resides in this “family.” 

Here are some key differences between the two.



What is a Bluegill? 

Bluegill are some of the most-loved Sunfish among freshwater fishermen. They’re relatively easy to find, aggressive enough to be fun to catch, and delicious if you’re up for a pan fry! Bluegill fish reside mostly in lakes and ponds, but can also be found in slow-moving rivers and streams. This species loves hiding among vegetation and spawn from May to August depending on the location. 

Bluegill have a varied diet, meaning they won’t be too picky about your bait. They feed on insect larvae, water fleas, small crustaceans, other small fish, dragonflies, crayfish, worms and much more!  Some of the best Bluegill lures mimic live and natural prey. 

What is a Sunfish? 

Different Types of Sunfish

Sunfish have been the start of many a fisherman’s career. These little fish are everywhere in North America! Depending on where you live and/or where you’re fishing, you’re likely to find at least a few species.  

Sunfish, as a group, are known for being “laterally compressed,” meaning most have an almost disc-like shape to their bodies. This is also part of why they’re known as panfish, as they fit perfectly into a frying pan! As a rule, Sunfish have 6-9 anal spines, 2 dorsal fins (with both soft and spined rays) and are often found near vegetation. 

However, there’s a lot of variety in the Sunfish family. These fish can be as small as 2 inches in length or reach up to 3 feet (such as the ever-popular Largemouth Bass). They also prefer a variety of different habitats, water columns, temperatures and spawning seasons. 

How To Identify a Bluegill


Luckily, ID’ing a Bluegill is relatively easy! These guys truly stand out against other fish in the Sunfish family. Here are a few key ways to tell Bluegills apart from other species: 

How Can You Identify Other Freshwater Sunfish Species? 

As we pointed out earlier, there are 38 total species in the Sunfish family with 34 still living. That’s a lot of fish to weed through, especially if you’re fishing in different areas of North America. But even within smaller destinations, quite a few different species can reside. Below you’ll find some of the most common Sunfish species and their identifying features. 

Green Sunfish

green sunfish

These fish are found in creeks and streams, but may also wander into lakes and ponds. They’ll stay near vegetation and prefer gravel, sand, or rocky bottoms. Green Sunfish are able to tolerate poor water conditions. This species is blue-green along the body with bright blue stripes on the gills. They have larger mouths than their Bluegill cousins, but are actually smaller in size. 


redear sunfish

The Shellcracker is a fun little fish known for feeding on snails and freshwater mollusks. They can be found in the southeast, but also as far west as Illinois and Missouri. Shellfish will congregate near logs and vegetation in warm, quiet ponds and lakes. Shellcrackers are larger than Bluegills and can reach up to 5 lbs. They’re a dark olive in coloration with light greenish-yellow midsections. Look for orange and red spots around the gill area. 



Warmouth, also known as Warmouth Bass, are known for hitting your line hard. They hang out in ponds, streams, springs, lakes and rivers with muddy bottoms. Warmouths can survive in low oxygen water and are hardier than most other Sunfish. They avoid fast-moving water and prey on other small fish, crayfish and insects. When it comes to eating, Warmouths have a good amount of meat on their bodies and can reach up to 12 inches in size. 



These are perhaps the most whimsical of the Sunfish family, often confused for bluegills, and well-known as childhood favorites. Pumpkinseeds are distinctly colorful with orange, yellow, blue and green. They’re also speckled with dark blotches. Pumpkinseeds have small mouths and usually weigh less than a pound. They feed at all water levels and aren’t picky about bait, so they’re relatively easy to catch. 

Rock Bass


The Rock Bass is a Sunfish often confused with the Warmouth due to the similarity in body structure. These fish live in slow-moving and shallow water, congregating around any underwater structure. They’re native to the Mississippi drainage and are widely stocked by anglers. Rock Bass are usually smaller than the similar Warmouth and have a golden brown to olive body with a white belly. They blend in well with their surroundings. 

Sunfish Size Differences

While Sunfish are generally on the smaller size and known as panfish, that isn’t true of all species in this family. One of the smallest Sunfish is the Orangespotted, reaching 4 inches maximum if this species is lucky. 

Some of the largest Sunfish, on the other hand, are Largemouth Bass, which can reach over 22 lbs in weight and 3 feet.   

Most commonly, Sunfish average anywhere from 6-12 inches depending on the species, location, and age. 

Where Can You Find Sunfish? 

You can find Sunfish in most places across the North American continent. As far as native habitats, these usually reach from the east to west coast, into lower Canada, and northern Mexico. However, Sunfish have also been introduced far outside of their native range–it isn’t uncommon to hear that record-setting Sunfish are being caught in countries like Japan or England. 

Sunfish Fishing Tips

Let’s wrap things up with some Sunfish fishing tips that’ll help you land one on the line. Here are a few things to pay attention to when tracking Sunfish:


No matter where you are in North America, chances are you’ll come across a Sunfish at one point or another in your fishing career! The biggest tip we can give you is to be prepared. Know your species, stock up on a variety of bait, and be ready for anything with appropriate tackle. Happy fishing!

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