What Is A Flier Fish – Everything You Need To Know

By Get Fishing •  Published: 01/25/23 •  8 min read

If you happen to find yourself in the south with a Flier fish on the line, you’ll probably be wondering what it could be. This fish is similar in appearance to many others in the Sunfish family, so it’s not surprising that it is easily confused with other species. However, the Flier has an interesting distribution and appearance that makes it an outlier.

What is a Flier Fish

What is a Flier Fish?

flier fish

The Flier fish (Centrarchus macropterus) is a freshwater species belonging to the Sunfish family. Unlike other Sunfish, it is the only fish in its genus (Centrarchus) which may explain why it’s so unique. The Flier is endemic to the southern United States, meaning it is not found outside of this area at all. 

Why is it Called a Flier Fish?

This fish stands out due to its wing-like fins, earning it the name “Flier.” Here’s a quick history lesson: the USS Flier, active during the second World War, was a submarine named after this species. 

What Type of Fish is a Flier Fish?

Aside from being a Sunfish – with the usual rayed fins – the Flier is also a panfish. Its compressed, saucer-shaped makes it the perfect size for frying in a pan. This species is also endemic, and we’ll get into what that means later under the ‘Where to Catch Flier Fish’ section. 

What Does a Flier Fish Look Like?

Kayak angler holding a flier fish

Fliers are often confused with the Crappie at first glance, as the two species look very similar. However, Flier fish have a more rounded, saucer-shaped body. They also have 11-13 dorsal spines and an olive-green, brassy coloration. Vertical rows along the body are made up of black spots. A stand-out feature in this species is the ‘teardrop,’ a vertical black line running through and below the fish’s eye. 

Where Can I Find Flier Fish?

These fish are endemic, meaning they’re found in the southern US and nowhere else. Their range reaches from Florida, north to Maryland, west to the Mississippi River area, into southern Illinois and Indiana, and finally south to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico drainage. 

What Do Flier Fish Eat?

Like other Sunfish, the Flier is a carnivore. They’ll go after insects, worms, small fish, crustaceans and mollusks. 

How to Catch Flier Fish

Not many anglers choose to go after Fliers as they aren’t considered a “sport” fish, meaning they don’t put up much of a fight – but that’s likely due to size. If you’re looking for Flier fish anyway, they respond well to poppers, live bait, and any kind of lure mimicking their favored meals (think minnows and worms). 

Where To Catch Flier Fish

Flier habitat is all about hiding, so there’s a good chance you’ll get caught in vegetation or on underwater structures like logs and stumps. These fish hang out around underwater roots, cypress trees, and at the mouths of water sources like creeks and canals. They prefer clear water that is slightly acidic; water temps should be in the low 70s to 85F. 

When To Catch Flier Fish

Warm weather will draw Fliers out, as they prefer warmer water. However you’ll also have a good shot at this species during their spawning season – usually March-May, when water temps hit 57 degrees F or higher. Fliers will nest in colonies in soft and gravel bottomed streams. They aren’t picky about how fast or slow the water source is running. Look for nesting areas during the spawn or, if you’re fishing further in the season, for highly vegetated areas with lots of places for Fliers to hide. 

What’s the Best Bait for Catching Flier Fish?

Aside from live bait, some of our favorite artificial bait for catching Fliers includes Berkley Gulp Minnows, Rapala’s Ultralight Popper, and Mule Minnows. All of these options mimic the Flier’s usual diet and add a bit of flash to your tackle box.

If you’re looking to go outside of our suggestions, make sure you purchase soft plastic baits that hold up well against multiple uses. 

What Fishing Tackle Do You Need for Flier Fish Fishing?

Ultralight fishing gear is a great option for Sunfish in general, and the Flier is no exception. Buying ultralight gear ensures you can pack into wherever you’ll be fishing with everything you need, but no dragging weight.

Look for a smaller freshwater rod that can hold up against a variety of freshwater species, no matter the size. A great spinning or casting reel will go a long way and keep a decent line on hand, as well – maybe in a few different tested weights in case you hit on another species in the area. 

What is the Best Flier Fish Fishing Rod?

Okuma Celilo

Okuma Celilo Ultralight Rod

Okuma Celilo Ultralight Rod

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Okuma’s lightweight rod was made for panfishing, and it’ll do great with Flier fish as well. This rod is affordable and durable, fashioned with graphite blanks and aluminum guide inserts. A two-piece rod, you can put it together in a hurry and take it apart for navigating tough terrain. The graphite blanks add sensitivity to the body of the rod so you’ll know as soon as you’ve got a fish on the line. 

What is the Best Pound Line for Flier Fish Fishing? 

We recommend any 4-6lb, monofilament line for Flier fishing. This line is versatile and allows for sensitivity, but discretion; fish won’t notice it breaking the surface. It also provides enough strength to reel in a variety of panfish or small freshwater species similar to the Flier. 

What is the Best Hook Size for Flier Fish?

A #6 hook will land you a good-sized Flier and weed out the small fish. This size also works well for Crappies, Perch, and other panfish in the area. It’ll comfortably fit minnow-sized bait while giving your fish something to bite on.

What is the Best Reel for Flier Fish Fishing? 

Cadence CS8 Spinning Reel

Cadence CS8 Spinning Reel

Cadence CS8 Spinning Reel

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This ultralight reel has a smooth cast and ambidextrous design. Customers love that it’s lightweight and easily interchangeable between left and right hand use. The Cadence can hold up to 165 yards of line, meaning you won’t struggle to cast as far out as you need to, and a 20lb line for going after those fighters. 

Do Flier Fish Taste Good?

Fliers are similar in taste to Bluegill, with white, mildly sweet flesh. Many anglers find them enjoyable, however there isn’t a lot of meat on them. 

How Big Do Flier Fish get?

This species averages at about 5 inches in length and just over 1lb in weight. If you’re looking to use Fliers for a meal, you’ll need at least a few per person. 

What is the World Record Flier? 

The world record Flier was caught in Jackson County, Florida on May 9, 2015 by Twila York. It weighed in at 1lb 5oz. 

What’s the Difference Between a Flier and a Rock Bass?

Rock Bass are roughly the same size as Fliers, though they weigh more and have a longer, less rounded body. Rock Bass also prefer slow-moving water sources away from vegetation and are found further north and east than the Flier. 

What’s the Difference Between a Flier and a Warmouth?

Warmouths are fighters, so you’ll know when you have one on the line. They hit much harder than Fliers and average 4-10 inches in length. This species also prefers muddy water vs. the clear water that Fliers love. They can be found on the eastern have of the US. 

What’s the Difference between a Flier and a Green Sunfish?

Like the Flier fish, Green Sunfish love cover – they hide in areas with heavy vegetation. Green Sunfish are usually much smaller than Fliers and have a more striking, colorful appearance, given away by their name. Their bodies are a green-blue in color with bright blue stripes along the gills. 

What’s the Difference between a Flier and a Crappie?

Flier fish and Crappies are often confused. They look very similar, however the Flier is more saucer-shaped. Crappies vary in color and can be very dark or very light (almost white). Like the Flier, they prefer clear water but stay in calm areas. 


While Flier fish aren’t the game fish of choice, they’re an interesting species to try and hunt down if you’re in the southern US. This species has an interesting body shape and a delicate, tasty flesh that keeps many anglers coming back for more. Happy fishing!