This term is used widely by anglers and fisheries managers to collectively describe a variety of small fish of several species. There is no individual species called a pan-fish. The term is used almost universally in freshwater, seldom in saltwater; although common to anglers, it may be unfamiliar or even confusing to nonanglers.

The term "panfish" often refers to fish that, when fried whole, can fit into a pan, but it is also frequently understood to mean species that are not technically classified as gamefish and that are usually abundant and as valued for their tasty flesh as for the enjoyment of catching them.

Although panfish are commonly linked by these factors, the species that fit under this umbrella are not all linked biologically. Many "panfish" are members of the sunfish family, perch family, bass family, catfish family, and sucker family. These include, but are not limited to, such sunfish as green, longear, orangespotted, spotted, and redear varieties; plus bluegill, Sacramento perch, rock bass, warmouth bass, black crappie, white crappie, yellow bass, white bass, yellow perch, and white perch. In some areas, people include suckers, bullhead, pickerel, and even carp in this category.

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