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Green Sunfish

Green Sunfish, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


A thick-bodied sunfish with a large mouth for sunfishes; the upper jaw extends to about the middle of the eye when the mouth is closed. The spiny dorsal fin has 10 spines and is broadly connected to the soft dorsal fin. The pectoral fins are short and rounded, and the ear flap is never elongated. The back and sides are bluish-green with emerald and yellow reflections, while the belly is white or light yellow. Sometimes there are several black vertical bars on the sides. The sides of the head are mottled with emerald and yellow streaks, and the black ear flap has a whitish or yellowish margin. Green Sunfish usually have whitish or yellow-orange leading edges on their dorsal, anal and caudal fins.


Green Sunfish Distribution

Every watershed in the state; found in streams of all sizes, but reaches its greatest abundance in natural lakes, man-made lakes and farm ponds. Lives in the full length of the Mississippi River, and is prevalent in the prime habitat created by the rip-rap armoring placed along the banks of the Missouri River.


Zooplankton make up a large part of the diet of small fingerling Green Sunfish, but later in the first year they switch to aquatic insects. As adults they continue to rely on aquatic insects, but also eat small fish, minnows and small crayfish. Since this species has a large mouth, it eats larger food items than most sunfishes.

State Record

2 pound 1 ounce, 12 1/2 inches, farm pond, July 2000, Ralph Mayer, Knoxville, Iowa

Expert Tip

Green Sunfish are not selective feeders, they can be caught easily on most types of live bait, as long as the hook is small enough to fit into their mouth.


Green Sunfish are one of the most widely distributed fish in Iowa, and is the most wide-ranging sunfish species. It can be found in a variety of habitats, from small muddy creeks and weedy backwaters with temporary flow to overflow ponds, shallow lakes, impoundments and occasionally, the margins of large rivers of low gradient. It is commonly found near shore and around cover, like stems of vegetation, woody debris, or rocks, and has no specific substrate preference. Its high tolerance for extremes in turbidity, siltation, low oxygen, temperature and flow allow it to live in, and reach greatest abundance, in areas that do not support other sunfishes. In Iowa, the Green Sunfish is well adapted to survive in small streams with intermittent flow that become stagnant pools late summer and fall. A pioneering species, it is often the first fish to find its way to newly created farm ponds, and first to repopulate streams after droughts.  

Green Sunfish share similar reproductive habits with Bluegill, nesting in colonies in shallow water near the shore -- often times in the same spot. Nest preparation starts when the water temperature reaches 70 degrees, usually in mid-May and June, but more often in June. The nests are found in about a foot or less water over gravel or sand, but if these sites are unavailable, the male will fan nests in water-soaked tree leaves or twigs and muck. Small territories are established and vigorously protected by the male, but if nesting sites are limited, as many as 25 nests may be built in 50 square feet. Once the eggs are deposited, the fighting among males stops, except when one fish invades another`s territory. Males stay with the eggs for 6 or 7 days, at which time the fry become free-swimming. There is considerable cross mating of Green Sunfish and Bluegill.

Green Sunfish reach up to 7-inches long by the fourth year. Most fish become sexually mature at two years. Green Sunfish rarely exceed 6-or 7-inches long.

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

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

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Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. There is some shore fishing along the parking area and at the outlet of Lake Odessa. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Muscatine Amenities list for Muscatine City Ramp. This ramp is located in downtown Muscatine. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00
Spirit Lake Dickinson One mile North of Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5340.00
West Okoboji Lake Dickinson northwest edge of Arnolds Park 3847.00
Clear Lake Cerro Gordo south edge of Clear Lake 3684.00
Tuttle Lake Emmet 1 mile east, 2 miles north of Dolliver 2268.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Three Mile Lake Union 3 miles northwest of Afton 880.00
Little River Watershed Lake Decatur 1 mile west of Leon 733.00
Chain-O-Lakes Area Linn 2 miles East of Palo 700.00
Twelve Mile Creek Lake Union 4 miles east of Creston 635.00
Lake Delhi Delaware 3m W Delhi 448.00
Pleasant Creek Lake Linn 4 miles North of Palo 400.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Green Valley Lake Union 2 1/2 miles northwest of Creston 338.00
West Lake (Osceola) Clarke 2 miles west of Osceola 320.00
Carter Lake Pottawattamie North edge of Carter Lake. 315.00
Badger Creek Lake Madison 5 miles southeast of Van Meter 276.00
Lake Cornelia Wright 3 1/2 miles north, 2 miles east of Clarion 243.00
Summit Lake Union West edge of Creston 230.00
Prairie Rose Lake Shelby 8 miles southeast of Harlan 196.10
Lake Anita Cass 1/2 mile south of Anita 159.00
Viking Lake Montgomery 4 miles east of Stanton 136.00
Volga Lake Fayette Located 3 miles north of Fayette. 135.00
Deep Lakes Muscatine Southern edge of Muscatine on Pettibone Avenue, East of Fruitland. 130.00
Middle River Warren There is not a public access to the Middle River within Warren County. 127.00
West Nishnabotna River Fremont 121.00
Middle Raccoon River (above Redfield confluence) Dallas The best access is the hard surface ramp below the dam in the city of Redfield. 110.00
North River Warren There is not a public access to the North River within Warren County. 107.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa This stretch is located in Marshall, Tama, the SW corner of Benton, Iowa, and Johnson County. A popular access is at the Hwy 21 Access, which is part of the Iowa River Corridor Wildlife Area, just south of Belle Plaine. 104.00
Union Grove Lake Tama 4 miles South of Gladbrook 100.00
Lake of Three Fires Taylor 3 miles northeast of Bedford 97.00
RAPP Park Lakes Page north edge of Shenandoah 95.00
Five in One Dam Linn On Cedar River under I-380 in Cedar Rapids 90.00
Terry Trueblood Lake Johnson 1.5 miles south of Hwy 6 on Gilbert Street in Iowa City. 90.00
Cedar Lake Linn 84.00
Binder Lake Adams 1 mile northeast of Corning 76.00
Otter Creek Lake Tama 6 miles Northeast of Toledo 74.00
East Nodaway River Page 72.00
Prairie Park Fishery Linn 1.5 miles SSE of Cargill on Otis Road, along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids 66.80
Iowa River (Iowa Falls to Marshalltown) Marshall This stretch is located in Hardin and Marshall County. A popular access is located in Pine Lake State Park, just east of Eldora on County Road S56. 66.00
Missouri River (Sioux City to Little Sioux) Harrison Chris Larsen Park: 1280 Larsen Park Road/Sioux City, IA. Located on the Sioux City riverfront along the Missouri River. Larsen Park offers 110 acres on the Sioux City Riverfront. Managed by the City of Sioux City. 64.00
Cedar River (above Nashua) Floyd This stretch is found in Chickasaw, Floyd, and Mitchell Counties. A popular multi-use location is the Charles City Whitewater Park in downtown Charles City on Hwy 14. 63.00
Nine Eagles Lake Decatur 3 1/2 miles southeast of Davis City 62.00
Missouri River (Council Bluffs to state line) Fremont Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive/Council Bluffs, IA 51501 phone: 712-366-0220. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lake Manawa State Park has boat ramps on the Missouri River within the park. 61.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 3 Cass 60.90
Alice Wyth Lake Black Hawk Located on north edge of Waterloo in George Wyth State Park. 60.00
Briggs Woods Lake Hamilton 2 miles south of Webster City 59.00
South Skunk River (Cambridge to Pella) Marion A hard surface access is located South of Cambridge on the north side of Highway 210, 3 miles east of Interstate 35. 58.00
Little Sioux River (Correctionville to Missouri R) Harrison Little Sioux Park, 2 miles SW of Correctionville, Woodberry County Conservation Board 57.00
Cedar River (La Porte City to Cedar Rapids) Linn This stretch is located in Benton and Linn County. A popular river access is in the Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Area right of Hwy 150 on the North side of Vinton. 56.00
Greenfield Lake Adair 1 mile southwest of Greenfield 56.00
Cedar River (Cedar Rapids to Moscow) Cedar This stretch is found in Linn and Cedar County. A popular access is found in Palisades State Park which is on Hwy 30 between Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon. 55.00
Wapsipinicon River (Troy Mills to Oxford Junction) Jones This stretch is located in Linn and Jones County. A popular access on this stretch is in Pinicon Ridge Park, just off Hwy 13 by Central City. 53.00
Missouri River (Little Sioux to Council Bluffs) Pottawattamie Wilson Island State Recreation Area: 32801 Campground Lane/Missouri Valley, IA 51555 phone-712-642-2069. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wilson Island Recreation Area has 544 acres along the Missouri River near Missouri Valley Iowa. 53.00
Dudgeon Lake Benton 2 miles North of Vinton. 45.00
McKinley Lake Union 42.80
West Fork Grand River Decatur 41.00
Mormon Trail Lake Adair 1 1/2 miles southeast of Bridgewater 33.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 2 Cass 31.10
North Raccoon River (Perry to Van Meter) Dallas A mid-section access point for this section of river is at the Highway 44 Access 4 miles west of Dallas Center. 31.00
South Skunk River (Story City to Cambridge) Story A mid-section access is the Sleepy Hollow Access off of West Riverside Road just east of Highway 69 on the north side of Ames. 30.00
Swan Lake Johnson 4 miles Northwest of North Liberty 30.00
Nishna Bend R.A. Ponds Shelby 4 miles south of Harlan 30.00
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson This stretch is located in Johnson County. A popular access is the Tailwater East Ramp located right below the Coralville Lake Dam, East of North Liberty and Coralville. 29.00
Manhattan Robbins Lake Park Linn On the Cedar River in Northwest Cedar Rapids 28.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 4 Cass 25.00
Nodaway Lake Adair 2 miles southwest of Greenfield 25.00
Windmill Lake Taylor 3 1/2 miles east of New Market 24.00
Rodgers Park Lake Benton 3.5 miles Northwest of Vinton 22.00
Murphy Lake Linn 1 mile Northwest of Bertram on the West side of Highway 13 20.00
Green Belt Lake Black Hawk W edge Waterloo 19.00
Wilson Park Lake Taylor 2 1/2 miles southeast of Lenox 17.00
Cold Springs Lake Cass 1 mile south of Lewis. 16.00
Slip Bluff Lake Decatur Decatur County, 2 miles northwest of Davis City 16.00
Black Pit Cerro Gordo SW Edge Mason City 16.00
Grade Lake Clarke 15.00
Lake Catherine Winnebago 6 miles west of Forest City 15.00
Carney Marsh Polk Located on the North side of SE 54th St., Ankeny 14.30
Arrowhead Pond Pottawattamie 1 1/2 miles southeast of Neola 14.00
East Lake (Osceola) Clarke 1/2 mile east of Osceola 13.30
Rudd Lake Floyd East of Rudd. 12.40
Ross Area Pit Page 8 miles southeast of Clarinda 12.00
Seminole Valley Park Lakes Linn Along the Cedar River in Northwest Cedar Rapids 12.00
Liberty Lake Ringgold 1/2 mile north of Mt. Ayr 12.00
Miller Poweshiek On the Southeast edge of Grinnell 10.00
Polk Township Lake Benton 5.5 miles Northwest of Urbana on west side of I-380 10.00
Hacklebarney East Montgomery 4 miles north of Villisca 10.00
Ambroson Pit (east) Winnebago 3 1/2 miles north of Forest City 10.00
Dunlap Pond Harrison East edge of Dunlap 9.00
Lake Virginia Fremont 5 miles west of Riverton. 8.20
Maquoketa River (trout portion) Clayton The Upper Maquoketa River from Joy Springs downstream to Backbone Lake contains trout year-round. The area 3 miles southwest of Strawberry Point off 400th is stocked with catchable fish. 8.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 1 Cass 7.20
Pioneer Park Pond Page 10m N Clarinda 7.00
Glenwood Lake Mills East edge of Glenwood 7.00
Ringneck Haven Chickasaw Located 1.5 miles north and 1 mile west of North Washington. 6.00
Vintage Polk Located at the intersection of SW State St. and SW Vintage Pkwy., Ankeny 5.60
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