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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Longear sunfish, the most abundant in Ky. streams, adapts well to reservoirs

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and last article in a series about Kentucky’s native sunfish species.

The longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis ) is Kentucky’s most abundant stream sunfish, that adapts well to reservoirs impounded from major rivers.

A beautifully-colored sunfish that is very familiar to anglers who fish rocky creeks, the longear is called a sun granny, or referred to simply as a bream, a generic term used to described several sunfish species.

Longear sunfish (Photo by KDFWR)

Statewide, there’s no daily creel limit, with no minimum size limit.

The longear sunfish is a member of family Centrarchidae, the sunfish family, which includes 18 species of fish in Kentucky.

Size and Coloration

The longear sunfish is a moderately small sunfish.

Males are larger than females, and adults can grow to 9 inches in length, but most are usually less than 6 inches long, weighing less than three-quarters of a pound.

Distinguished from other sunfish by its intense coloration, and having a long “ear flap,” that is black, with a white/reddish border, the longear is a deep-bodied sunfish with a small mouth, and short, rounded pectoral fins.

Its body coloration is orange, with wavy blue lines on the cheek and gill cover, that become smaller dots on the fish’s lowers sides, and belly.

Breeding males take on a more reddish, bright red-orange, their markings an iridescent blue, and their dorsal, anal, and caudal fins develop distinctive blueish tips.

Kentucky’s state record longear sunfish weighed 13.28 ounces, and was caught from a strip mine pond in Magoffin County in 1994.

(Photo by Lance Merry)

Geographic Range and Distribution in Kentucky

The longear sunfish’s geographic range extends from northeastern Mexico, east to South Carolina, northward up the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys to southern Minnesota, and the southern Great Lakes states, east from Pennsylvania to southern Ontario.

In Kentucky, the longear sunfish is found in all nine major river drainages, and the Ohio River.

Its preferred habitat is similar to the spotted (Kentucky) bass — clear, sluggish pools, with a gravel or sand bottom.

In impoundments, the longear is found along the shoreline of shallow embayments.

Food Habits

Longear sunfish are aggressive feeders, eating small minnows, aquatic insects, and small crustaceans.


When water temperatures reach into the 70s longear begin spawning.

The male builds a small circular nest, often in close proximity to others, using his tail to clear away debris.

The male guards the eggs until they hatch, and may cannibalize fry in adjacent nests.

Fishing Tips

Because of its rather small size, the longear is not specifically targeted by anglers.

But this eager sunfish makes an ideal participant in a youngster’s first stream fishing trip.

A cane pole, or telescopic fiberglass rod, rigged with 8-pound test monofilament line, a small hook (No. 10), red worms and a float, with get the job done.

Fish in quiet pools, out of the current.

Anglers wading streams, fishing for bass, will catch longear sunfish, if they are casting spinners, or tiny crankbaits.

Longear sunfish are small but scrappy, and their beautiful coloration is a wonder of nature.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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