Ah, early summer! The perfect time to get youngsters to the pond or lake to enjoy catching what to many adult anglers was also their first fish: the sunnie.

Sunfish. The bluegill and pumpkinseed and, surprisingly, the largemouth and smallmouth bass. Yeah, the aforementioned latter pair are actually members of the sunfish clan. In New Jersey, it’s the striper and white perch that are true bass. Ditto the hybrid striper/white bass cross that is stocked in several Garden State lakes and reservoirs.

Sure, there are snapper blues in the lagoons and bays. These are great first fish as well, but they don’t usually appear in catchable numbers and sizes until early August.

But back to the kids and the ubiquitous sunnies. Found pretty much in every freshwater and lightly brackish environment, they are eager feeders that bite from first light to dusk. No fancy tackle required. Of course, there are sunfish fans like us who, several times during the late spring through early autumn, pursue them with ultralight spinning tackle and artificial lures, and also fly rods armed with tiny poppers and sponge rubber spiders. Just too much fun!

TSM, Tom P.
TSM, Tom P.
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Unfortunately, we’d not been out for them this year (save for catching a few through the ice in January/February) and what we were missing was brought to our attention on July 2 on the Route 9 boardwalk at Pohatcong Lake in Tuckerton.

We’d arrived around 7 pm, folding chairs in hand, to get our spot to watch the fireworks. A couple of kids were fishing, casting worm-baited hooks under bobbers. Come to find out they were sister and brother, Chloe (age 11) and Liam Gillooly (14), visiting from Manhattan. They were with their Aunt Anna, an expert angling tutor, and were banging away at the bluegills, many of which we classify as “bulls” (read: big).

Chloe was tearing it up.“We call her the ‘Fish Whisperer,'” shared Anna, “because she’s the first one on the water, the last to leave, and catches the most fish.”

Liam, ever the cool older bro’, was swinging his share.

Fast forward 24 hours. We were casting Trout Magnets tethered to 2-lb. test mono from the soggy bank of an Atlantic County pond and were enjoying deep bends to the 5-1/2 foot ultralight rods. Sunnies here, there, and everywhere.

TSM, Tom P.
TSM, Tom P.
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Kid fun revisited!

It was certainly a refreshing, uncomplicated fishing experience that really brought angling things, and the times spent, into focus. Yes, there are the bass, pickerel, channel cats, trout, walleyes, hybrid stripers, pike, and muskies. And now snakeheads.

And the fluke, bluefish, tog, stripers, weakfish, sheepshead, triggerfish, and tuna.

Great are they all.

But, from this corner, it’s the early summer sunnie that shines.

Hey New Jersey it's fishin' time!

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