Illustration by Duane Raver
Scientific Name: Lepomis microlophus
Classification: Game Fish
Abundance: Common throughout NC.
Redear sunfish (Photo by Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)
Redear state record (4 lbs., 15 oz., by Travis Jackson in Edgecombe County; 5/19/2008)
The Redear Sunfish is a deep, slab-sided fish with pointed pectoral (side) fins. Its most distinguishing feature is a red or orange edge along the ear flap. With light green-to-gold sides speckled with red or orange flecks, the redear has a yellowish-orange belly. Unlike redbreast or pumpkinseed sunfish, the Redear Sunfish does not have blue lines on its cheeks. The Redear Sunfish grows faster and larger than other sunfish, often reaching 2 pounds with 1-plus pound fish common.
Redear Sunfish are native to the middle and lower Mississippi River Basin and the Atlantic slope from the central Carolinas to Florida. Redears are found throughout North Carolina, except for cold mountain waters. They are opportunistic feeders, but forage mostly on aquatic clams and snails. Snails and clams are crushed by grinding teeth in the redear’s throat, hence their nickname “shellcracker.” Redears also feed on midge larvae, mayfly and dragonfly nymphs, fish eggs and crayfish.
Inland Fishing Regulations
Regulatory authority between the Wildlife Resources Commission and Division of Marine Fisheries. Inland game fish regulations include Manner of Taking, Seasons and Using Trotlines and Set-hooks.
Warmwater Game Fish
Game fish size and creel limits. Also, Bass and Morone (striped bass) Identification Charts.
Redears rarely approach the surface to take flies or other artificial top baits. They are captured with natural bait, such as earthworms and grubs. They are caught most easily in early spring when they are concentrated on spawning beds. During this time, anglers should use natural baits, along with small spinners and flies.
Quality Redear Sunfish are found throughout North Carolina’s coastal rivers. In the northeastern Coastal Plain, the Roanoke, Chowan and Meherrin rivers contain 2-pound fish in many locations. In areas in the central Coastal Plain, such as the Tar River from Rocky Mount to Grimesland, trophy-sized redears can be found in large numbers. The Neuse River just upstream of New Bern provides many great opportunities to catch large redear sunfish. In the southern Coastal Plain, the northeast Cape Fear River has quality-sized redears from Lane’s Ferry to Castle Hayne. The Black River, flowing through Sampson and Pender counties, also has good numbers of quality-sized redears. The Piedmont has fewer opportunities to catch large Redear Sunfish, but Lake Tillery, located along the Stanly-Montgomery county line, provides great action for decent Redear Sunfish, as does Lake Holt in Granville County.
2021 - 2020 Sport Fish Survey of the Neuse River (PDF)
2014 - Survey Report on Largemouth Bass and Sunfish in Neuse, Trent, and Pungo Rivers (PDF)
2012 - Sportfish populations in Little, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Scuppernong and Yeopim Rivers (PDF)
2010 - White Oak and New Rivers Boast Quality Sunfish Fishing Opportunities in Coastal North Carolina (PDF)
Where to Fish
NC Freshwater Fishing State Record Program
NC Angler Recognition Program (NCARP)