Sunfish are the most popular and most widespread fish caught by anglers in Minnesota. To protect big sunfish and avoid stunted populations of sunfish, the DNR is encouraging anglers to release large sunfish, and keep smaller fish for eating.
Sunfish spawn in large nesting colonies during the spring and early summer. Parental male sunfish build and defend nests. Females will select a male, lay eggs, and leave them for the male to protect and fan with his fins. These nest-building male sunfish play an important role in repopulation with the largest sunfish often getting the best spawning sites.
When anglers keep only the largest sunfish, which are usually males guarding nests, the remaining small males don’t need to compete with larger males to spawn. Instead of growing, the small males devote their energy to spawning at younger ages and smaller sizes.
For a longer read on the topic, check out “The Sunfish Myth” (opens in a new window, off BrainerdDispatch.com) in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.