Freshwater Fish - Species

Spotted Sunfish - Click to enlarge photo

Species Specific Regulations

Spotted sunfish

Freshwater Fishing License required.

Complete fishing regulations

Guide to Freshwater Fishes

Guide to Freshwater Fishes
(Adobe PDF - 3MB)

Spotted sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) - Native

Description: (Anatomy of a Fish)
The spotted sunfish has distinct black spots along the side of its head and body and noticeably on the operculum or gill cover. The body is olive in color, with an orange or yellow tinge along the belly. The tips of the dorsal, caudal and anal fins are silvery to white. The operculum lobe is black with a white edge and is stiff. The bottom of the eye is underlined with a blue iridescent half moon. The mouth is small with no teeth on the tongue or the roof of the mouth.

Range: Coastal plain of South Carolina

Average Length: 4-5 inches

Average Size: 2-4 ounces

South Carolina State Record: Unknown

Life Expectancy: Approximately 8 years

Preferred Habitat

Spotted sunfish are generally found in sloughs, swamps, slow streams and rivers near dense vegetation, debris and/or submerged logs and stumps.

Food Habits

  • Terrestrial and aquatic insects, snails and crayfish.


  • Spotted sunfish spawn late spring to early summer once water temperatures have reached 70°F.
  • The males build nests in shallow water frequently near banks.
  • Spotted sunfish are unlike other sunfishes in that they tend to be solitary nesters.
  • Courting males make a grunting sound and are very aggressive when guarding their nests.


Spotted sunfish are often called "stumpknockers." This is probably due to their feeding activity for insects attached to submersed logs. This species will tolerate higher salinities than other sunfishes, thus allowing it to exist in coastal streams with some saltwater intrusion.

Literature Cited

Rohde, Fred C, Arndt, Rudolf G., Foltz, Jeffery W., Quattro, Joseph M. 2009. Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina.

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. 2009. South Carolina Guide to Freshwater Fishes.

Fish Illustration by Duane Raver.