How many fish species of north america?

     Fish are among the most interesting creatures on earth! They come in an amazing variety of species and sizes. They live in virtually all waters where their life basics are available to them. Some are predators; they feed on other fish and aquatic creatures. Others are prey species, spending their lives in danger of being gobbled by larger fish that share their waters. The first step in learning to catch fish is learning about fish: which species are available, where they can be found and what they eat. The more you know about your target species’ behavior, the more likely you are to catch them. Following is a brief look at the freshwater fish species that are most popular with North American anglers.

Black Bass

This group includes three popular species: large-mouth bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass. They are closely related, but differ in spawning habits, life basics and in the waters and foods they prefer. The largemouth is the most abundant and grows larger than smallmouth or spotted bass. Largemouth live in natural lakes, reservoirs, rivers and ponds from Mexico to Canada and from the East to West Coasts. They feed and rest in quiet, relatively shallow water, and hold around cover such as vegetation, rocks, stumps, brush, etc.

  Largemouth bass are predators that eat a wide range of foods. Their primary diet consists of baitfish, crawfish, frogs and insects, but they will also strike ducklings, mice, snakes and virtually any other living creature that they can swallow.

  Smallmouth bass prefer clearer, cooler waters. They like a rocky or sandy environment and adapt well to medium-strength currents. Because of these preferences, they thrive in streams, lakes and reservoirs of the Northeast, Midwest and southern Canadian provinces. Also, the Great Lakes support huge smallmouth populations.

  Smallmouth bass occur naturally as far south as north Alabama and Georgia, and they have been successfully stocked into lakes and rivers west of the Rockies. Smallmouth bass are feeding opportunists. Their favorite prey are minnows and crawfish, but they will also eat a wide variety of other foods.

  Spotted bass (“Kentucky bass”) are the third common member of the black bass family. This fish was recognized as a distinct species in 1927. The spotted bass is an intermediate species between the largemouth and smallmouth both in appearance and habits. Its name comes from rows of small, dark spots running from head to tail below a lateral band of dark-green, diamond-shaped blotches.Spotted bass occur naturally from Texas to Georgia and north up the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri River drainages. These fish have also been stocked in several western states. Spotted bass like some current, but not too much. They like deep water, and collect in large schools and chase baitfish in open water. They feed primarily on baitfish, crawfish and insects.

Some lakes contain all three of these black bass species. Largemouth will be back in the quiet coves. Smallmouth will hold along deep shorelines and main lake reefs; and spotted bass will roam through the open lake in search of prey. Occasionally these three bass species will mix to feed on the same food source.

Spawning habits of black bass species are similar. When water temperature approaches the mid-50°F range, these fish go on feeding binges to build up energy for spawning. Smallmouth and spotted bass begin nesting when the water temperature nears 60°. They establish nests on shorelines or flats, frequently next to a stump, rock, log, etc. that offers shelter. Largemouth prefer 65° water for spawning, and fan their nests in wind-protected areas along the sides or back of lake embayments. Largemouth typically nest in shallower water (2-5 feet on average) than smallmouth or spotted bass.


  To biologists, “sunfish” is the family name for several species, including bass, crappie and bluegill. However, to most anglers, “sunfish” is a collective term for bluegill, shellcrackers, pumpkinseeds, green sunfish, longear sunfish, warmouth and other similar species that southerners call “bream.” These are the most numerous and widespread of all panfish.

  Sunfish live in warm-water lakes, reservoirs, rivers and ponds throughout the U.S. and southern Canada. They spend most time in shallow to medium depths, usually around weeds, rocks, brush, boat docks or other cover types. They feed mostly on tiny invertebrates, larval and adult insects, worms, small minnows and other prey.

Sunfish are capable of reproducing in great numbers. One adult female will produce tens of thousands of eggs in a single season. Because of this, many smaller waters experience sunfish overpopulation. In waters where there are enough bass and other predators to prevent overpopulation, some sunfish species will average a half-pound in size, and some individuals can exceed a pound.


Crappie are widespread and abundant in many waters, and are prized for their delicious table quality. They average larger in size than sunfish, and they are fairly easy to catch. There are two crappie species: white and black. Differences between these species are minor. Black crappie have darker, blotchier scale patterns than white crappie, which usually have dark vertical bars.

Both species live in natural lakes, reservoirs, larger ponds and quiet, deep pools of medium-to-large streams. Crappie occur naturally from southern Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico in the eastern half of North America. They have been stocked in numerous lakes and rivers in the West. Black crappie are typically found in cooler, clearer lakes, while white crappie inhabit warmer lakes of dingier color.

Traditionally, most crappie fishing occurs in the spring, when the fish migrate into quiet, shallow areas to spawn. When the water temperature climbs into the low-60°F range, they begin laying eggs in or next to such cover as reeds, brush, stumps or man-made fish attractors.

After spawning, crappie head back to deeper water, where they collect in schools and hold along sunken creek channels, weed lines, standing timber, sunken brushpiles and other areas where the lake bottom contour changes suddenly or where deep submerged cover exists. Crappie feed mainly on small baitfish and invertebrates. In some lakes, they average a pound or more in size; crappie over 2 pounds are considered trophies.


  The walleye is a member of the perch family. It gets its name from its large, glassy, light-sensitive eyes. While walleye average 1-3 pounds, in some waters they grow to more than 20 pounds.

  Walleye are native to cool, dean lakes, reservoirs and major rivers of the central United States and much of Canada. They’ve been stocked in both eastern and western waters outside their home range.

Walleye spend most of their time in deep main-lake/river areas where there is good water circulation, but they also frequently feed on shallow flats and dose to shore. They normally move into these areas in low-light periods such as night, dawn, dusk, on cloudy days or when vegetation or muddy water shields them from bright sunlight. A walleye’s main food is small baitfish, though it will also feed on insects and small crustaceans and amphibians. Walleye are early spawners. Their spawning run starts when the water temperature climbs above 45°F. Walleye in lakes spawn on shallow flats with hard, dean bottoms. In rivers, walleye spawn below riffles in pools with rock or sand bottoms. In river-fed lakes and reservoirs, an upstream spawning run is the rule. A characteristic of these fish, one that beginning anglers should be aware of, is their sharp teeth!


Sauger are closely related to walleye, and many people confuse them because of their similar appearance and habits. But there are two easy ways to tell them apart. Sanger have dark, saddle-like blotches on their backs (as opposed to the walleye’s smooth golden scale pattern). Also, sauger have dark spots on the main dorsal fin. (A walleye’s dorsal fin is spot-free.) Sauger don’t grow as large as walleye and seldom reach 4 pounds. The sauger is a river fish, though it also lives in river impoundments and some natural lakes. Its range includes the Mississippi Valley west of the Appalachian Mountains and north to James Bay in Canada.
Sometimes sauger are found co-existing with walleye, but they’re more tolerant of dingy water. This means sauger can thrive in slow-moving, silty streams where walleye can’t survive.

The sauger’s feeding and spawning habits are very similar to those of walleye. This fish is also prized by anglers for its fine table quality. And like walleye, sauger have sharp teeth.

Yellow Perch

Yellow perch are members of the perch family. These fish average 6-10 inches long. Their natural range extends throughout the Northeast, Midwest and Canada (except British Columbia). These fish live in all of the Great Lakes and inhabit many brackish waters along the Atlantic Coast. Yellow perch have been stocked in numerous reservoirs outside of their natural range. These fish thrive in dean lakes, reservoirs, ponds and large rivers that have sand, rock or gravel bottoms. They also abound in weedy, mud-bottomed lakes, though these are the type of spots where they tend to run smaller in size. Yellow perch swim in schools and feed on minnows, small crustaceans and invertebrates. Adults remain in deep water, moving shallow to feed during daylight hours in areas exposed to sunlight. These fish begin spawning when the water temperature climbs into the mid-40°F range (mid-50s in their southern range). Yellow perch often make spawning runs up feeder streams; they also spawn around shallow weeds and brush.


Many anglers view the “muskie” as the supreme freshwater trophy fish. Muskies are top predators and are never very numerous in any body of water. They are capable of growing huge in size. The muskie is a member of the pike family. It is found in natural lakes, reservoirs and streams/rivers in the Northeast, upper Midwest and southern Canada. This fish requires cool, dean water.

The muskie is cylinder-shaped, with a long, powerful body. Its sides are yellow-tined and marked with dark blotches or bars. This fish has a flat, duck-like mouth and very sharp teeth! It feeds mainly on smaller fish, but it will also attack birds, muskrats and other creatures that enter its domain. Muskies typically stalk their prey in shallow water, around reeds, rocky shoals, quiet eddy pools and other similar spots. During warm months, they feed more in low-light periods of dawn and dusk On cloudy days, however, they may feed anytime. Muskies live many years and frequently grow beyond 35 pounds. The muskie is a late spawner (water temperature in the mid-50°F range).

Northern Pike

Members of the pike family, “northern? are much more numerous than muskies, and they are easier to catch. By nature, pike are very aggressive, and they often attack any bright, flashy lure. Pike inhabit natural lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams throughout the northeastern and north-central U.S. and most of Canada. They thrive in warm, shallow lakes or river sloughs with an abundance of water weeds. The pike’s body is shaped like a muskie’s: long and round with the same flat, pointed mouth and sharp teeth. Its color is dark olive on the sides with light, wavy spots. Its belly is white. Pike can grow over 20 pounds. Pike spawn in quiet, shallow areas when the water temperature climbs into the 40°F range. After spawning, they linger around weedbeds, especially those close to underwater contour changes. Most of the pike’s diet consists of fish.


These toothy predators are a mini-version of pike and muskies. Their sides are covered with a yellowish chain pattern on a green background. Most pickerel range from 1-3 pounds, but can grow larger than this in southern habitats.
The grass and redfin pickerels rarely reach a foot in length. The redfin is found along the Atlantic coastal plain in small creeks and shallow ponds. The grass pickerel’s range is primarily in the Mississippi and Great Lakes drainages. Pickerel spawn in shallow weeds as water temperatures reach the high 40°F range. They are active in cold water.


Several trout species inhabit North America and are important sportfish. They live in many types of waters, from small brooks to huge lakes. Some trout are natives; others are raised in hatcheries and released into suitable waters. Trout are cold-water fish and lively fighters when hooked.

The U. S. and Canada have five major trout species: rainbows, German browns, brook trout, cutthroats and lake trout. Six other species found in localized areas are Apache trout, Arctic char, bull trout, Dolly Vardens, Gila trout and golden trout. Rainbows are named for the pink streak down their sides. Native to western states, this fish has been stocked in streams, ponds and lakes throughout much of the U. S. and lower Canada. The German brown trout has been widely stocked in American waters. These fish have dark or orange spots on their sides. They are wary and difficult to catch and tolerate slightly higher water temperatures than other trout. Brook trout are native to the eastern U. S. and Canada and have been transplanted to other areas. They have light, wormlike markings along their backs with small blue and red dots along their sides. Cutthroat trout are found mainly in the western U. S. and Canada. Their name comes from the red markings behind and under the lower jaw. Their sides are dotted with small black spots. Lake trout are what their name implies: residents of large, cold-water lakes from Canada south through the Canadian shield lakes of northern and Midwestern states. Lake trout also live in many western lakes. They are silver-gray in color, and they have deeply-forked tails.

Trout feed on a broad variety of larval and adult insects, minnows, worms and crustaceans. In streams, trout spawn in shallow riffles where they build nests (or “redds”) in gravel.


Pacific salmon were first stocked into the Great Lakes in the late 1960s. The Chinook salmon is the largest species, reaching more than 30 pounds. Coho salmon run smaller, but 20-pounders aren’t uncommon. Sockeye and pink salmon are smaller and less common. These open-water predators feed on deep-swimming schools of alewives and smelt, but will also feed near the surface. Coho salmon mature in three years before returning to the stream where they were stocked or hatched. Chinooks grow for an extra year before returning to their stream of origin, where they die after spawning.

White Bass

White bass are natives of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system and have been widely stocked beyond this range. The white bass has silvery-white sides with dark stripes running from the gills back to the tail. Early each spring, white bass make spawning runs up river and reservoir tributaries. After they spawn, white bass move back into deep pools in rivers and open water in reservoirs. Small shad are the white bass’ main food source.


“Striper” and “rockfish” are two nicknames for the saltwater striped bass. Native to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, this fish can also live in freshwater, and it’s been stocked extensively in rivers and large reservoirs throughout the mid- and western-United States. It does best where water temperature doesn’t exceed 75°F. Stripers look like large white bass, except they are more elongated, and they grow huge in size. They are open-water fish, roving in schools through main-lake and river areas in search of prey.


Catfish live in warm-water rivers, ponds, lakes and reservoirs throughout much of the U. S. and southern Canada. There are three common American catfish species: channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish. Channel catfish have olive-blue sides fading to silver-white bellies, with small dark spots on their backs and sides. Channel cats live mostly in rivers or lakes with slow to moderate currents. They are the smallest of the three catfish species, rarely exceeding 25 pounds. Blue catfish look very much like channels, except without spots on their backs and sides. They grow larger than channel catfish, occasionally exceeding 100 pounds and thrive in big, slow-moving rivers. Flathead catfish are so-named because of their appearance. The flathead’s mouth is long and flat, and its lower jaw is slightly longer than its upper jaw. Its back and sides are mottled brown with a lighter belly. They prefer current and clean water. All three of these species share certain traits. They have a slick, scaleless skin and have eight barbels (whiskers) around the mouth. Blue and channel catfish eat worms, insects, bait-fish, crawfish and invertebrates. Flatheads feed primarily on live foods—baitfish, crawfish, etc. They feed mainly on the bottom, though they will move up and forage near the surface. Catfish spawn in late spring, after the water temperature reaches 70°F. Females lay eggs in holes in the bank, under logs or in other spots that offer protection from current and concealment from predators.


There are three species of bullheads in North America: black, brown and yellow. Their range covers most of the United States and southern Canada. They live in a variety of waters, from small ponds and marshes to large impoundments and rivers. Three other species (snail, spotted and flat bullhead) are found in the Southeast. Bullheads prefer quiet, warm waters, and hang close to bottom. They rarely grow larger than 2 pounds.

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