Pumpkinseed, image courtesy of Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing, copyright Iowa Department of Natural Resources


The pumpkinseed is a deep bodied, slab sided sunfish with a very small mouth, and the upper jaw does not reach the front margin of the eye when the mouth is closed. The spiny dorsal fin has 10 or 11 spines and is broadly connected to the soft dorsal fin. The pectoral fins are elongated and pointed, reaching entirely across the eye when the fins are bent into a forward position. This fish is pale olive in color with purplish horizontal bars on the sides. The gill cover is quite small with a light colored


Pumpkinseed Distribution

The pumpkinseed is not an abundant species anywhere in Iowa. It is occasionally taken in natural lakes and in the Mississippi River. This sunfish is rarely taken in man-made lakes in northern Iowa and very rarely in the interior rivers of the state .


Pumpkinseed, like all sunfishes, forages on zooplankton when tiny but graduates to a diet of aquatic insects, snails, and other small mollusks, along with other small fish as they reach adulthood.

State Record

currently open

Expert Tip

Pumpkinseeds often consume snails that they pick off of aquatic vegetation, so fish for them with a small chunk of worm near aquatic plants.


The pumpkinseed is generally a species of the northern United States and is found in the upper Mississippi River basin. It is not abundant in any part of Iowa, but it is occasionally collected in the natural lakes. It is rarely found in the man-made lakes, mostly in the northern part of the state. Interior rivers very rarely have this little colorful fish, but in the Mississippi River lakes and pools, it is reported as rare to occasional in inventory surveys.

The pumpkinseed is an inhabitant of clear, quiet sluggish water with large stands of rooted aquatic vegetation and bottoms of muck or sand covered with organic debris. The pumpkinseed is common in clear, northern lakes and large streams, and has been successfully introduced into two reservoirs in Tennessee. In Missouri, the pumpkinseed is extremely rare. In Wisconsin, the pumpkinseed is a widely distributed sunfish, where it is a common inhabitant of ponds, lakes, streams, river impoundments and other man-made waters.

The breeding season of the pumpkinseed occurs at about the same time as bluegill in Iowa. Initial preparation begins during May at water temperatures of 60 to 68 degrees F with the peak activity taking place in early June. Spawning usually continues through July.

Several thousand eggs are deposited in each nest by one or more females, after which the male guards the nest until hatching. Pumpkinseeds usually nest nearer to shore and in shallower water than bluegills, and if nesting space permits, they are colonial nesters. Shady nesting sites are preferred over thin silt substrates on sand or fine gravel. Young pumpkinseed sunfish grow to about 1 1/2 inches in length the first year, attaining 4 inches and 5 1/2 inches during the following two years. Adults grow to about 8 to 10 inches.

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.



Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames.

Image credit: Image courtesy of Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing, copyright Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 9, Mississippi River Allamakee River Mile 647.9 at Lynxville, WI upstream to River Mile 679.2 at Genoa WI. 35169.00
Pool 11, Mississippi River Dubuque River Mile 583 at Dubuque, IA upstream to River Mile 615 at Guttenberg, IA. 19875.00
Pool 14, Mississippi River Scott Located between Clinton and Davenport, starts at River Mile 522.5 10291.00
Clear Lake Cerro Gordo south edge of Clear Lake 3684.00