How to Catch Sunfish: A Guide to the Easiest Fish to Catch

As the most common gamefish in North America, sunfish are easy to catch, so Fishing expert Christian Nelson lays out everything you need to know about catching them.

Someone holds a sunfish in their hands.

Photo courtesy of the National Parks Gallery

From the eyes of a complete novice, fishing can seem intimidating, to say the least. This begs a question that I get quite often, what is the easiest fish to catch? For beginner anglers, having success early on can make a monumental difference in the attitude you have toward fishing as a whole, and building up confidence when you start is absolutely key to success!

When considering what qualifies as the easiest fish to catch, there were several qualities I felt that species or groups of fish should have. They should be widespread and abundant so that any angler can find and catch them, predictable and easy to entice into biting so that there is very little guesswork in catching them, and accessible to everyone in the United States. This brought to mind only one group of fish, sunfish, the most common type of gamefish in North America.

While catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and some other species can be easy to catch, they are not as abundant and easy to find in some situations and require more skill than sunfish. Panfish is a broad term that is primarily used to describe a species of freshwater fish that usually does not outgrow the size of a frying pan; however, this includes crappie and other more variable species. Sunfish is an umbrella term for bluegill and other similar species, as this is wildly more convenient than calling each of the dozen different individual species by their individual names. Different kinds of sunfish are wildly abundant in streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes all throughout the country, and they are extremely popular gamefish. If there is water near you, chances are, it holds sunfish!

The author holds a sunfish in his hand, and in front of him, a woman holds up a sunfish hanging from a line.

Photo by Christian Nelson

What to Use

These fish are extremely easy to catch and can be caught in a variety of different ways. By far though, the easiest method is using an old-fashioned live-bait approach. Before we get into gear though, make sure you’ve picked up the necessary fishing license for your area.

Once you’ve done that, with a rig as simple as a bobber, a split shot sinker, and a small hook with a worm or cricket attached, you can catch pretty much as many sunfish as you like!

Before we get too far into tackle though, you’re gonna need a rod and reel if you don’t have one! I recommend a 6ft 6in or 7ft spinning combo with a 2000-2500 size reel. This one is one of my favorites, and is able to handle other fish as you grow as an angler! As far as bobbers go, I like small, light ones. They’re much more sensitive and super user-friendly. Personally, I recommend these. You’ll also need some split-shot sinkers to make sure your bait gets down to the fish, make sure you don’t forget them! I usually clip on my sinker around 6 inches above my hook, I find this works best. Speaking of hooks, these hooks in the #8 size are perfect for sunfish. They hold small live baits, like crickets and worms, great because they have a very thin wire shank, and the long shank makes it easier to remove the hook from the mouth of the fish.

You can usually find live crickets at a local bait shop, and I’ve even seen Walmart carry live crickets! I prefer them over worms just from personal experience, but worms will work well too, and they are much more widely accessible and easy to find. Nightcrawlers are one of my favorites, but big red worms work as well! Small minnows work too, but these can be harder to come by, as well as more expensive. Sunfish are also very eager to strike artificial lures on most occasions, if they can fit them in their small mouths. One of my favorites is a classic “rooster tail” style bait, but small jigs, spinnerbaits, spoons, small crankbaits, and grubs work well for these popular gamefish. For the purposes of making this as simple and user-friendly as possible though, we’ll focus primarily on a live bait approach!

A sunfish is suspended over the author's hand by a line. They are above a murky pond and the author has a tattoo on his inner wrist of Chinese characters.

Photo by Christian Nelson

Where to Fish

Now that you’ve got a reliable rod and reel, the tackle you’re going to need, and some good bait, all you’re missing is a place to fish! Luckily, as I mentioned earlier, these fish are plenty common and super easy to find! Almost any body of water you come across will hold sunfish, so don’t sweat it too much. A local pond or lake is a great place to start, and that’s where I recommend anyone new starts their journey in fishing. A lot of people think that fishing is a difficult sport to pick up, but you can catch these feisty little fish in nearly any local body of water you can find! This is also great because further north you start finding rainbow trout in these same areas, so a lot of times you end up catching a mixed bag, which keeps things exciting!

If you’re unfamiliar with your area, or no good public spots come to mind, I suggest just doing a quick Google search. Most states have websites designed specifically to help people just like you find and use these awesome public waters, so use the resources your state provides to find a spot if you need to! Beyond this, you can also get on Google Earth and look around your area for some places that may be public. This is another great way to find places to fish that are close to home, and often you’ll discover some places just nearby that you never even knew existed!

How to Catch Sunfish

So you have all the gear you need, and you have a place picked out to go fish, you just have to catch them! Sunfish, like most fish, prefer certain spots and conditions to hang out in. Knowing where these fish like to be will help you tremendously, as it eliminates some areas and allows you to focus on spots that offer a higher probability of holding fish. Sunfish, in general, like slow water. They also prefer areas with some kind of relief. This can be an overhanging tree, submerged log, or just a fishing dock that stretches out into the water. Try and cast your bait as close to these structures as possible, this will yield the best results. These fish often have ranges, in the sense that they are much more eager to eat whenever a bait is closer to their area. By targeting these high probability areas, you are giving yourself the best chance at catching these fish!

The author holds a sunfish in his hand along with a rod and reel. They are all held over a murky body of water.

Photo by Christian Nelson

Timing is another key factor in having success, and this applies to pretty much all fish. Dawn and dusk are easily the best times to fish, as this is when fish are actively feeding the most. Especially during summer, fish tend to shut down as the sun rises higher in the sky and water temperatures rise. Just like us, fish like to be comfortable, so keep that in mind when trying to catch these fish. If it’s hot outside, focus on fishing areas in the shade, or in deeper, cooler water. Understanding that fish are predictable animals that act certain ways when presented with certain circumstances is key to having great success on the water!

The last thing I think I should cover is quite simply, be patient! It can be super easy as a new angler to get discouraged, and it’s completely understandable! I’ve traveled all over and had success fishing for a wide variety of species, and sometimes I still feel discouraged when working new water that I have never fished before. It’s important to build base confidence in fishing, and this alone will really help you. If you have had success before, then even when you’re not catching fish, you will know that what you’re doing is right, and it won’t be nearly as discouraging. All in all, you just have to go out there and get a hook wet. The more you fish, the more you’ll learn, and soon you’ll be chasing something other than the easiest fish to catch!

If you have any questions, please reach out to me or another Fishing expert here at Curated for free advice and personalized recommendations. We'd love to help you get out there to start catching some great fish.

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Written By
Christian Nelson
Christian Nelson
Conventional Fishing Expert
I have been fishing for pleasure for over 10 years, fishing tournaments and doing some guiding as a side gig along the way. ​ I have caught 50+ species of fish, from rainbow trout to giant sharks, and from bass to monster bull redfish. ​ I have a wide array of knowledge to put you on fish, no matter...
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