Matt Johnson Outdoors
Sunfish Notes: Part 1
Matt Johnson Outdoors
By: Matt Johnson

Both   Northern   Minnesota   and
Southern  Minnesota  lakes  have
the  potential  of  growing  pound-
plus   Sunfish.    Many   Northern
lakes that are "untapped" will see
some    excellent   large   Sunfish
populations.     However,    these
populations   can    fluctuate  and
produce    one    year    and   not
produce the next. Some lakes will
experience     year    classes    of
stunted Sunfish,  and  sometimes
the     effects      seem     to     be
irreversible.    Many    lakes   that
once produced big  Sunfish might
not anymore because of over harvesting, biological factors or
environmental factors, especially in the smaller lakes. The
larger Northern lakes seems to be OK and can withstand
some of the negative variables that are thrown at them,
however, larger lakes need to be taken care of as well. If you
can pinpoint the bigger Sunfish on larger Northern MN lakes
you will see some nice fish.

Southern Minnesota lakes, in some areas, are a little more
fertile than the Northern lakes and can grow larger Sunfish
faster. Many of the field or "farm" ponds/lakes of Southern
Minnesota hold some monster Sunfish that will push the
1-pound mark. Certain characteristics allow for these fish to
grow fast, but I wouldn't go as far to say they are in a totally
different league than the Northern lakes. The lakes further
South (like South Carolina, Nebraska, Missouri, etc)
experience much warmer temps all year round, allowing the
fish to grow exceedingly fast compared to the Northern lakes.
There are more 7 year old Sunfish in the Northern states than
there are in the Southern states. A 3 year old Sunfish down
South is typically slightly bigger than a 3 year old Sunfish up
here. Same with Crappies. Not a whole lot of crappies live to
be 10 years old down in Florida, Louisiana, etc, but you will
see many (relatively speaking) 10 year old crappies in
Minnesota across the Northern belt as well as the Southern
belt. Fish grow slower in northern areas, as a general rule,
and the Southern U.S. fish don't experience as much of a
metabolic slow-down like the fish experience up here during
the winter months. Water temps and activity levels down
South will remain much higher on average than up here. The
diet of panfish down South is also more meaty and more
frequent. Many Northern panfish feed heavily on plankton,
zooplankton and other micro-organisms, where down South
you see a lot of scuds, minnows, crawdads, larger insects,
etc, devoured a lot more. Sure, Southern state panfish still eat
their fair share of micro-organisms, but they also snap up a lot
more larger morsels as well, and on a more consistent basis.

Now, when comparing Northern Minnesota to Southern
Minnesota you won't see as drastic of a change as you would
by comparing Minnesota with Southern U.S. lakes. I do
believe that some of the Southern Minnesota lakes have a
better potential of producing larger Sunfish on a consistent
basis and more rapidly than Northern Minnesota lakes. Many
of the Northern Minnesota lakes are larger than the Southern
Minnesota lakes and can produce higher populations of these
big fish, and they also have more places to hide. Southern
lakes tend to produce strong year classes of big fish and they
grow fast, but the numbers are less than the Northern lakes. It
all comes down to the lake type, forage and surroundings
when developing large Sunfish. Some lakes just won't see a
good population of large Sunfish, and some lakes might have
at one time seen large fish, but because of a change in
conditions might have seen a decrease in larger fish.

I personally like to target large Sunfish in moving water
systems or lake chains. Bodies of water where water is
coming in and moving out can produce some monster Sunfish,
even if the average depth is shallow. A constant flow of high
oxygen, no matter the season, is a contributing factor to a
Sunfish's quality of life. You also have more oxygen for
vegetation, forage and other surroundings that allow for a
healthy Panfish population and growth rate. The winter
months don't have as much of a toll on these systems
because of it. Having an "upstream" and "downstream" also
aids in the spawning process, especially when these channels
connect to several different lakes or bodies of water. Shallow
pools/bays along current areas will hold fish in slack water
during the spawn given the right conditions. I also like these
type of systems because Sunfish have more options for hiding
and food, making it tougher to catch the brutes, which in turn
can mean a better population of larger fish. Many larger
current systems will stump many anglers when trying to locate
big panfish, myself included. However, I believe there is
nothing wrong with that. This ensures that when you do find
the big fish, you find more than one and there are less flukes.
Big fish will use similar areas at like times, and you can
pattern these fish, even on large current systems/chains
where several lakes join.

So, Southern MN lakes versus Northern MN lakes. I think
your chances are good in both areas for catching large
Sunfish. It can really be a timing thing though. Southern lakes
will warm up faster, because they are not only further south,
but they typically have more stained water with darker
bottoms, and you might experience a better early season bite.
Northern lakes typically have excellent late-spring and
summer bites for large Sunfish. If I was going to target just big
Sunfish during the summer months I would hit the Northern
lakes. Water temps seem keep the bigger fish schooled more
and in more generalized areas, where the Southern lakes will
experience a more scattered, warm water effect. Larger gills
might push deep or hug to the bottom in the weeds during the
hot summer months.

I'm sure you could argue this either way and I'm sure some
people would prefer Northern MN lakes over Southern MN
lakes and visa versa. Both areas will and do hold large fish
and the potential of catching a 1-pound Sunfish is there.
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