Around here we have bluegill, pumpkinseed, redbreast, shellcracker, green sunfish and warmouth in most bodies of water. These oval shaped, flat fish pull hard when hooked. They eat a variety of food, from bugs and worms to small mussels and snails. Although we lump them all together as bream, each species has its own characteristics.
Bluegill are the most common of them and vary in color a lot, depending on water color, breeding season and age of the fish. During bedding time males take on very bright orange bellies and dark blue to purple sheen backs. Females are less colorful and we often call them yellow breast since they look faded when compared to the males, but they are the same fish.
Bluegill will eat anything they can get in their mouths, including small minnows, bugs and worms. They spawn on the full moon every month from April through August around here and that is a great time to catch large numbers of them. Filleted or fried whole, they are the favorite fish to eat for many people.
There is an old saying that if a bluegill got to five pounds you could not land it because they fight so hard. The fisherman that landed the world record, a four pound, 12 ounce Alabama bluegill, might be able to tell you.
Shellcracker are also called Red Ear Sunfish due to the red tinge around the side fin. As the name implies, they eat snails and small mussels but will also eat worms and bugs. They get big; the world record is a five pound, seven ounce fish caught in South Carolina.
Redbreast are some of our prettiest sunfish, with bright red bellies. They are not common in ponds but are usually found in streams and rivers. Their populations have been decimated by the illegal introduction of flathead catfish in our rivers. They are smaller, too, with the world record weighing one pound, 12 ounce Florida fish.
Redbreast eat worms and bugs and crickets are a favorite bait for them. Floating small rivers and creeks in a canoe is a good way to catch them, and the Apalachee river is one of the best in the state for them.
Warmouth are not as closely related to the others and look different. They are very dark and have very large mouths, and will eat anything. They are very aggressive. The two pound, seven ounce warmouth caught in Florida is the record.
Warmouth will hit anything that comes near them and often drive bass fishermen crazy hitting at their plastic worms. They seem to like to hang out around rocks and rocky banks and points and those are good places to catch them.
My mother loved to fry small bream and always said if they were big enough to make the grease stink they were big enough to keep. She especially liked to eat the crisp fins after frying the fish. A three inch bream was plenty big enough for her to keep.
If you scale a bream, cut its head off and gut it, you can fry them whole. Anyone that has eaten a fried bream knows you can pull the top fin out and it will take out the attached bones. Then the meat will fall away from the backbone.
I prefer bigger bream, big enough to filet. I like a boneless piece of fish and they are easier to cook, too. And, any left-overs make a great fish sandwich later. I keep a small deep fryer full of grease in my refrigerator and use it for frying fish and French fries. You need a bigger fryer to cook whole fish.
The warming weather is turning on the bream in local ponds. I have started catching them in my pond a lot better, and they are even hitting floating fish food on top again. Get out and catch a mess of bream for fun and food.