There are several species of fish that fall into the panfish category. In this article I will explain the differences of each of these species so you will be able to identify your catches.

What is a Panfish?

Panfish are called what they are because they are commonly eaten, hence—they go good in a pan. There are numerous small freshwater fish that fall into this category including the bluegill, crappie, perch, rock bass and a few species of sunfish. One thing all of these panfish species have in common is they are usually very easy to catch, and they are all delicious to eat. The bag limit for most of these small fish is typically very high and on average you can keep up to 50 of them per person per day. Many areas have even more generous limits for these tasty fish. You will certainly need to check your local regulations before keeping any of them so you are not breaching any laws. While one state might have a limit of 50 panfish per person, it is very common for states to only allow you to keep 25 or less per person per day.

Panfish Species


Cane Pole Fishing for BluegillBluegill are some of the most common fish in this category. They are easy to catch and taste great no matter how you cook them. You can fish for bluegill with live bait (such as worms or crickets), lures and even fly fishing for bluegill is a great way to haul in a limit.


White crappie- this fish has vertical bars on it's body that give it a different appearance than the black crappie

White crappie- this fish has vertical bars on it’s body that give it a different appearance that the black crappie

There are 2 main types of crappie for you to catch black crappie and white crappie. Learn the difference between the 2 crappie species here. These fish are pretty easy to catch, especially in the spring and winter while ice fishing. The crappie will often hang around in schools with bluegill and other panfish species. They can be found in most of the Midwest US.

Yellow Perch

Yellow perch fish perca flavescensThe yellow perch is a panfish that feeds mostly on the bottom of the water body it inhabits. They can frequently be caught using small jigs and they are particularly fond of minnows. The yellow perch is a common target for ice fisherman in the Northern and Midwestern US and Canada. Yellow perch are close members of the walleye family making them some of the best tasting panfish available.

Rock Bass

Rock BassRock bass are an aggressive species of panfish. They are commonly found around docks, logs and heavy cover. Rock bass are especially fond of hanging out around large rocks on the shorelines, which offer great cover and a plentiful supply of food coming by their haunts.  Rock bass resemble smallmouth bass (except much smaller), but they are just as aggressive. These fish will typically eat a lot of small baitfish and crustaceans.

Rock bass can be caught using just about any technique you like. I have had good success catching them on large flies, minnows, worms and any other bait you can think of.


There are a few species of sunfish that fall into the panfish category. There is also a saltwater species of sunfish which is a very interesting species but they certainly don’t qualify as a panfish.

Green Sunfish

Green SunfishThis small species of sunfish can usually be found lingering around rocks and other areas that offer great cover. You will rarely see a green sunfish caught out in open water without good cover nearby. The green sunfish does not grow very large at all and the average size is under 5 inches. Bluegill will sometimes mate with the green sunfish creating what is known as the hybrid bluegill. The Hybrid bluegill are commonly used to stock ponds and lakes because they grow quickly and reach a very large size.

Pumpkinseed Sunfish

Pumkinseed sunfish are one of the most colorful panfish speciesThis brightly colored species of panfish is very distinct. They have brilliant colored bodies of orange and green. They will often be caught in the same schools you are catching bluegill and crappy.

Redear Sunfish

Redear Sunfish Fishing

Photo of large redear sunfish by: Patrick Lewis

These fish like shallow water and are commonly caught within the same schools as crappy, bluegill and other panfish species. They are distinctive because of the bright red colored gill flap on their cheeks.

Hopefully you have reached a good understanding of exactly what species qualify and panfish and how to identify them. They are fun to fish for because they are easy to catch and they have very liberal limits. When it comes to eating fresh caught fish these tidbits are very hard to beat.

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