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Which Freshwater Fish Taste the Best

Fish is a nutritious, delicious, and quick meal. Whether you’re looking for something to grill or for the best fish you can turn into sushi, fish is an excellent choice for dinner (or lunch!).

multiple large salmon in a cooler full of ice

Of course, knowing which local body of water has the best tasting freshwater fish will dictate where you head out fishing. 

Whether it’s salmon during breeding season or largemouth bass in the creek out back, there’s nothing quite as peaceful as fishing on the open water.

That said, not all freshwater fish taste the same. Salmon has a delightful creaminess that, for example, yellow perch lacks. 

delicious cooked salmon on a bed of greens

This article explores what freshwater fish tastes best. Of course, once you learn which types of freshwater fish taste the best, you’ll need to research which live in bodies of water nearest you.

Then, you may need to do a little experimenting (and spend plenty of time out on the water!) to learn which you find the tastiest!

10 Most Delicious Freshwater Fish

  1. Bluegill
  2. Catfish
  3. Crappie
  4. Freshwater Drum
  5. Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass
  6. Trout
  7. White Bass
  8. Salmon
  9. Walleye
  10. Perch

Bluegill

Bluegills are a pervasive species in North America, found in the shallow waters of rivers, lakes, and ponds around the U.S and Canada.

small bluegill

Named for the deep blue and purple coloring on their gills, Bluegills have earthy colored bodies and gold and orange on their underbellies.

They’re a small species, averaging around 7.5 inches in length, which may deter fishers hoping for a large catch. 

Bluegills are an easy catch, and since they are plentiful, it is sustainable and worthwhile to catch multiple bluegills for a delicious and flavorful dinner.

Bluegills offer a flakey white fillet that is best prepared by pan-frying with light seasoning and butter or olive oil. 


Catfish

Catfish are classic bottom feeders, named for their distinctive cat-like whiskers. Catfish exist in rivers around the world, and range in size from a quarter-inch to over 8 feet long. Some of the largest catfish weighed in at around 650 lbs.!

a fresh catfish ready to cook

They’re easy to catch and have been a source of meat in most cultures for centuries. Now, there are massive catfish farms, making them budget-friendly fillet.

Their meat is somewhat denser with a yellowish hue and it has one of the strongest fish flavors of freshwater fish.

The most popular way to eat catfish is breaded and fried on a po’boy or with strong Cajun seasonings to mask the fishy flavor.


Crappie

A colorful and popular gaming fish, the Crappie is a member of the sunfish family with two main species: the black and white crappie.

white crappie

Crappie is a North American fish, inhabiting rivers throughout the U.S., Canada, the Great Lakes, and New York’s Hudson Bay.

The white crappie has a striped, yellow and green coloring, while the black crappie has more of a random speckling of white and back atop a blue-green and yellow body.

They range in size from 4 to 12 inches, so you’ll want to use a smaller size hook to catch them. Crappie is a popular fish to catch for recreational fishers, and their fillets taste delicious baked, fried, or grilled.

They have a mild flavor and light flakiness that absorbs seasonings and marinades well. 


Freshwater Drum

Freshwater Drum is a robust and hearty freshwater species endemic to rivers and lakes in North, Central, and South America.

a freshwater drum swimming in the water

They average between 5 to 15 lbs and range in color from silver-grey to bronze-red. 

Freshwater Drum is fished commercially, and its large sizes deliver a high-quality and large quantity of lean protein.

They have a mild yet delicious flavor and are among the healthiest and most versatile freshwater fish.

Whether you broil, grill, or pan-fry them, their fillets taste amazing and work well with a variety of sauces or seasonings


Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass

Largemouth Bass are the largest species in the Bass family, ranging from 5 to 35 lbs. They inhabit lakes and large, deep rivers in the Western United States.

holding a largemouth bass

True to their name, they have large bottom lips that jut out and wide mouths. They have a high-fat ratio, making their white, flakey meat especially rich in flavor.

Smallmouth Bass are smaller with deep orange eyes and bronze and black stripes running vertically down their sides.

They are more widespread across North America, inhabiting medium-depth levels of lakes, streams, and tributaries.

They have the same characteristic richness as other bass species, making them a favorite fillet.


Trout

Trout is a globally pervasive family of fish with a wealth of different species, including Lake trout, Brook trout, Brown Trout, and Rainbow Trout.

uncooked raw trout

As a diverse family of fish, the range in size is as large as the diversity of colors.

Trout tend to have a mild yet distinct flavor and a pleasant flakey texture. They are carnivorous, eating smaller fish, insects, and larvae making their flesh full of lean protein.

Smoked trout is a popular delicacy, but trout is a versatile fish that tastes good when boiled, fried, or grilled.  


White Bass

Also known as sand or silver bass, White Bass is a robust whitish silverfish with small dark stripes and protruding scales.

catching a white bass

They average around 12 to 15 inches in length and are endemic to freshwater lakes and rivers in the Northern U.S. They are nocturnal carnivores and are thus easiest to catch at night. 

They have a rich, fatty flavor characteristic of all bass varieties with a flakey and decadent texture. You can prepare them on the grill or the frying pan.

Since they have a high-fat content, they taste delicious when grilled with a light seasoning and a squeeze of lemon juice.


Salmon

Salmon is a wildly popular, highly nutritious fish that is one of the rare species that lives in both saltwater and freshwater.

A fisherman caught a large salmon on a boat

The two main types are Atlantic and Pacific salmon, which may throw you off since this is a freshwater fish list.

They have distinctive pinkish-orange meat that is as flakey and delicious. 

The Atlantic Salmon is large, weighing an average of 10 to 20 lbs. as opposed to the smaller Pacific Salmon, which weighs between 5 and 10 lbs.

They’re a popular fish worldwide, as they pervade the two oceans that surround every continent.


Walleye

Native to clearwater lakes and rivers of the Northern U.S. and Canada, Walleyes are considerably large fish with an average of 2.5 ft in length, weighing an average of 20 lbs.

ice fishing for walleye with lures

They have white underbellies and a gold and olive calico pattern covering their torso and fins. 

They’re challenging catches for recreational fishers because they dwell in choppy, turbulent waters.

They also have a sweeter and milder flavor than most freshwater fish, simulating the flavor and chew of chicken. They taste fantastic when breaded and fried, grilled whole, or broiled.


Perch

Perch is a sport fishing family of fish, with three species found in rivers and lakes in Europe, North America, and Asia.

man holding a perch caught with a fishing rod

The smaller North American species is pale yellow and averages around a foot and a half in length. It weighs around 2 lbs. 

Now a farmed species, Perch offers delicious, lean, and nutrient-rich fillets that are thick and flakey, often requiring two cooking techniques.

You can start them off by frying them in butter and then finishing them off in6 the oven. 


Final Thoughts

Freshwater fish come in many shapes, sizes, flavors, and price points. Some are easy and popular to fish, while others are best left to order at your local fish counter. They all share a milder, less briny flavor than their saltwater counterparts. 

Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly fillet that tastes fantastic breaded and fried or a nutritious and lean flakey fillet, you’ll find the best-tasting freshwater fish on the above list.

So, go ahead and pack yourself a cooler, grab your gear, and get to the closest lake or river to catch your next fish dinner!

Rocco Smith

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