The Difference Between Bluegill & Sunfish

By Daniel Scott; Updated April 25, 2017
There are many varieties of sunfish.

Often a first-time fisher will catch a sunfish or bluegill. Though small, these fish provide excitement and the thrill of the catch. This first fishing experience often remains with you for life, and you never forget the thrill of "something" on the other end of the line. Some, however, would like to identify that something. The terms sunfish and bluegill are often used interchangeably, but there are identifying markers to determine the exact species caught.

A Bluegill is a Sunfish

Sunfish is the genus name for a variety of freshwater fishes including bluegill. Additional species in this genus include rock bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, spotted sunfish, green sunfish, longear sunfish, redear sunfish, warmouth sunfish and redbreast sunfish. These sunfish together are often also called perch, sun perch, bream or brim. The bluegill is easily identified by the presence of a black dot on the back end of the top or dorsal fin. The bluegill has a small mouth and is readily caught with small fishing hooks, usually gold in color, and may be caught with or without a worm.

Rock Bass and Pumpkinseed Sunfish

Rock bass have a red eye and a large mouth. The mouth is so long, it extends beyond the edge of the eye. The rock bass is gray to green, with gold tones. The color fades to white at the belly. The rock bass is most easily identified by six spiny bones in the anal fin. The pumpkinseed sunfish is more round-shaped and has an orange or yellow belly. The sides of the pumpkinseed sunfish are very colorful. In addition, the pumpkinseed sunfish has a black gill flap and a smaller red spot on the edge of the gill flap.

Green Sunfish and Longear Sunfish

The green sunfish is blue-green on the top of the back, with the coloring changing to green as you move down. Some of the scales feature bright turquoise spots. Approaching the belly, the green fades to yellow or even white. The green sunfish has a large mouth. The longear sunfish has an extension of the gill slit that flaps over the gills. This extension looks as if the fish has ears that extend back over the gills, thus its name. This extension is outlined in white in mature longear sunfish. Longear sunfish can be orange to bright red with turquoise markings on the head and fins.

Warmouth Sunfish and Redbreast Sunfish

Warmouth sunfish are dark in color varying from a dark brown to dark green. Coloring is somewhat mottled, with a yellow belly. The warmouth has a large mouth, extending beyond the center of the eye. The dorsal fin on the warmouth has three bony spines. Redbreast sunfish have a long black extension on the gill flap. The coloring can be orange to red on the belly, while the back is generally green. The redbreast has turquoise markings on the head.