Freshwater fish

Improve your odds at the lake by learning how to identify these popular freshwater fish and where they’re usually found.

Crappie

 

Crappies are members of the sunfish and the black bass family. The black crappie and the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) can be tough to tell apart as they both have dark olive or black on their backs with silvery sides and have spots on the sides. Crappies inhabit large ponds and shallow areas of lakes, with sandy or muddy bottoms and are usually found in areas of abundant vegetation. They travel in schools and feed on small fish and aquatic insects. Best of all, they bite readily and have sweet-tasting filets!

Bluegill

(also known as Bream, Sunfish, Sunny) 

One of the most popular panfish species in North America, the Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) has a round profile and small mouth typical of the sunfishes. Color is highly variable and can range from green to dark blue or bluish-purple to yellow. The pectoral fins are pointed. Often the most plentiful fish in the lake, they are easily found near docks, weeds and overhanging trees. The best action can usually be had on small jigs tipped with grubs, worms or crickets. Like crappies, they make for a great fish fry.

Channel Catfish

 

The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is found through much of the U.S. and is most abundant from the central part of the country east to the Appalachians. It can be recognized by its deeply forked tail and spots on the body. Channel catfish prefer clean bottoms of sand or gravel in larger lakes and rivers. They feed mainly on crayfish, fishes, and insects generally at night in swifter moving currents. At spawning time they will enter small tributaries and streams. Highly regarded for food and sport value. Still fishing with cut bait or dough balls is often effective.

Blue Catfish

 

This native species of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basin systems frequents deep areas of large rivers, swift chutes, and pools with swift currents. The blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) is reported to grow to 120 lb. (54 kg). It can be distinguished from the channel and white catfish by its noticeably longer anal fin, which has a more even depth and a straighter edge than the other two species. Considered an excellent food and game fish, it prefers clean, swift-moving waters where it feeds primarily on fish and crayfish.

Largemouth Bass

 

The most popular freshwater game fish due to its pugnacious attitude and willingness to strike a lure or bait with explosive force. Research indicates that the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) is also the most intelligent freshwater fish, able to distinguish and avoid a particular type of lure after only one encounter with it. Bass love to be around all kinds of structure that provide shade and ambush points such as weeds, docks, submerged tree stumps, rocks, etc. Part of the fun of bass fishing is the wide variety of lures you can use to catch them.

Smallmouth Bass

 

While not as widespread as the largemouth bass, the smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) has been widely transplanted so that it can be found in almost every state. The smallmouth is easily distinguished from the largemouth by its clearly connected dorsal fins, and the upper jaw bone which extends only to about the middle of the eye. The coloration is also usually more brownish in the smallmouth and more greenish in the largemouth. Pound-for-pound, one of the most aggressive fighters in freshwater.

Northern Pike

 

Like the muskellunge, and the pickerels, the northern pike (Esox lucius) is a long, sleek, predatory fish with a broad, flat mouth resembling a duck’s bill, a single dorsal fin located on the posterior portion of the body and an abundance of sharp teeth. Known for their hard-hitting strikes and thrashing fights once hooked. Pike are often taken by trolling with large spoons, plugs or natural baits, but casting and still fishing are also frequently successful. While pike can grow to be 20-plus pounds, voracious, smaller pikes are more often caught.

Muskellunge

(Muskie, for short) 

Many anglers dedicate themselves almost exclusively to the pursuit of this large gamefish. The muskie (Esox masquinongy) is very elusive, even for those who continually seek it out. It is endemic to the northeastern United States, through the Great Lakes states south to Georgia, and parts of Canada. It rarely ventures far from cover, and prefers shallow, heavily vegetated waters less than 40 ft. (12 m) deep, usually along rocky shorelines in slow moving streams and larger rivers. Known for frustrating anglers by following lures without striking. Huge plugs, jerkbaits, bucktails and spinnerbaits are common musky lures.

Saltwater species

The beauty of saltwater fishing is the incredible variety of fish. Read up on the most popular species here.

Red Drum

(Also known as Redfish) 

Found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. The red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) is a schooling species that occurs inshore over sandy or muddy bottoms. It inhabits both salt and brackish waters and can tolerate fresh water. It is found in inlets and channels, and smaller specimens may be found in shallow estuaries. It is a strong, hard fighter when hooked. Fishing methods include drifting or still fishing on the bottom, jigging or casting from boats or from shore, and slow trolling. Baits and lures include crabs, shrimp, clams, jigs, plugs, spoons, strip bait and streamer flies.

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Spotted Seatrout

(Also known as Seatrout, Speckled Trout, Speck) 

The spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) occurs in the western Atlantic from New York to the Gulf of Mexico. An inshore, schooling species, it usually inhabits the shallow areas of bays and estuaries. Two large canine teeth in the front of the upper jaw stand out noticeably. There are round black spots on the back and upper flanks and on the tail and second dorsal fin. This bottom dwelling, predatory fish feeds at any level. It may be taken by chumming from a drifting or anchored boat, by trolling, jigging, surfcasting or fly-fishing. Shrimp is the most popular and effective bait.

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Flounder

(Summer Flounder, Fluke) 

The summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) can be found in the western Atlantic from Maine to South Carolina and northeast Florida. It may be found in water as shallow as 6 inches during the summer, though the largest specimens are found at 50-60 feet. The eye side of this flatfish always blends in perfectly with the seabed and there’s usually a scattering of spots on the body. It is a rapid swimmer and a good light-tackle game fish that provides lively action. It is common in the summer months in bays, harbors, estuaries, canals, creeks and along shorelines as well as near piers and bridges.

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