From the desk of Bob Boese


Bob Boese - Mar 26, 2012

Bubby Breaux's son, T-boy, was an excellent student and was admitted to Harvard. Unfortunately, once there, he was disappointed to find that everyone made fun of his accent and Cajun expressions. This was particularly true in English class where his professor was constantly criticizing T-boy's use of the language.

One day T-boy was in class where the same professor was lecturing.

"In English," the professor said, "a double negative forms a positive. For example, T-boy might say 'You can't not do nothing' which translates to the rest of as 'you must do something.'

T-boy sat quietly.

"Nevertheless, in some languages," the professor continued, "such as Russian, that same use of a double negative is still a negative. T-boy, you don't speak Russian, do you? No, I didn't think so. However, there is absolutely no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

At this point, T-boy's voice came from the back of the room: "Yeah, right."

English is confusing. Not literature, not grammar, but the vocabulary that makes up our language. There are things like homophones, which have the same spelling or pronunciation, but different meanings. For instance, the word "bow" is a weapon, and a tie, or is used to play a violin. Then there's a heteronym which has the same spelling but a different pronunciation and meaning, at which point "bow" is bending at the waist, or the front of a boat. It is always confusing.

What's that got to do with fishing? Well...consider the term "panfish." Of course, fishermen are never not sure what that is. Yeah, right.

Panfish are sunfish, or vice versa. Getting technical, the sunfish family (Centrarchidae) includes 30 or so species, and was found only in North America. (Some have gotten to other locales where they are considered harmful "exotics" or are described by less pleasant terms.) This family includes the black bass (Micropterus), crappies (Pomoxis), and the bream (Lepomis ), as well as rock bass/goggle eye (Amboplites), and five other Latin named species. Lists of panfish (not in Latin) from various states can be found at:



(North Carolina)




Some of these fish are easy to differentiate: bass look nothing like bluegill. On the other hand, many are close enough in appearance to be confusing to many fishers. To make matters worse, various species will cross breed (hybridize) if a mate of the same species is not found. A female may deposit eggs in more than one nest, and more than one female may deposit eggs in a single nest. The males fertilize the eggs by releasing milt across the egg mass, regardless of what female deposited the eggs. Cross fertilization is almost inevitable.

Is proper sunfish identification important to fly fishers? Yes. Unless you are fishing during the spawn, all sunfish react differently to flies. Bluegills are more aggressive toward a wide range of flies than green sunfish, but the greens can be caught in more turbid waters. Crappie, goggle-eye and bass will take a larger fly than their sunfish cousins. Red-ear sunfish prefer snails and clams to insects (hence the nickname "shell cracker") and stay deeper than other species. Pumpkinseeds will tolerate brackish waters and can be fished for in estuaries many other sunfish avoid.  Knowing what species inhabit a body of water and what their dietary habits are will help the fly fisher choose a fishing spot and then choose better flies to hunt out larger fish.

Clotile took her five-year-old nephew, Andre, with her to the Target store where they got behind a very fat man at the check-out who was wearing a pager at his waist.

As they waited, Andre said loudly, "Geez, he's so fat!"

Clotile bent down and whispered in Andre's ear to be quiet.

A couple of minutes passed by and Andre spread his hands as far as they would go and announced, "His butt is this wide!"

Clotile again told him to be quiet.

They waited when the man's pager began to emit a beep, beep, beep.

Andre yelled: "Run, he's backing up!"

As if panfish identification wasn't hard enough, as many panfish ages and grow larger, they will develop different colors. A perfect example is the bluegill which usually starts with a green back and white belly that change to yellow and, particularly in males, can change to orange/red. In older and bigger bluegill, the whole fish can get darker toward olive and even turn a deep purple. Additionally, all panfish change color depending on the color of their watery environment. This change can take place fairly rapidly and can add to the confusion.

Another example is the black versus white crappie. The white is generally lighter in color with darker vertical stripes, which the black has more random darkness and no stripes. In turbid waters, both fish will be light with little markings and during the spawn all males get dark. You can always tell the difference by counting dorsal spines, but who wants to do that? 

Because none of us has any intention of bringing identification charts onto the water, fishermen have adapted to the situation. Fishermen are good at adapting, or we would only carry one fly pattern. Consequently, our easiest way of describing most panfish is in one word: bream. Bass are still bass and crappie are that (or white perch or sac-a-lait), but every other panfish is a bream. Which probably makes "bream" a homophone. Oh, well.

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