Rock Bass vs Green Sunfish – Are They The Same? We Compare

Rock bass and green sunfish share many similarities. For this reason many people ask if they’re the same or different. Therefore, let’s answer, is a rock bass the same as a green sunfish?

Rock bass and green sunfish are not the same, they are a different species although they are from the same family. Rock bass is the A. Rupestris species and green sunfish is the L. cyanellus species. Rock bass is longer and weighs more than a green sunfish. Rock bass lives 8-10 years compared to green sunfish living 4-6 years.

This article will compare their tastes, textures, cooking methods, costs, mercury levels and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of their habitats, appearance and compare their nutritional value.

Rock Bass vs Green Sunfish: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance

Let’s examine how you can you tell the difference between the two.

The best way to tell the difference between a rock bass and a green sunfish is to check their eye coloring and markings on their head and gill flaps. Rock bass has red eyes compared to dark eyes on green sunfish. Green sunfish have broken blueish lateral stripes on their head while rock bass have a dark tear drop under their eye.

green sunfish and rock bass comparison photo
top Green sunfish<br>bottom Rock bass

Other ways to tell the difference include the following:

  • Green sunfish have a dark spot near the rear of the dorsal fin and at the base of the anal fin rock bass doesn’t have.
  • Rock bass have black spots on their sides forming lateral lines down their body. Green sunfish have light green and yellow specks on their sides with faint vertical bars.
  • Rock bass have a silvery, white belly. Green sunfish have a yellowish, tan belly.
  • Adult rock bass are 6-10 inches long. Adult green sunfish are 5-6 inches long.
  • Rock bass anal fin has 5-7 spines. Green sunfish anal fin has 3 spines.

Rock Bass and Green Sunfish Scientific Classifications, Families, Species

Rock bass are from the following species:

  • Family: Centrarchidae
  • Genus: Ambloplites
  • Species: A. rupestris
  • Common nicknames: Red eye, rock perch, goggle eye.

Green sunfish are from the following species:

  • Family: Centrarchidae
  • Genus: Lepomis
  • Species: L. cyanellus
  • Common nicknames: Branch perch, goggle-eye.

They are sunfish and not from the bass species. Black bass, including Alabama bass, are also a sunfish species.

Rock Bass and Green Sunfish Habitats

Rock Bass

  • Rock bass are native to North America and can be found from Canada down to Florida and west to Texas. They are mostly found in the eastern and central United States.
  • The species can be found when fishing in streams, ponds, lakes and rivers.
  • They prefer rocky shorelines and vegetation areas. They can be found under docks and near swimming areas.

Green Sunfish

  • Green sunfish are native to North America. They can be found from the Hudson Bay in Canada down to northern Mexico.
  • The species can be found when fishing in lakes, rivers, streams and ponds.
  • They like to hide around rocks, fallen logs or in plants.

Appearance

Colors

  • Rock bass have are generally olive-green to golden brown upper back and sides fading down to a silvery, white belly. They have black spots which form broken lateral stripes down the body. The eyes are red.
    • They have the ability to change colors to match their surroundings for protection.
  • Green sunfish have a greenish to blue upper back and dorsal fin. The sides of the head and gill covers have broken blueish stripes. The sides are speckled with lighter green and yellow with dusky, faint vertical bars. The belly is yellowish to tan.

Dorsal Fins

  • Rock bass has one dorsal fin with 10-13 spines and 11-13 rays.
  • Green sunfish has one dorsal fin with about 10 spines and 10 soft rays.

Anal Fins

  • The rock bass anal fin has 5-7 spines followed by soft rays.
  • The green sunfish anal fin has 3 spines followed by soft rays.

Mouth

  • Both of them have a large mouth that doesn’t extend past the eye line. In addition, their mouths don’t curve upward.

Rock bass has teeth inside their mouth. Green sunfish has no teeth on the tongue.

Distinguishing Marks

  • Rock bass has red eyes and rows of dark spots forming lateral lines down the body. They have a dark tear drop below their eye.
  • Green sunfish has broken blue lateral stripes on the head and gill flaps. They have a dark spot near the back of the dorsal fin and at the base of the anal fin.

Body Shape

  • They both have similar shaped flat, compressed bodies.
Sunfish facts.

Size and Weight

  • Rock bass are robust fish and average 6-10 inches long and weighs about 1 pound.
  • Green sunfish average 5-6 inches long and weighs less than 1 pound.

Lifespan

  • Rock bass lives up to 8-10 years.
  • Green sunfish lives up to 4-6 years.

Diet

Rock bass are equal opportunity feeders. They consume the following:

  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Smaller fish
  • Minnows
  • Small crustaceans

Green sunfish consume the following:

  • Insects
  • Insect larvae
  • Worms
  • Zooplankton
  • Fish eggs

Fishing

Typically, green sunfish are not targeted by anglers because of their small size. Many times they are easy to catch and kept because they taste good or used for bait.

When bass fishing they can be used for other members of the sunfish family.

Rock bass fishing won’t win many popularity contests amongst anglers. Despite their gamefish appeal, when fishing they are strangely appealing.

When fishing they can get caught with almost any angling method. Live bait works extremely well. Fishing within a few feet of the bank is best.

Fishing and cooking rock bass.

In a recent article I compared bass to crappie. Find out how these similar sunfish compared in my article, here.

Tastes and Textures

One of the most important things people takes into consideration when choosing a fish is its taste. Let’s examine their tastes and textures.

Green sunfish taste similar to rock bass, both have a mild to sweet taste. Some people find the green sunfish flavor to be slightly stronger. They both have a firm, flakey texture. 

Green sunfish may taste a little fishy to some people but not overwhelming. 

To conduct original research on taste, I polled many of my readers and members of food groups I belong to. The following are the results of my poll which consisted of 30 people.

I asked which fish tasted better?

  • 46% preferred the taste of rock bass.
  • 35% preferred the taste of green sunfish.
  • 19% said they had no preference between the two.

To conduct more research I was able to set up a taste test at home when both fish was acquired. My test test resulted in similar results as my poll.

Bluegill sunfish is another type. In my recent article find out which one tasted better in my poll of readers, Bluegill – What’s The Difference? We Compare.

Cooking sunfish on the charcoal grill.
Cooking sunfish on the charcoal grill

Substitutions

When preparing recipes for dinner it’s not always possible to locate the type of fish the recipe calls for. If you have only one, you may ask, can I substitute one for the other?

Rock bass and green sunfish can substitute for each other due to their similar tastes and textures. Both species can be used in many of the same recipes and cooking methods. They both can be cooked by baking, broiling, steaming, grilling, deep frying and pan frying.

Rock bass substitutes:

  • White crappie
  • Black crappie
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Green sunfish
  • Bluegill
  • Lake herring
  • Tilapia
  • Pollock

Green sunfish substitutes:

  • Rock bass
  • White crappie
  • Black crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Lake herring
  • Tilapia
  • Pollock

Find out how they compared to Largemouth bass, another sunfish. Check out my comparison article.

Rock bass dinner.
Rock bass dinner

Costs

The costs for some seafood will vary depending on how the fish are caught and where they’re sold. When purchasing any fish, be sure to check the label to see if it is wild-caught or farm raised. Therefore, lets examine which species is more expensive.

Green sunfish and rock bass have a similar price. The average cost for either fillets are $19.43 per pound. 

Both fillets are extremely difficult to find for sale, even online. Bluegill, crappie or “sunfish” are easier to find online.

To conduct more original research, I checked online at Walleye Direct and found the following prices:

  • Wild, bluegill fillets
    • $25.36 per pound
  • Wild, crappie fillets
    • $22.00 per pound

Seafood Markets:

  • Wild, sunfish fillets (does not specify which kind of sunfish)
    • $18.00 per pound

Dixon Fisheries:

  • Bluegill fillets
    • $14.95 per pound

For stocking ponds, Pond King has the following price per live fish:

  • Hybrid bluegill (green sunfish x bluegill) $0.75 per 3-4 inch fish
  • Bluegill – $0.75 per 3-4 inch fish
  • Black crappie – $1.00 per 3-4 inch fish
Kevin Garce checking prices of catfish and seafood in his local supermarket.
Checking prices of catfish bass and seafood in my local market

Mercury Levels

The EPA and The Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings and suggestions regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 1. This is especially important for:

  • Pregnant women
  • Developing children
  • Young infants

They established a list of the following:

  1. Best fish
  2. Good choices
  3. Ones to avoid

Therefore, which one has more mercury?

Green sunfish and rock bass have similar levels of mercury. Both species are listed on the FDA’s best choice of fish regarding mercury levels. 

If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

These mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations 2.

Some sunfish species like pumpkinseed sunfish may be more similar to smallmouth bass than largemouth bass, although they’re all sunfish. Find out more in my article, Rock Bass vs Smallmouth Bass – What’s The Difference?

Nutrition

Green sunfish and rock bass are excellent sources of healthy fats, protein, B vitamins and minerals. Both fish contain the following:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Niacin
  • Folate
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • B6
  • B12
  • B5
  • Thiamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc

3 4

Both species provide a similar percentage of the nutrients listed above. Keep reading and find out how they benefit health, especially omega-3 fatty acids.

Since they are difficult to locate, I’ll consume either fish available to me for their nutrient content and health benefits.

Health Benefits

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids provided by green sunfish and rock bass help keep arteries healthy and are considered heart healthy. The omega-3s may help with the following:

  • Lowering triglycerides.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Reduce plaque buildup.
  • Keeping bad cholesterol low.
  • Keeping good cholesterol high.
  • Help keep the heart rhythms more normal.

DHA and EPA, two of the fatty acids, are associated with lowering blood pressure and improving the health of blood vessels 5.

Studies suggest omega-3s boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, they’ve been shown to help reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Potassium

Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium which helps reduce fluid build-up. The result keeps systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 6.

The more potassium you consume, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 7.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 8.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided include B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B9 (folate) B6, B12 and B5. B vitamins help support the following:

  • Digestion.
  • Brain function.
  • Energy levels.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Nerve function.

Magnesium

Magnesium helps to calm and relax the whole body including blood vessels. It has been shown to help improve sleep related problems like insomnia 9.

Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels balanced and stable. A recent study researched 22 studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased diastolic and systolic blood pressure 10.

Magnesium helps control muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure.

In the muscles and heart, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus has been shown in scientific research to help with the following:

  • Promote teeth and bone strength.
  • Muscle recovery after exercise.
  • Muscle contraction.
  • Help the body store and manage energy.
  • Help the kidneys remove waste.
  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.

Calcium

Both species provide approximately 85-90 mg of calcium per four ounces. Calcium is important for blood pressure and the heart.

Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure because it helps to control the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 11.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Muscles need calcium to function properly.
  • Improve nerve function.

Selenium

Selenium is a nutrient which doesn’t receive much press. I’m unsure why many don’t write about it more because studies 12 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • Cognitive issues
  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid
  • The immune system

Many people think rock bass and warmouth may be the same. Find out in my article which includes why they’re called warmouth, Rock Bass vs Warmouth – Are They The Same? Let’s Compare.

As a Certified Health Coach many of my clients ask me about seafood. In addition to educating my Health Coaching clients about green sunfish and rock bass, I have researched, purchased and consumed both fish for 20 years prior to, during and after writing this article.

If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.

More SunFish Species Articles! Black Crappie, Black Bass and Pumpkinseed Sunfish

Crappie vs Bluegill – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

Bluegill vs Redear Sunfish – Are They The Same? We Compare

Black Crappie vs White Crappie – What’s The Difference?

Bluegill vs Pumpkinseed – Are They The Same? Let’s Compare

Bluegill vs Redbreast Sunfish – What’s The Difference?

Bluegill – What’s The Difference?

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  3. The Topeka Capital-Journal: Keto, Paleo or Atkins diet? Hunting, fishing can help trim your waistline in 2020[]
  4. Nutritiondata: Fish, sunfish, raw[]
  5. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  6. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  8. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  9. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  10. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  11. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  12. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *