Panfish, sunfish, and bream are a few general names that people often call the surprisingly diverse group of fishes within the family Centrarchidae.
One Centrarchidae species you may not have heard of is the redspotted sunfish (Lepomis miniatus), sometimes referred to as “stumpknocker.”
Most redspotted sunfish are smaller in size—less than 7 inches long. Like some other sunfish species, it is very colorful, with rows of scales of black and orange appearing near the base of each scale. It may also have a colorful orange patch just above the opercular (“ear”) flap. This sunfish generally prefers slow-moving backwater habitats in Illinois that are heavily vegetated.
Unfortunately the redspotted sunfish has suffered in Illinois.
Its decline in Illinois is often associated with the loss of backwater and wetland habitat along with the spread of invasive grass carp and common carp, which can reduce critical vegetation. Recent efforts have found only a couple of stable populations in the state—one near central Illinois and the other in far southern Illinois.
The threat of extirpation to the redspotted sunfish is so urgent that it was listed as state endangered in 2009, after being listed as a species of concern for many years prior.
Reintroduction efforts have focused on rearing and stocking the redspotted sunfish into suitable habitats, including a pond located near Emiquon. Many young fish have been translocated to five other areas within the state. Without more suitable habitat though, the redspotted sunfish will likely continue to struggle within the state.
Hopefully, the restoration of river backwaters like Emiquon can be a model for future areas within the state to promote the redspotted sunfish and similar species that rely on what is now a rare and unique habitat in Illinois.