The Warmouth sunfish is native to the United States, from Minnesota to western Pennsylvania in the north and from the Rio Grande in New Mexico east to the Atlantic in the south. The name originated from the stripes around its mouth resembling war paint. Warmouths are easily identified and distinguished from other sunfish by their large mouths. These smallish sunfish (6-8 inches) have the body of a bream and the head of a bass. Warmouths are rather aggressive, often striking at lures and baits even after being recently released moments before.
These sunfish prefer heavily vegetated, muddy-bottomed ponds and streams. Aquatic vegetation, stumps and snags, and under the banks of streams and ponds are attractive haunts for them to ambush prey. Their tolerance for muddy water is higher than most species. The similar looking rock bass is rarely found living in the same habitat as the warmouth sunfish.
Spawning occurs in late spring. Nests are made over aquatic vegetation and as it is with other sunfish, the males guard the eggs until the fry hatch. Chasing off intruders with gill covers spread wide and mouth open by making himself appear larger. Most live six to seven years.
Small freshwater are an important food source. Other prey items include small crayfishes, aquatic insect larvae, and minnows. Feeding occurs primarily in the low light hours of morning and evening.
Warmouth in Florida
The following is courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
Appearance: It has a stout, deep body similar to other panfish. A red eye and large mouth are conspicuous field marks. Three or four dark stripes radiating back from the eye across the cheek and gill cover like war paint confirm the identity.
Habitat: Warmouths inhabit swamps, marshes, shallow lakes, slow-moving streams and canals with soft, muddy bottoms. They stay around aquatic vegetation, stumps and snags and under the banks of streams and ponds. They have more tolerance for muddy water than most species.
Behavior: Warmouths are solitary nesters that prefer to nest adjacent to a submerged object. Nests are found over a wide range of water depths. They often spawn more than once a year usually between April and August. Crayfish, shrimp, insects and small fishes make up the bulk of their diet. Most feeding is done in the morning, as it appears to sleep at night.
State Record: 2.44 lbs. Big Catch: 10 inches or 0.75 lbs.