Pumpkinseed Sunfish

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The pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), like the bluegill, is a member of the sunfish family. The pumpkinseed is brightly colored with mottled sides spotted with orange, yellow, blue and green. The chest and stomach are orange-yellow. The sides of the head have blue or emerald wavy bands with a bright red or orange spot on the back edge of the earflap. The bluegill does not have this red spot. The pumpkinseed also has a small mouth, and a dorsal fin with ten to eleven spiny rays.

Found in habitats of clear lakes with thick beds of aquatic plants and a sandy, mucky bottom with decaying debris. Pumpkinseed feed on aquatic insects, snails, small mollusks and other small fish.

Spawning occurs between April and June; two thousand young are produced on average. Upon maturity, pumpkinseeds will reach an adult body length of two and a half to eight inches and an average weight of three to five ounces.

In Ohio's early history, pumpkinseeds were abundant in the northern and northwestern counties from Defiance to Ashtabula. In 1899, some people considered them the most abundant sunfish in both Sandusky Bay and Buckeye Lake. They were considered an important commercial fish throughout the 19th century until around 1900, when its sale was banned. Because of a lack of records, pumpkinseeds most likely did not live in southern Ohio before until the turn of the century, when canals were built, allowing the possibility of expanding their range.

Between 1920 and 1950, the State Conservation Department, the predecessor of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), put thousands of fry, young and adults in Ohio waters. However, those that were placed in moving water, particularly in southern areas of the state, did not establish themselves very well. It was not until 1929, that pumpkinseeds could be found in the unglaciated portion of Ohio.

In areas where water quality remains clear and there are still mass areas of aquatic vegetation, the pumpkinseed population is strong and healthy. Other populations have declined or even become extirpated because of a loss of vegetation and other habitat requirements. Currently, pumpkinseed sunfish are still found mainly in the northern half of Ohio, although can be found sporadically in other areas around the state, particularly Meigs County and certain areas around the Ohio River.

Although they are small, fishing for "punkys" is still popular with fishermen because they are a great food fish. The state record of .75 pounds and 9.5 inches long was caught in 2001.

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