Take a flier on this bream

A dark “teardrop” marking below the eye of a flier differentiates it from other members of the sunfish family.

Unusual flier bream is a rare but wonderful addition to your stringer

One of the lesser-known and the least occurring panfish throughout the country is one many anglers never catch or even lay eyes on. Many have never even heard of it. And of those who have caught one, many of them shrug at the sight and chalk them up as a strange looking bream.

The flier, Centrarchus macropterus, exists sparingly throughout America, but it can be found in big numbers in certain bodies of water.

The shape of this panfish appears somewhat round, and the upper and lower fins are almost mirror images of each other. The fish is olive green to silver in color, and the upper body has four to five short, dark vertical rows. A surefire way to identify the flier is to look for the black or green teardrop marking below its eye. A more scientific way is to count the spines on the dorsal fins. Fliers have 11 to 13 of these, more than any other species in the sunfish family.

Like bluegills, fliers have black gill covers, but they lack the black spot on the dorsal fin that distinguishes bluegill from other types of panfish. When young, however, fliers do have a dark spot that is outlined by an orange ring in a similar location, but these marks disappear as the flier ages.

As with most other panfish, the males of this species build nests, or beds, which are often located in groups in an overlapping fashion, usually in shallow water. They spawn early in the year in comparison to other bream, usually beginning in March when the water temperature reaches 55 to 65 degrees, and they usually stop spawning by May. Females can lay up to 35,000 eggs at a time, which are fertilized, and then guarded, by males.

Where they live

While these fish are able to live in a variety of water types, they prefer moderately moving water in slower streams and swamps but can live in ponds and drainage areas. They are usually caught around vegetation, and will bite crickets, worms, and small spinning lures like Beetle Spins.

Anglers rarely, if ever, specifically target fliers; they usually catch these fish while targeting bluegill, shellcracker or redbreast sunfish, but they are a welcome addition for anglers who recognize the species.

These fish are tasty table fare, and though they are similar in taste to bluegills and other panfish, most anglers who have eaten them report their meat is whiter and slightly sweeter than other bream.

Because of their shape, fliers are often misidentified as white crappie or black crappie, and many anglers never know them by any name other than “bream.” Some anglers believe they are a hybrid of crappie and bluegill, but this is not the case.

Other names

Throughout the South, fliers (spelled “flyers” in some areas) are also known by several other names, including fly bream, flier bream, crying bream, round bream, cheeky bream and government fish.

It’s one of the smallest of all the sunfish, with an average length of 5 inches, and an average weight of 3 ounces. They can live up to five years in the wild and have been known to live up to twice as long in aquariums.

Louisiana recently added the flier to its list of state records, but the record is currently vacant. That is also true for Mississippi.

The world record flier was caught in Jackson County, Fla. in a private pond in 2015 by Twila Gates; it weighed 1 pound, 5.5 ounces.

Interestingly, the United States Navy named a Gato-class submarine the USS Flier in 1943 after the species, and the Native Fish Conservancy’s newsletter is entitled “Flier,” also in honor of the species.