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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Lowly green sunfish can save a trip
Ultra-light spinning tackle, fly rod or cane pole
all perfect for taking rice-field slicks

If you have ever fished east of Little Rock, you probably know them as rice-field slicks.

Deirdre Susanne Shepherd was delighted to hold a green sunfish for her father's camera in 1971 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The nationally accepted common name is green sunfish. Ask your area fisheries biologist if you want to know the scientific name.

For more than 40 years, I have known them as trip-savers. Green sunfish live practically everywhere there is water in Arkansas. They bite almost any bait or artificial lure thrown into swamps, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and reservoirs.

My first big green sunfish hit a cricket I was dunking in a north Louisiana farm pond. My largest one hit a tiny jig and spinner combination in a farm pond in Fayetteville. It weighed nearly 2 pounds. Shaped like a rock bass or a warmouth, green sunfish are relatively long and thick in proportion to the depth of their bodies. They are seined from lowland waters for catfish bait and pursued with flyrods and tiny artificials in mountain streams. They eat almost everything they find and survive diverse water conditions.

Agricultural chemicals, low oxygen levels, high water temperatures – you name a bad condition, and green sunfish are apt to survive it.

Walking on a bluff overlooking Scull Creek inside a Fayetteville city park recently, I noticed a small waterfall where rocks create a ledge.

A half-pound green sunfish spotted me and sped from the shallow end of the pool below the waterfall to the ledge. A few minutes later, the fish ventured into the light again, followed soon by three smaller members of its clan.

The situation wouldn't be surprising to anyone who didn't know the condition of the water in the small stream. People unfamiliar with Ozark streams, however, might be surprised to see a fish that large in such a tiny body of water.

Why would I be surprised to find a school of hardy green sunfish in the pool? For one thing, the water in the creek is polluted by untreated sewage each time a heavy rain occurs. The city's ancient sewers fill with water and overflow into storm drains and into the creek. The city has had the water tested and signs warn children not to play in the water where the creek passes through Wilson Park.

The effect of the raw sewage is mitigated in summer by a different kind of pollution. The city swimming pool, only 100 yards upstream from the little waterfall, drains its chlorinated water directly into the stream frequently in summer. At normal flow, the stream doesn't appear dirty. In fact, the creek is inviting to youngsters. But how can green sunfish survive there? And what small creatures live there to provide food for the hardy species of bream?

Few minnows and fewer crawdads appear in the stretch of the creek inside the park. But green sunfish are resourceful. In summer, they probably stay fat because of the insects that fall from the overhanging bushes and trees.

Scull Creek clearly isn't the worst habitat in which green sunfish succeed.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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