Redbreast sunfish occur naturally along the Atlantic Coast and across southern Georgia and northern Florida to the Chattahoochee River. They tend to be more of a cool river species, but also inhabit fresh water lakes. Introductions have been made as far west as Louisiana and Western Texas. They tend to prefer areas with shadows and holes around submerged rocks or overhanging banks.
Redbreasts run from olive to brownish shades along the back, changing to blues and gold down the side turning to a bright orange/yellow belly. There are generally several bluish stripes on the cheeks and gill covers. Its gill flap is one of the longest of all sunfish and may exceed an inch in length. Typically, these fish don’t much exceed eight inches, although specimens to twelve inches have occurred. Life expectancy is five to six years.
Spawning occurs when water temperatures reach the upper 60’s in the spring. Nests in shallow water are built by the males over a sand/gravel substrate. Female release their adhesive eggs, and leave the male to guard and fan the eggs. A typical clutch size is around 2000. Most Redbreasts are sexually productive by their second year.
These sunfish have one of the more varied diets among all sunfish. Aquatic insects, such as mayflies and dragonfly larvae make up the bulk of the sunfish’s die. However, being an opportunistic feeder, they will readily eat small fishes, snails, crayfish, and mollusks. Making them a ready and willing player for anglers.
Redbreast Sunfish in Texas
This sunfish possesses a yellow belly that is sometimes an orange or a rusty color. It might have been better named the longear, as its opercle flap or ear is considerably longer than the opercle flap of the longear sunfish. In adults, the ear often reaches a length of one inch or more; it is narrow and usually not wider than the eye. The lower margin of the flap is usually pale. The redbreast is one of our larger sunfish, occasionally attaining weights of one pound or more.
In typical sunfish fashion, the redbreast spawns in beds or colonies on sand or gravel where the water is one to three feet deep. After hatching, the young may remain schooled for several weeks before scattering. Adults feed on insects, snails, crayfish, and small fish.
Redbreast sunfish were introduced into Texas from their original range, the streams of the eastern US that drain into the Atlantic Ocean. This species now occurs throughout the eastern and southern parts of Texas as far west as some streams of the Pecos drainage.
At one time, this sunfish was raised by state hatcheries and widely distributed. Good populations of large redbreast can be found in the clear streams of central Texas, primarily in the San Marcos area.
Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife