Sometimes fish names can tell you a lot about a fish. A golden trout can be a very gold color. A paddlefish has a heck of a big paddle for a nose. And a slimy sculpin might just be a little slimy if you pick it up.
But what about the pumpkinseed? Is it a fish, or is it a vegetable? With a name like that, it's hard to tell.
Pumpkinseeds are members of the sunfish family. They have been introduced into Montana from lakes in the eastern part of the united states, so they are not native to Montana. But they have become very popular here. The Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana is probably the best place to find them, although they are found in other parts of the state, especially the southeast.
As a member of the sunfish family, pumpkinseeds are closely related to bluegills and green sunfish, and look very much like them. They have a body that is shaped like a small plate, flat and mostly round. People who study fish think pumpkinseeds are shaped that way because it allows them to tip their mouth up or down very quickly to find their food. People who like to catch pumpkinseeds are glad their bodies are shaped that way because it makes a pumpkinseed hard to reel in when they are hooked.
Although Montana has many colorful fish, the pumpkinseed is one of the brightest. With wavy blue lines on their cheeks, a yellowish-orange belly, and a flap on their gills colored bright red and orange, some pumpkinseeds look more like fish that should live on a tropical reef than in a cold Montana pond.
Most pumpkinseeds are not very big, only five or six inches long. If you are lucky enough to catch a pumpkinseed over eight inches long you might want to take a picture of it. The biggest pumpkinseed ever caught in Montana weighed just a tiny bit less than one pound, and was caught in Milnor Lake in 1985.
Spring is one of the best times to catch pumpkinseeds, although they can be caught all year long. In the spring as the shallow water is warmed by the sun, pumpkinseeds clear out an area and build a nest on the bottom. The eggs are laid in the nest, and the adult pumpkinseeds stay nearby guarding the eggs from predators.
Like most other sunfish, pumpkinseeds love to eat worms, and a small piece of a worm or nightcrawler is a great bait. Use a small hook, a little weight and tiny bobber, and you can catch all the pumpkinseeds you want. And don't forget to pay attention and enjoy the color of the fish you catch. Even though it has a name that might be a little strange, a pumpkinseed is a beautiful fish.