Game fishing is one of the most popular sports in America. With a multitude of options for anglers, the rivers, lakes, and ponds of the United States offer many different types of freshwater gamefish.
Most people think of game fishing as an ocean or saltwater sport–huge salmon, tuna, and even some sharks.
However, freshwater game fish are just as plentiful. Some can provide hundreds of pounds of meat.
If you’re wondering what kind of fish you can keep in lakes and ponds, wonder no longer.
Here the most commonly found types of freshwater gamefish that anglers hope to catch. Of course, always check your local and state laws for fishing licenses and laws.
Top 13 Species of Freshwater Fish
The largest and most common bass is the largemouth bass, which lives throughout the United States, especially in the south. It can live for up to fifteen years and grow to 20 inches and 25 pounds.
There are nine different types of bass in the wild and each of these is a freshwater fish that’s great for game fishing.:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Spotted bass
- Alabama bass
- Florida bass
- Redeye bass
- Shoal bass
- Guadalupe bass
- Suwannee bass
Bass all eat similar diets of smaller freshwater fish, insects, and bottom feeders. Adult bass can eat other freshwater game species as well, depending on the relative size.
These fish are incredibly popular and have been introduced to other environments for gaming purposes.
Trout fishing in America is popular as well. The trout family is a huge family of fish, covering several dozen types of fish.
Closely related to the salmon, some trout migrate from the ocean to freshwater ponds to lay eggs. Trout usually eat smaller fish, worms, insects, and other small creatures.
Size varies throughout the types of trout, and their coloring can be entirely different depending on the mating season.
During mating season, trout are usually very brightly colored with speckles. When returned from the ocean or infertile, they can be silvery. Sizes vary by type and can range from a few pounds to upwards of 20.
One of the most popular fish for eating, salmon, is known for its low fat, delicious taste, and numerous health benefits.
Salmon are famous for spending time in the saltwater before heading upstream to breed.
They are native to North America and Asia and thrive in colder climates. They eat smaller fish breeds in both salt and freshwater.
There are seven main species of salmon: masu and amago salmon, which only breed in Asian countries, and the five American species.
These are pink, chinook, coho, sockeye, and chum. The largest of these, the chinook salmon, can grow up to 120 pounds and is almost five feet long.
Catfish is another species that can encompass 130-pound blue catfish and a tiny, one-centimeter-long variety of parasitic catfish.
Because they’re bottom feeders, catfish eat anything and everything on the bottom of the rivers and lakes, including bacteria, insects, and small fish.
Catfish are one of the most widespread fish species in the world, living on every continent except Antarctica.
They are considered pest fish in many places, and hunting them is encouraged. Because of this, catfish are some of the most popular game fish and are often fried in Southern cuisine.
There are two kinds of crappie: black crappie and white crappie. The black crappie is native to Canada and the Eastern United States, while the white crappie lives in the midwest and southeast of America.
These are some of the most popular game fish because of their soft, buttery texture and ease of catch.
Crappie doesn’t get very big–the largest on record is about 4 pounds. Because they eat anything from bugs to crustaceans to other small fish, they are easy to catch and eat.
These fish are also popular because they are active all year round—ice anglers in the Great Lakes and further beyond like to fish for crappie in the winter.
Walleye are native to Canada, with a few in the northern United States. They grow up to 30 inches long and can weigh 20 pounds.
However, most walleye are caught younger and don’t reach this maturity. These fish are nocturnal and rarely caught during the day, but they eat any kind of meat, including salamanders, worms, and insects.
Walleye have a unique trait of being genetically different in each location. A walleye bed in North Dakota will have fish of different sizes and coloring than a bed in Manitoba.
However, they are all considered walleye. These fish are plentiful in Canada but more sought after in the Northern United States.
Pike are also coldwater fish and live in Northern America, Europe, and Asia. They feed primarily on invertebrates and small fish but will also eat other bait types.
However, they are aggressive and will eat anything to survive, including other pikes.
Pike can generally be found in streams and ponds where the current isn’t too fast. They catch their prey by hiding out behind rocks or weeds and snagging smaller fish, so they rely on still waters.
Pike can grow up to 40 pounds in their 10-15 year lifespan, but most get caught or eaten before full maturity.
The musky (or muskie) is a shortening of muskellunge, the larger cousin of the pike. These fish are routinely enormous, with the recorded biggest catch weighing in at almost 70 pounds.
Usually, however, Muskies are around 40 pounds and anywhere between 30 and 50 inches long.
The musky is a predatory fish and feeds primarily on smaller fish. It’s too large for many of the worms and invertebrates that its pike cousins will eat.
These fish are at the top of the freshwater food chain–only eagles and humans are a threat to their lives. However, muskies are known to turn to cannibalism when food is scarce.
The carp is one of the few fish on this list that is native to every continent in the world (except Antarctica). It breeds so quickly and profusely that many places consider carp a pest and an invasive species.
Anglers and hunters are encouraged to kill and eat carp, as they are a primary game fish and are notoriously difficult to catch.
There are eight different kinds of carp, ranging from the tiny grass carp to the enormous bighead carp.
Each of these species has a specific ecological niche, although many of them are common throughout the lakes and rivers of America.
The type of carp caught most often is the European carp, also known as the common carp.
Perch are separated into three groups: European Perch, Balkhash Perch, and the yellow perch.
Each species is small, with the European Perch and Balkhash Perch topping out at six pounds. Yellow perch is even smaller and usually doesn’t grow over two or three pounds.
Perch are carnivores and eat small organisms, fish, and invertebrates. They live in small ponds and streams where they’re less likely to be preyed upon by larger fish breeds.
Perch may be small, but they are popular for angling because they put up a fight and taste delicious when cooked properly.
The sauger is a much smaller version of its close cousin, the walleye. Only growing to a few inches and weighing less than a pound, these little fish are popular for their ease of catch and decent taste.
Saugers live throughout the United States and Canada in rivers and streams.
They eat smaller fish and invertebrates, depending on their age and size. Since saugers only live to be about five years, they don’t grow much beyond a few inches long.
They are strong swimmers but often become prey to larger fish (and humans, of course).
Sturgeon is one of the oldest fish species in the world, with fossils dating back to the Jurassic era of dinosaurs.
These ancient fish have multiple breeds, including several species that produce caviar.
Caviar sturgeon are endangered and highly sought after because of their eggs but need to be protected so the species can survive.
While the lake sturgeon is one of the only freshwater sturgeon species, many other species travel between fresh and saltwater. Sturgeon live up to 100 years and can eat anything from worms to smaller fish.
They are extremely large, up to 800 pounds, and have been known to wound or kill people by hitting them.
Gar looks like something out of a nightmare, with long thin snouts and sharp teeth. However, they’re freshwater fish that live largely in stagnant waters such as ponds or bayous. Gar are often considered pest fish, and hunting them is encouraged.
Gar can reach 2-3 feet in length, depending on the size of their home waters. These fish are great game fish because they put up a fight and provide lots of meat.
However, gar is a bottom feeder and doesn’t always have the healthiest diet, so the fish are not the lowest in fat.
Game fish are eligible for fishing, either with a fly or a regular rod. They are also known to be non-toxic and make delicious fish dinners.
For healthier, lower-fat meat, these fish will do the trick.
Each of these fish is wildly different in size, shape, diet, and location. However, they all have two things in common: they live in freshwater and are game fish.
If you live near lakes and rivers and enjoy fishing, odds are you’ve got a few of these beauties, so get after them because many of them are downright delicious.