The Pumpkinseed is the bluegill’s more flamboyant cousin. In my opinion it is probably one of the the most colorful fish native to North America. The colors are vibrant blues, yellows, oranges and greens. Add speckles, bars and vermiculation and it all adds up to a very visually striking little fish.
Pumpkinseeds prefer clear water. They can be found in the same warm water ponds, lakes, creeks and streams as other members of the sunfish family. They like water with plenty of vegetation and other cover were they can feed and seek shelter from predators. They tend to stick close to shorelines but will occasionally migrate to deeper water. Although they are more tolerant of lower oxygen levels than their bluegill cousins, they prefer slightly cooler water. Pumpkinseeds are a schooling fish and are seldom found alone. They will often be found schooled up with members of the sunfish family.
Similar in appearance to bluegills, pumpkinseeds are usually more colorful. They share the same vertical bars but in addition they are likely to be found with orange spots on their fins, and blue vermiculation on their cheeks. They also can be identified by the orange-red spot on the edge of their gill plate. Compared to a bluegill’s plate like body, the body of the smaller pumpkinseed is shaped more like a seed, a pumpkin seed to be exact, which gives the fish it’s unique name. The pumpkinseeds’s pattern of bars, spots and stripes is actually a very effective camouflage, mimicking the pattern sunlight makes as it reflects off the bottom of the lakes and streams it lives in.
Pumpkinseeds are usually slightly smaller than bluegills, averaging around 4” in length maxing out around a foot long. The current all tackle record is a 11.5” 1 lbs - 6 oz fish taken in Mexico New York in 1985. They can live up to 12 years in captivity though their lives in the wild are probably closer to 6 to 8 years.
Like their other cousins in the sunfish family, pumpkinseed's have a number of aliases. They are also known as common sunfish, pond perch, punkies, sunfish, sunny, and kivvers.
Their diet is similar to that of other sunfish, consisting of insects, aquatic larvae, crustaceans, small mollusks, minnows and aquatic vegetation. They feed primarily during day time hours and are more active in early morning and late afternoon. It is interesting to note that in the southern reaches of it’s habitat, the pumpkinseed is often confused with the Redear Sunfish. Both fish have similar coloration on the earflap, but the red ear is larger and adapted to feed on crustaceans and shellfish.
Reproduction occurs in the spring when water temperature reach 55–63 °F. Like the bluegills the male pumpkinseed constructs a nest by sweeping out a shallow depression in a sand or gravel bottom. The nests are usually oval in shape and about twice the length of the actual fish. Like other members of the sunfish family, male pumpkinseeds aggressively guard their nests and will attempt to drive off anything that comes near it. Because of this they are particularly easy to catch as they will pick up anything that falls into the nest. Females will often spawn in more that one nest and more than one female may spawn in a single nest. Depending on their size a female pumpkin seed can produce between 1500 and 1700 eggs. The eggs are released in the nest and adhere the sand and gravel as well as any other debris that may be present in the nest. After spawning, the females quickly leave the nest and the males are left to guard the eggs and fry. Male pumpkinseeds are excellent fathers, often picking up young fry that stray from the nest in their mouths and return them to the nest. The male will remain on the nest for one to two weeks before leaving the young pumpkinseeds to fend for themselves.
Pumpkinseeds are usually easily caught making them a very attractive target for anglers both young and old. As almost every angler just starting out realizes, they readily take a baited hook. They aggressively take dries, nymphs, wets/soft hackles and small streamers. Presenting a San Juan Worm pattern to a pumpkinseed is almost like cheating. Like their bluegill relatives they are strong fighters and particularly good eating. Their prolific numbers in most watersheds make for a guilt free meal when the mood strikes you for the occasional fish fry.