New Mexico Wildlife

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

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Fishing Information  

Last Updated: 11/19/1014


yellow perch
white crappie
Yellow Perch
White Crappie


New Mexico Panfish



The term "panfish" tends to have a regional meaning, depending on locale. In some places, locals call small trout panfish, while in other areas, it can mean any small fish that comfortably sizzles in a frying pan.


In New Mexico, panfish typically refers to the following four, closely related species: white crappie, yellow perch, green sunfish, and bluegill. All tend to be small, laterally flattened, have vertical barring along their sides, and a varying number of stiff, sharp spines on their anal fin.

These fish are usually easy to catch and make great eating. Catch them, clean them, scale them, and fry them -- it's that simple and delicious.




Elephant Butte Lake, Sumner Lake, Santa Rosa Lake, Ute Lake, Conchas Lake, and small warm-water ponds.

Green sunfish

Populations occur in portions of the Canadian River and Rio Grande, as well as the Pecos, Gila, and Black Rivers. Smaller populations occur in other waters and small, warm pond habitats.

White crappie

Best fishing waters Conchas and Navajo Lakes. Also southern portions of both the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers, Ute Lake, Cochiti Lake, Caballo Lake, and Elephant Butte Lake.

Yellow perch

Eagle Nest, Lower Charette Lake, Springer Lake, Stubblefield Lake.



The white crappie is a member of the sunfish family, which also includes largemouth and smallmouth bass. This handsome, olive-colored fish has a silvery cast to its coloration, as well as 7-to-8 indistinct vertical stripes along its sides. It adapts easily to a variety of conditions, particularly warm turbid waters with protective cover, such as boulders and submerged brush piles or trees. White crappie may be found in intense spawning schools during a 'good' year. Young white crappies feed on zooplankton, then switch to insects and tiny fish as they grow and mature.



The only freshwater fish with a yellow-hued body, the yellow perch has 6-to-8 distinct, black, vertical blotches along its sides. With its tiny, brush-like teeth, yellow perch feed upon zooplankton and aquatic insects and are preyed upon by walleye and black bass. It prefers cold, clear, pond-like habitats. Because yellow perch can tolerate low oxygen levels, it usually survives winterkill conditions that often suffocate other species. Yellow perch are prolific and can easily overtake a small body of water, producing a population of stunted individuals.



This Great Plains species is distinguished from other panfish by its very large mouth and short, rounded pectoral fins. Its body is olive-brown with 7-to-12 vertical bars along its side. The green sunfish lives in ponds, shallow lakes, and in river backwaters. Native to the Pecos and Canadian River drainages, the green sunfish was introduced into other New Mexico drainages during the 1930s.



Anglers can find feisty, 5-to-7-inch bluegill in almost any warm New Mexico waters. An iridescent blue color on the lower jaw and gill cover gives the bluegill its common name. With a rounded flat body, small mouth, and olive-brown back, the bluegill has 5-to-9 indistinct vertical double bars along its sides. This species was initially transplanted throughout various New Mexico waters during the 1930s; since that time, subsequent reintroductions have kept population numbers strong.



White Crappie

White crappies are found in most major New Mexico reservoirs. Crappies tend to be more light sensitive than other panfish. In late-evening dimness or at dawn, crappies tend to hold along the outside edge of weedlines, seeking safety from predators in the vegetation. As the sun climbs, crappies seek protective cover of boulders or submerged trees. At mid-day, they often suspend at depths up to 30 feet. During winter, crappies stay deep and are relatively inactive.

Yellow Perch

Look for yellow perch in shoreline areas of clear lakes and ponds with a moderate amount of aquatic plant life, or in pools and backwaters of rivers. Perch tend to be bottom dwellers, seeking the cover of low-growing vegetation on flats where they hold at the base of weeds and tend to bite throughout day. Perch form into spindle-shaped schools, numbering 30-100 individuals, that move about during the day in deep water. After dark, yellow perch disperse, move to the bottom, and remain motionless. At daybreak, schooling activity resumes.

Green Sunfish and Bluegill

Bluegill and green sunfish are such adaptable species, they can easily overpopulate a lake. They like a combination of warm weather and warm water, although bluegills tend to avoid direct sunlight. In shallow lakes, these fish swim together in small schools of 10 to 20 individuals of similar size. They feed most aggressively in water temperatures between 64 and 72 degrees. Green sunfish are probably the most tolerant and adaptable of New Mexico panfish. Aggressive feeders, these panfish will take almost any bait.


Pointers from the Pros: Fishing for Panfish

White Crappie

  • On dark, cloudy, or windy days, crappies approach the surface and shore more closely. Expect an all-day bite.
  • Once you've caught one crappie in a given area, chances are you'll catch more. Try at least a dozen or more casts, then more to a different stretch of shoreline.
  • Use small crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or a lead-head jig with marabou feathers, or a plastic tube jig to catch crappie.
  • In winter, when crappies go to 40 feet, try jigging with minnows or small lures on light tackle.
  • To fish for crappies by night, use minnows or jigs under small floating lights directed downward, or with a float and a lantern.
  • Cast a small tube jig on 2- to 4-lb. test line into any irregularity in the weedline that might hold crappies.
  • If an insect hatch is in progress, check for crappies near the top at dawn and dusk. When they are feeding at the surface, try still fishing a small buoyant dry fly. As the sun climbs, surface activity diminishes.
  • Use a long crappie pole, no reel needed, during the crappie spawn.


Yellow Perch, Bluegill, Sunfish

  • Use an open-faced spinning reel, small wire hook, live bait, and a small sensitive bobber. Yellow perch will eat just about anything -- snails, insects, young crawdad, minnows, and small fish.
  • Green sunfish and bluegill prefer to feed on insect nymphs in early spring. Caddis fly, mayfly, dragonfly, and damselfly nymphs on a fly-rod, or other light tackle, provide great action.
  • To fish for yellow perch, use worms, small minnows, insect larvae, crawdads, shrimp, or pieces of fish.
  • Keep trying different locations, because perch are always on the move. Because they tend to feed near the bottom, start looking for schools there.
  • Since schools usually contain fish of a similar size, check out new locations for different schools if only small perch are biting where you are.
  • Yellow perch feed most actively during the day, especially early morning and late afternoon, and become inactive at night. Remember, perch nibble at bait. They don't usually hit with a strike.
  • In spring, yellow perch stay close to shore during spawning. As temper-atures rise in summer, they move to open waters. In winter, they suspend deeply and become inactive.


A 10-percent federal excise tax on your purchase of fishing equipment and motor boat fuel helps states individually promote sport fisheries. This includes acquiring easements or leases for public fishing, funding hatchery and stocking programs, supporting aquatic education programs, and improving boating facilities for anglers.