Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) is a thin, deep-bodied fish in the same family as bluegill and largemouth bass—Centrarchidae. It usually averages 4–6 inches long, but can grow slightly larger. It is one of the most colorful sunfish species, characterized by a red or orange spot on the opercular flap, a small mouth, wavy blue lines on its cheeks, irregular copper to gold spots covering its body, a green dorsal side, and a yellow or orange belly. Pumpkinseed are most often confused with the redear sunfish.
Illinois is home to eight different sunfish species that are similar to bluegill, including pumpkinseed, redear sunfish, green sunfish, and warmouth. Many sunfish can hybridize with one another, so there is a possibility of catching a pumpkinseed-bluegill hybrid or another variation where the species reside together.
While the ranges and habitats of these sunfish species can overlap, each species has a preferred niche in Illinois' wide range of ecosystems.
Pumpkinseed’s native range includes parts of Canada, the Mississippi River and Atlantic Drainage basins, and parts of the eastern United States as far south as Georgia, although it has been introduced to the Pacific coast. It is generally more common in the northern part of Illinois, and can be found in the Illinois River and Mississippi River. Its preferred habitats include slow-moving back waters along the river, vegetated lakes, and ponds where it feeds on small organisms such as invertebrates and smaller fish.
Pumpkinseed is not usually a sought-after sport fish due to its small size, although it can be captured like bluegill or redear sunfish; however, fishermen will keep a pumpkinseed if it is big enough.
So next time you go fishing for bluegill, try catching one of Illinois’ many other sunfish. You never know if it might be a good fish tale, or at least it should make a great picture!