Freshwater Angler

The Coastal Plain extends between the Piedmont - French for foothills - and Appalachian Mountains to the coast of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. It was once submerged by seas when the Earth was a warmer place and only became exposed as the polar glaciers formed. It is where so many humans live today. It is an easily accessible portal into the natural world.

Pick up your poles and tackle, drive to the nearest boat landing or public dock, and toss in a line. You will not be disappointed. Black crappie, sunfish, trophy bass, 5 foot catfish and more lurk here. Nothing satisfies like the sing of fishing line running off the spool and setting the hook on a lunker! If you are not getting any strikes, you get to relax in the shade trees with feet dangled in the cool water, take in the scenic waterways with numerous boats coming and going, and contrive fish tales about the ones that got away.

Only a select few of these species are on exhibit at any time, though all are representative of Freshwater Angler habitats.


American eel

Scientific name: 
Anguilla rostrata

Habitat: Occur in streams, rivers, muddy or silt-bottomed lakes; usually in permanent streams with continuous flow. Hide during the day in undercut banks and in deep pools near logs and boulders.

Key characteristics for distinction: No spines. Continuous fin stretching around the tail from the back to the belly. Head rather long; eyes small and placed well forward on head. Lips thick. Caudal vertebrae without transverse processes. Premaxillae not developed as distinct elements in adults. Frontal bones paired, not grown together. Pectoral girdle with 7 to 9 (up to 11 in the young) radial elements.

Coloration: Adults usually white or light-colored below and brownish to blue-black above, but coloration is variable; young with some yellow on the edges of the dorsal and anal fins.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed on larvae of Ephemeroptera, Odonata, Plecoptera, Coleoptera, Trichoptera, and Lepidoptera, as well as gastropods, oligochaetes, amphipods, isopods, mysids, and fish from the families Percidae, Cyprinidae, Ictaluridae, Catostomidae and Anguillidae. Feeds at night.

Reproduction: Migrate in autumn to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Sexual maturity occurs approximately in less than 10 years and up to 40 years in freshwater. Larvae (transparent leptocephali shaped somewhat like a willow leaf) hatch and develop at sea to metamorphose into elvers in nearshore waters and estuaries.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 5 ft

Predators: Larger fish, birds (gulls, eagles, ospreys)

Importance to humans: fisheries, commercial, gamefish, aquarium

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Asia and Europe eels are considered a delicacy. Most of the eels caught in the Bay region are exported overseas.


Silver Perch-T

American silver perch

Scientific name: 
Bairdiella chrysoura

Distribution: Western Atlantic, NY to Southern FL, Eastern and Northern Gulf of Mexico to Northern Mexico.

Habitat: Coastal waters of muddy and sandy bottoms. Will migrate to estuaries during summer months to feed or as a nursery; may enter freshwater. Found in marine, freshwater, brackish. Demersal.

Key characteristics for distinction: The American silver perch as 10-11 dorsal spines, 19-23 dorsal soft rays, 2 anal spines and 8-10 anal soft rays. Distinguished from white perch by the coloration of the fins and the slightly pointed tail (not forked). Also has a faint stripe running along the body to the tail

Coloration: Silver, green or blue above, bright silver to yellow on belly. Lower fins are mostly yellow to dusky in color.

Feeding habits/specializations: Mostly crustaceans, worms and at times fishes.

Reproduction: Spawns along the shallows; larvae and juveniles migrate into freshwaters upstream to grow then move along back into higher salinity waters near grass beds.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): maximum 9 inches

Predators: striped bass, other fish

Importance to humans: Mostly used as fishing bait/commercial use

Conservation status: secure, not at risk

Fun facts: Also known as sand perch. Member of the drum family; able to make a loud drumming/croaking sound by vibrating the swim bladder using special muscles.



Black crappie

Scientific name: 
Pomoxis nigromaculatus

Habitat: The black crappie appears to prefer areas with an abundance of aquatic vegetative cover with sand and mud bottoms such as in many ponds, lakes, streams, and sloughs. This fish may also be present in reservoirs if the preferred habitat preferences are present.

Key characteristics for distinction: This fish has the deep and laterally compressed body that is commonly associated with panfish. The head is small and the back is arched. The black crappie has a fairly large mouth which may be indicative of its piscivorous (fish eating) feeding habits. The upper jaw extends below the eye. The dorsal and anal fins are large and appear almost identical in shape.

Coloration: The black crappie has dark, black mottling on a silvery-gray to white body color. During the breeding season, it may be primarily black in coloration with flecks of iridescent blue and green. The dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are marked with rows of dark spots.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds early in the morning from midnight to approximately 2:00am. Individuals less than 6.3 inches (16 cm) in length feed on planktonic crustaceans and dipterous larvae while larger fish feed on small fishes such as shad and minnows.

Reproduction: spawn during the spring and summer months of March to July, depending upon water temperatures and latitudes. Female crappies may produce up to 188,000 eggs with an average number of approximately 40,000, depending on the size and age of the female. The eggs are spherical with a single oil globule. Each egg measures approximately 0.93mm in diameter. Nests are excavated by the male on substrates of sand, gravel, or mud in close proximity to shoreline vegetation. After spawning occurs, the male guards the nest until the eggs hatch, usually within 2-3 days.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 19.3 in

Predators: Large piscivorous fish are potential predators of the black crappie. Predaceous aquatic insects along with a host of other predators likely prey upon young black crappie.

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial/gamefish

Conservation status: not evaluated



Blue catfish

Scientific name: 
Ictalurus furcatus

Habitat: The Blue Catfish lives in the main channels and backwaters of medium to large rivers over mud, sand and gravel, and in large-river impoundments.

Key characteristics for distinction: Long fish with flat anal fin and deeply forked tail, smooth skin lacks scales, four pairs of black, whisker-like barbels around mouth.

Coloration: Blue Cats are pale blue to olive on the back and sides, white below and lack dark spots on the body (except in the Rio Grande where they have dark spots). Fins are clear or white except for the caudal fin which has black or dusky borders. Chin barbels are white.

Feeding habits/specializations: Opportunistic bottom-feeder that uses its long barbels to search for food. Varied diet includes plant matter, insects, crustaceans, worms and other fish, like menhaden, shad and river herring

Reproduction: Spawning occurs from late May through June, often in lower-salinity streams and smaller tributaries. Parents build nests in dark, protected areas, like under rocks or in hollow, submerged logs. Females produce 4,000 to 8,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight. Both parents care for eggs and young.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 5 ft

Predators: Adults have few natural predators.

Importance to humans: fishing/gamefish

Conservation status: Introduced to the Bay area and are now considered an invasive species due to their growing numbers and rapid expansion throughout the region. There is a need to manage the population.




Scientific name: 
Lepomis macrochirus

Distribution: North America: St. Lawrence - Great Lakes and Mississippi river basin; from Quebec to northern Mexico. Widely introduced. Several countries report adverse ecological impact after introduction.

Habitat: Adults are found frequently in lakes, ponds, reservoirs and sluggish streams; occur primarily in reservoirs in Hawaii; preferably live in deep weed beds

Key characteristics for distinction: Compressed saucer-shaped body. A dark blue or black "ear" on an extension of the gill cover called the opercular flap; a prominent dark blotch at the base of the dorsal fin, close to the tail; typically olive-green backs, with a blue or purplish sheen along the sides; faint vertical bars may be present along the sides; breeding males may have more blue and orange coloration on their flanks. Slightly forked tail with rounded lobes.

Coloration: Mostly olive green with bluish-purple iridescence on cheeks, orange to yellowish belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: Active mainly during dusk and dawn. Adults feed upon snails, small crayfish, insects, worms and small minnows. Young feed on crustaceans, insects and worms.

Reproduction: Spawns from April-September, spawns more than once per season. Males build nests in shallow areas by making a round hole in the sand or gravel. Females lay several hundred eggs then the male fertilizes the eggs and continues to guard them from other fish and predators. The male will also use his tail to fan away any particles or detritus that could smother the eggs.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 12 in

Predators: Larger fish, birds, fish-eating mammals like raccoons, humans

Importance to humans: Fisheries/minor commercial/aquarium

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Can be confused with another sunfish called the pumpkinseed.




Scientific name: 
Amia calva

Habitat: Bowfins typically inhabit lowlands and are common in backwaters, oxbow lakes, and clear, well-vegetated streams. They have a preference for clear water with abundant vegetation but are tolerant of silt, mud, and high temperatures. Adult bowfins usually live in deep water, coming into shallows at night and during the breeding season.

Key characteristics for distinction: They have an elongate body with a dorsal fin running its entire length. The tail has semi-heterocercal scales and the body is encased with cycloid scales. Its head is armored with a double skull and a large mouth and strongly developed teeth, bony gular plate, and tubular nostrils. Bowfins have kidney tubules opening directly into the coelomic cavity in contrast to other freshwater rayfin fish which have their kidneys closed off from the body cavity.

Coloration: The back and sides of the bowfin are olive-colored, with dark, and netlike mottling while the belly is cream-colored to white. The paired fins and anal fin are bright green. As juveniles both sexes have a round-to-oval black spot at the base of the upper caudal rays. Mature males have a black spot on the upper caudal rays rimmed with orange-yellow. Mature females do not have a black spot on the peduncle.

Feeding habits/specializations: normally eat fish, such as speckled perch and catfish in the northern region of Florida, but they may prey on freshwater crayfish.

Reproduction: Mating occurs between April and June in weedy shallow waters. The males arrive to the site first and construct nests in the form of a circular mat measuring 15-36 inches (39-91 cm) in diameter. As a female approaches a nest, the mating ritual begins with nose bites, nudges, and chasing behavior until the female is receptive. The female with lie on the nest while the male positions himself at her side and eggs are laid. Occasionally more than one couple will use the same nest and a male may try to mate with several females. After 8 to 10 days the eggs hatch.

Predators: The bowfin is not normally considered a sport fish but it commonly takes a hook and produces a worthy fight on light tackle. Since the adults are so well armored they probably have few natural enemies other than man.

Importance to humans: fisheries/laboratory test animal

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: While many fish use their gas bladders for buoyancy, the bowfin can also use it to inhale air from the surface.



Brown bullhead catfish

Scientific name: 
Ameiurus nebulosus

Distribution: North America: Atlantic and Gulf Slope drainages from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada to Mobile Bay in Alabama in USA, and St. Lawrence-Great Lakes, Hudson Bay and Mississippi River basins from Quebec west to Saskatchewan in Canada and south to Louisiana, USA. Introduced into several countries. Several countries report adverse ecological impact after introduction. Asia: Iran and Turkey. 

Habitat: Lives in fresh and slightly brackish waters, including shallows, clear pools and deeper areas. Prefers slow moving waters with a soft bottom and plenty of vegetation. Bottom dweller.

Key characteristics for distinction: Broad, flat head; smooth-skinned; four pairs of dark, whisker-lie barbels around the mouth; squared tail fin; sharp spines on dorsal and pectoral fins.

Coloration: Olive or yellowish-brown body mottled with brown or black, yellowish-white belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: Bottom-feeder; eats algae, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, crayfish and other fish. Uses long barbels to taste for prey.

Reproduction: Spawns April-June; parents build nest in dark, protected area; female lays eggs into the nest and both parents guard eggs and young.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 20 in

Predators: Larger predatory fish.

Importance to humans: minor commercial fishing/aquarium use.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: poor eyesight, rely on barbels to find food.



Brown trout

Scientific name: 
Salmo trutta

Distribution: Europe and Asia: Atlantic, North, White and Baltic Sea basins, from Spain to Chosha Bay (Russia). Found in Iceland and northernmost rivers of Great Britain and Scandinavia. In Rhône drainage, native only to Lake Geneva basin, which it entered after last glaciation. Native to upper Danube and Volga drainages. Introduced widely. Several countries report adverse ecological impact after introduction.

Habitat: Found in streams, ponds, rivers and lakes. Individuals spend 1 to 5 years in fresh water and 6 months to 5 years in salt water. They prefer cold, well-oxygenated upland waters although their tolerance limits are lower than those of rainbow trout and favors large streams in the mountainous areas with adequate cover in the form of submerged rocks, undercut banks, and overhanging vegetation

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 3 - 4; Dorsal soft rays (total): 10-15; Anal spines: 3-4; Anal soft rays: 9 - 14; Vertebrae: 57 - 59. Fusiform body (Ref. 51442). Head little and pointed. Mouth large, extending mostly after the eye and has well developed teeth. Teeth on shaft of vomer numerous and strongly developed. Caudal fin with 18-19 rays. Caudal peduncle thick and rounded. Little scales.

Coloration: Body is grey-blue colored with numerous spots, also below the lateral line. Blackish colored on upper part of body, usually orange on sides, surrounded by pale halos. Adipose fin with red margin.

Feeding habits/specializations: Juveniles feed mainly on aquatic and terrestrial insects; adults on mollusks, crustaceans and small fish.

Reproduction: Spawns in rivers and streams with swift current, usually characterized by downward movement of water intro gravel. Spawning takes place normally more than one time. Each female produces about 10.000 eggs. Female covers the eggs by re-stirring the sand and fine gravel. Nonguarders.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 55 in

Predators: larger fish, fish-eating mammals

Importance to humans: fisheries/commercial/aquarium/gamefish

Conservation status: least concern



Chain pickerel

Scientific name: 
Esox niger

Distribution: North America: Nova Scotia, Canada (introduced) to southern Florida, USA; Gulf coast west to Sabine Lake drainage in Louisiana, USA; Mississippi River basin north to Kentucky and Missouri, USA. Introduced to Lakes Ontario and Erie drainages and elsewhere.

Habitat: Live in vegetated lakes, swamps, and backwaters and quiet pools of creeks and small to medium rivers. Also found in deep, cold water with little or no vegetation. Adults migrate to deeper water during winter.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 17-21; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 11 - 13; Vertebrae: 49 - 54. Body rather slender, somewhat compressed, deepest near middle. Head large, naked, and depressed above, profile slightly concave over snout; snout long, broad, and rounded; mouth large, nearly horizontal; lower jaw projecting; maxillary extending to, or slightly beyond anterior margin of pupil. Lateral teeth on lower jaw and vomer enlarged. Cheek and opercle fully scaled. Gill rakers on lateral and media surfaces of arches.

Coloration: Greenish above, sometimes very dark, venter pale; scales above with golden luster; laterally with light areas enclosed by dark chain-like markings; dark upper side interrupted by light vertical bars; suborbital bar almost vertical or with slight posterior slant; rays of dorsal, anal, pectorals, and pelvic fins with light interradial membranes, caudal fin base marbled with dark pigment, tips dusky; pupil of eye yellow.

Feeding habits/specializations: insects, crayfish, small crustaceans

Reproduction: Shoreward spawning migrations soon after spring ice disappears. Oviparous with pelagic eggs. Nonguarders.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 40 in

Predators: lamprey

Importance to humans: gamefish/fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated



Eastern river cooter

Scientific name: 
Pseudemys concinna concinna

Distribution: native to the central and eastern United States, from Virginia south to mid-Georgia, west to eastern Texas, Oklahoma, and north to southern Indiana. 

Habitat: They are usually found in rivers with moderate current, as well as lakes and tidal marshes.

Key characteristics for distinction: The carapace (upper shell) is typically dark greenish-brown with pale yellow markings, often in the shape of concentric circles. The skin is dark green with yellow stripes down the neck and legs. The plastron (bottom shell) is yellow with a dark pattern that follows the scute seams (this fades with age). For these reasons, they are often confused with yellow-bellied sliders, which also have yellow stripes and yellow plastrons, but the latter have green spots along the edges of their bellies. The stripe down the hind foot is also a major characteristic.

Coloration: skin dark green with yellow stripes, upper shell dark greenish-brown with pale yellow markings, plastron yellow with dark pattern that follows the scute seams.

Feeding habits/specializations: In the wild they feed on aquatic plants, grasses, and algae. Younger ones tend to seek a more protein enriched diet such as aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, and fish. Older turtles may occasionally seek prey as well, but mostly partake of an herbivorous diet.

Reproduction: Eastern River cooters mating habits are very similar to a red-eared slider. As with the other basking turtles, the males tend to be smaller than females. The male uses his long claws to flutter at the face of the much larger female. Often, the female ignores him. If the female is receptive, she will sink to the bottom of the river and allow the male to mount for mating. If they do mate, after several weeks the female crawls upon land to seek a nesting site. Females will lay between 12 to 20 eggs at a time, close to water. Mating takes place in early spring. Nesting usually occurs from May to June.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 16 in

Predators: birds, alligators, muskrats

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: The Eastern River Cooter has the ability to breathe underwater through a sac called the cloaca bursae which is based in their tail.



Flathead catfish

Scientific name: 
Pylodictis olivaris

Distribution: North America: lower Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins from western Pennsylvania to White-Little Missouri River system in North Dakota, and south to Louisiana in the USA; Gulf Slope from Mobile Bay drainage in Georgia and Alabama, USA to Mexico. Transplanted elsewhere in USA.

Habitat: Inhabit pools with logs and other debris in low-gradient to moderate-gradient, small to large rivers. Also found in lakes and impoundments. Young occur in rocky and sandy runs and riffles.

Key characteristics for distinction: This catfish has a flat head, but other than that, it looks like any other catfish: it has smooth, scaleless skin, whisker-like barbels around the mouth, and long, sharp spines on the dorsal (back) fin and one on each side of the pectoral (shoulder) fin.

Coloration: Flathead catfish are typically pale yellow (hence the name "yellow cat") to light brown on the back and sides, and highly mottled with black and/or brown. The belly is usually pale yellow or cream colored.

Feeding habits/specializations: fish, insects, algae, mollusks, worms

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in late June and early July, the nests made in areas with submerged logs and other debris. The males, who also build the nests, fiercely and tirelessly defend and fan the clutch. The size of the clutch varies proportionately to the size of the female; an average of 2,640 eggs per kilogram of fish are laid.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 61 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: gamefish, aquarium use

Conservation status: not evaluated




Scientific name: 
Centrarchus macropterus

Distribution: North America: occurs only in the USA from Potomac River drainage in Maryland to central Florida and west to Trinity River in Texas; north in Former Mississippi Embayment to southern Illinois and southern Indiana.

Habitat: Occur in swamps, vegetated lakes, ponds, sloughs and backwaters and pools of creeks and small rivers, usually over mud.

Key characteristics for distinction: deep, round body; and wing-like fins, hence the common name "flier". The flier's anal fin (underside of fish in front of tail fin) almost equal in size to its dorsal (back) fin.

Coloration: olive-green back; greenish-yellow to cream-colored sides with several rows of brown spots; a dark streak below each eye

Feeding habits/specializations: feeds mainly on insects

Reproduction: nest builders, guarders

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 11.5 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: not evaluated



Largemouth bass

Scientific name: 
Micropterus salmoides

Habitat: Resides in fresh and low-brackish waters. Prefers lakes with extensive shallow areas that support submerged aquatic vegetation. Can also be found in large, slow-moving rivers or streams with soft bottoms, clear water and aquatic vegetation.

Key characteristics for distinction: The largemouth bass has a large, slightly sloping mouth. Its body is slender to robust, slightly compressed laterally, and oval in cross section. The corner of the mouth extends past the eye, hence its common name.

Coloration: The back and head are dark green to light green in color with lighter sides and a whitish belly and underside of the head. A prominent lateral stripe may be seen running from the snout through eye to the base of the tail. Towards the tail, there is a series of blotches of varying size. These blotches evolve into a solid, even stripe on the caudal peduncle. The eye is golden brown. Vertical fins lightly pigmented, paired fins generally clear; caudal fin alike in young and adult. Adults from mud-bottom lakes are dark olive brown to black, with markings hardly distinguishable. Males in breeding condition tend to be darker in overall color.

Feeding habits/specializations: Juveniles consume zooplankton, insects and small fish. Adults feed on insects, fish and crayfish, with sunfish often being their prey of choice. Fish often feed in the early morning and late evening, near vegetation growing in shallow waters.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in the spring when water temperatures reach 54 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Males build and guard crude, saucer-shaped nests in shallow waters. Fish prefer to spawn on gravel substrate, but will also nest on other substrates, including vegetation, roots, sand, mud and rocks. Eggs hatch in four to six days, and larvae remain in schools under the protection of male adult for a month after hatching.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 38 in

Predators: Predators include yellow perch, walleye, northern pike and muskellunge, although primary predators are humans.

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial/gamefish

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: The largemouth bass is one of the most popular sport fishes in the United States.



Longnose gar

Scientific name: 
Lepisosteus osseus

Habitat: usually occupy lazy slow moving streams, rivers, reservoirs, bayous, and estuaries. It prefers the sluggish backwater pools to the moving stream. Adults can be found floating near the surface of pools and sluggish streams. The young prefer to hide and hunt in backwaters around submersed vegetation.

Key characteristics for distinction: Gars can be distinguished from other fish by their long slender tubular bodies. Gars are a primitive group of bony fish that still retain a spiral valve intestine, which is a primitive feature of the digestive system commonly associated with elasmobranchs. Gars bodies are covered with rhomboidal ganoid scales, which are composed of two layers. The outer layer is of ganoin and the inner layer is made of isopedine, both layers are penetrated by blood vessels. These scales enterlock to produce a virtual suit of armor leaving the gars with few natural predators. Gars also have a highly vascularized swim bladder connected to the pharynx by a pneumatic duct. This enables them to gulp air, which aids in facultative air breathing. This allows gar to breathe when there are very low oxygen levels in the water. The longnose gars can be distinguished from any other gar by its elongate snout more than twice the length of the rest of their head. The longnose gar can be distinguished from the alligator gar because it has only 1 row of sharp, villiform teeth in the upper jaw.

Coloration: olivaceous brown to green dorsally fading to pale yellow or white ventrally. Color of specimen is dependent on the clarity of the water it is in. Longnose gar in clear water have a much deeper green color than those in murky water which will be more brown and drab. The longnose gar has spots on its dorsal anal and caudal fins.

Feeding habits/specializations: Young gar begin feeding on small crustaceans and insects; quickly switch to diet of fish. Ambush predators who lay in wait or slowly stalk their prey.

Reproduction: April to August depending on geographic region. Spawning occurs over gravel or weedy areas. During spawning longnose gar congregate together in small streams. One female is usually accompanied by 2 to 4 males, which swim along side at irregular intervals. Eggs are demersal and adhesive, they sink to the bottom after being released from the female and fertilized and attach to the substrate.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 79 in

Predators: Larger fish. In some areas, preyed upon by American Alligator. Due to larger size and ganoid scaling, adults have very few predators.

Importance to humans: commercial fishing; important apex predator in many ecosystems.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Gars have a highly vascularized swim bladder that enables them to gulp air, facilitating air breathing. This allows gar to breathe when there are very low oxygen levels in the water.


Northern red bellied cooter

Scientific name: 
Pseudemys rubriventris

Image by John White courtesy the Virginia Herpetological Society

Distribution: Pseudemys rubriventris primarily occurs in the Mid-Atlantic lowlands and foothill valleys of southern New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the West Virginia Panhandle, and northeastern North Carolina. Isolated populations occur at Plymouth, Carver and possibly Essex counties in Massachusetts. 

Habitat: Lives in large freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, creeks, rivers and adjacent marshes, as well as in brackish rivers. Usually found in areas with deep, fast-moving water, a muddy bottom and lots of aquatic vegetation. Suns itself on rocks and logs to control its body temperature.

Key characteristics for distinction: The red-bellied cooter is an aquatic turtle with a dark, highly domed shell and a distinctive red belly. Highly domed carapace (shell) that varies in color from brownish to black. Reddish bands across the middle of the scutes (plates) on the carapace. These bands vary depending on the turtle’s age and sex, and may only be visible when the shell is wet. Reddish plastron (underside of the shell). Young have a greenish carapace and an orange plastron. Black head with light lines that run toward the snout. Heavy upper jaw with a notch in the center.

Coloration: Shell varies in color from brownish to black. Reddish bands across the middle of the scutes. Reddish plastron/belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: Omnivore; feeds on snails, plants, worms, tadpoles, crayfish and insect larvae.

Reproduction: In June or July, females dig a nest near the water. They try to use the same nesting area every year. Females lay 10-20 eggs, covering the nest afterward. They provide no care for their eggs or young. Eggs hatch in 10-16 weeks.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 13 in

Predators: Skunks, crows, raccoons, herons and bullfrogs.

Conservation status: near threatened

Fun fact: You can distinguish a red-bellied cooter from a painted turtle by its larger size, reddish plastron, and lack of yellow marks on its head.




Scientific name: 
Lepomis gibbosus

Distribution: North America: New Brunswick in Canada to South Carolina in the USA; Great Lakes, Hudson Bay and upper Mississippi basins from Quebec and New York west to southeast Manitoba and North Dakota, and south to north Kentucky and Missouri. Widely introduced. Several countries report adverse ecological impact after introduction.

Habitat: Lives in shallow, protected freshwater tributaries such as lakes, ponds, reservoirs, streams, creeks and river coves. Prefers quiet, slow-moving waters with lots of vegetation and a sandy, muddy or gravel bottom.

Key characteristics for distinction: Compressed, saucer-shaped body; slightly forked tail fin with rounded lobes; dorsal fin with about 10 spines on the front portion and a rounded back portion.

Coloration: body that is mottled blue, orange, yellow and olive green; wavy blue and orange lines on cheeks, orange belly. Black earflaps with a bright red or orange, crescent-shaped border.

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats a variety of small organisms, including snails, worms, insects, mollusks, small fishes and bits of vegetation

Reproduction: Spawns May-July, males build nests in shallow areas by making a round hole in sand or gravel; female lays several hundred eggs then male fertilizes. Male guards eggs from other fish and uses tail to fan away particles or detritus that could smother eggs.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 12 in

Predators: Larger fish, birds, fish-eating mammals like raccoons, humans

Importance to humans: fishing/gamefish

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Bluegills and pumpkinseeds often interbreed, resulting in some confusing hybrids.


Image Filler


Scientific name: 
Carpiodes cyprnus

Distribution: North America: Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River, Hudson Bay and Mississippi River basins from Quebec to Alberta in Canada and south to Louisiana, USA; Atlantic Slope drainages from Delaware River to Altamaha River in USA; Gulf Slope drainages from Apalachicola River to Pearl River in USA.

Habitat: Inhabits pools, backwaters and main channels of creeks and small to large rivers. Also occurs in lakes.

Key characteristics for distinction: Deeper bodied than most suckers, leading to a carp like appearance. It can be distinguished from carp by the lack of barbels around the mouth.

Coloration: silvery

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds on bottom ooze and benthic invertebrates.

Reproduction: Oviparous. Breed in streams and ponds with rapid flow, on sand and gravel, or in weedy places. One female may mate with several males. Nonguarders/open water egg scatterers.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 26 in

Predators: Adults not usually preyed upon due to large size and schooling behavior. Young and eggs commonly eaten by larger fish.

Importance to humans: commercial fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: called quillback because of the long filament that extends back from the dorsal fin.



Redfin pickerel

Scientific name: 
Esox americanus americanus

Distribution: North America: Atlantic Slope drainages from St. Lawrence River drainage in Quebec, Canada to southern Georgia in USA; Gulf Slope drainages from Pascagoula River in Mississippi to Florida, USA.

Habitat: Live in lakes, swamps, and backwaters, and sluggish pools of streams. Occur usually among vegetation in clear water. Also found in brush piles, overhanging brush or rocks and boulders in areas lacking vegetation. Rarely occur in rivers.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 13-21; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 13 - 18; Vertebrae: 42 - 51. Body robust, long, cylindrical, cross-section almost circular with flattened to slightly concave dorsal surface. Head large, flat, naked on top. Snout short, broad spatulate, dorsal surface between raised orbits and tip of snout slightly convex. Mouth large, horizontal, reaching at least to middle of pupil or suborbital bar. Teeth moderately large, those in front of upper jaw and several along each side of ramus a little enlarged; cheek and opercle fully scaled. Gill rakers are reduced to patches of sharp denticles. Branchiostegal rays: 19-31. Cardioid scales between pelvic fins 6-32, intergrades 0-26; notched scales in a line between dorsal and anal fin origins 7-25, intergrades 1-22. Submandibular pores 3:2 to 6:5, usually 4:4.

Coloration: Olivaceous to black above; belly pale amber to white, sometimes mottled wit dark; mid-dorsal band from nape to dorsal fin origin inconspicuous and pale. Sides with 20-36 olive to black wavy vertical bars separated by paler extensions of what had been lateral band in young, pale area between adjacent bars narrower. Suborbital and preorbital black bars pronounced, suborbital curved back ventrally, postorbital horizontal; lateral edges of jaws heavily pigmented. Pupil yellow to yellow green, iris gold. Dorsal fin darkly pigmented, others orange to red.

Feeding habits/specializations: crustaceans, insects, other fish

Reproduction: Spawning takes place in flood plains, grassy banks, sloughs, ditches and overflow ponds in areas of heavy vegetation, sometimes in water less than 30.5 cm deep. Nonguarders, open water egg scatterers.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 15.5 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: gamefish

Conservation status: least concern



Smallmouth bass

Scientific name: 
Micropterus dolomieu

Distribution: North America: St. Lawrence-Great Lakes system, Hudson Bay and Mississippi River basins from southern Quebec in Canada to North Dakota and south to northern Alabama and eastern Oklahoma in the USA. Introduced into many countries for sport fishing. Several countries report adverse ecological impact after introduction.

Habitat: Inhabit shallow rocky areas of lakes, clear and gravel-bottom runs and flowing pools of rivers, cool flowing streams and reservoirs fed by such streams.

Key characteristics for distinction: Elongate body. Body features a number of small, dusky brown blotches and sometimes five to 15 indistinct dusky lateral bars. Lower jaw of moderate-sized mouth does not extend past its eye, unlike that of the largemouth bass

Coloration: pale brown or olive green, while belly is yellow-white in color

Feeding habits/specializations: Young feed on plankton and immature aquatic insects while adults take in crayfish, fishes, and aquatic and terrestrial insects.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs on rocky lake shoals or in river shallows from spring to early summer. Male builds and guards small nest. Female enters male’s territory and they engage in a complex mating dance with the pair rubbing and biting each other. Several females may spawn in the nest of one male while one female may spawn in the nests of several males.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 27 in

Predators: larger fish and turtles

Importance to humans: commercial/gamefish/aquarium

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Lower jaw does not extend past its eye, unlike that of the largemouth bass.



Striped bass (rockfish)

Scientific name: 
Morone saxatilis

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish; demersal; anadromous. Inhabit coastal waters and are commonly found in bays but may enter rivers in the spring to spawn. Some populations are landlocked.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dark, forked tail fin. Deep notch in dorsal fin. First part of dorsal fin has several spines. Three spines on anal fin.

Coloration: streamlined, silvery body marked with longitudinal dark stripes running from behind the gills to the base of the tail.

Feeding habits/specializations: Voracious and opportunistic feeder. Larvae feed on zooplankton; juveniles take in small shrimps and other crustaceans, annelid worms, and insects; adults feed on a wide variety of fishes (alewives, herring, smelt, eels, flounders, mummichogs, rock gunnels, sand lance, silver hake and silversides) and invertebrates (squid, crabs, sea worms and amphipods), mainly crustaceans. Feeding ceases shortly before spawning.

Reproduction: Striped bass spawn in fresh water, and although they have been successfully adapted to freshwater habitat, they naturally spend their adult lives in saltwater. Spawning occurs from April to early June in the Chesapeake Bay's tidal tributaries. During spawning season, several males court a single female, who lays her eggs in fresh or brackish water near the shore. After spawning, adults swim downstream to the Bay. Some continue on to the ocean. Eggs hatch in two to three days, after which larvae move slowly downstream.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 6 ft

Predators: humans (fishing), other larger fish, sharks

Importance to humans: sport fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: state fish of Maryland, Rhode Island, South Carolina.



Rainbow trout

Scientific name: 
Oncorhynchus mykiss

Habitat: Inhabits cold headwaters, creeks, small to large rivers, and lakes. Anadromous in coastal streams.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 10-12; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 8 - 12; Vertebrae: 60 - 66. Body elongate, somewhat compressed especially in larger fish. No nuptial tubercles but minor changes to head, mouth and color occur especially in spawning males. Caudal fin with 19 rays. Differs from Oncorhynchus gorbuscha by having the following unique characters: by having the following unique characters: anal fin with 6-9½ (usually 8½ ) branched rays; 115-130 scales in midlateral row; 16-17 gill rakers; breeding males lacking hump; juveniles lacking parr marks; wide pink to red stripe from head to caudal base, except in sea-run form; and juveniles with 5-10 parr marks

Coloration: Coloration varies with habitat, size, and sexual condition. Stream residents and spawners darker, colors more intense. Lake residents lighter, brighter, and more silvery.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds on a variety of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and small fishes. At the sea, preys on fish and cephalopods.

Reproduction: Undertakes short spawning migrations. Anadromous and lake forms may migrate long distances to spawning streams.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 47 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial/gamefish

Conservation status: not evaluated



Redbreast sunfish

Scientific name: 
Lepomis auritus

Distribution: North America: Eastern Rivers of USA and Canada. At least one country reports adverse ecological impact after introduction.

Habitat: Rocky and sandy pools of creeks and small to medium rivers; rocky and vegetated lake margins.

Key characteristics for distinction: The dorsal fin on this species contains 10 to 11 spines and 10 to 12 rays. The anal fin has three spines and nine or 10 rays. Lateral line scales number 41 to 52. Palatine teeth are present in the roof of the mouth. The cheek has six to eight rows of scales. The pectoral fin is short and does not reach the nostril when bent forward beside the head.

Coloration: The back and head are olive green. Bright, bluish green stripes originate near the mouth and extend backward obliquely toward the base of the elongate, black ear flap. Females are less colorful, having a light orange to yellowish breast and venter.

Feeding habits/specializations: Adults feed on terrestrial insects and both immature and adult aquatic insects, particularly larger varieties such as mayflies and dragonflies. Juveniles consume benthic organisms such as dipteran larvae.

Reproduction: nesters, guarders; female lays around 1000 eggs in the depression created by the male who later takes care of the eggs and young alone.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 12 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: gamefish/aquarium use

Conservation status: least concern




Scientific name: 
Sander vitreus

Distribution: North America: St. Lawrence-Great Lakes, Arctic, and Mississippi River basins from Quebec to Northwest Territories in Canada, south to Alabama and Arkansas in the USA. Widely introduced elsewhere in the USA, including Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific drainages. Rarely found in brackish waters of North America.

Habitat: Occurs in lakes, pools, backwaters, and runs of medium to large rivers. Prefers large, shallow lakes with high turbidity.

Key characteristics for distinction: The mouth of a walleye is large and is armed with many sharp teeth. The first dorsal and anal fins are spinous, as is the operculum. Walleyes are distinguished from their close cousin the sauger by the white colouration on the lower lobe of the caudal fin which is absent on the sauger. In addition, the two dorsals and the caudal fin of the sauger are marked with distinctive rows of black dots which are absent from or indistinct on the same fins of walleyes.

Coloration: Largely olive and gold in color. The olive/gold pattern is broken up by five darker saddles that extend to the upper sides. The color shades to white on the belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds at night, mainly on insects and fishes (prefers yellow perch and freshwater drum but will take any fish available) but feeds on crayfish, snails, frogs, mudpuppies, and small mammals when fish and insects are scarce.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in small groups (a larger female and two smaller males or two females and up to six males) that engage in chasing, circular swimming, and fin erection. The group then ascends to shallow water, females roll on their side, and eggs and sperm are released. Deposition of eggs usually occurs in a single night. Nonguarders.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 42 in

Predators: other predatory fish

Importance to humans: commercial/experimental/gamefish/aquarium

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Eyes reflect light due to a light-gathering layer called tapetum lucidum which allows them to see in low light conditions.



White catfish

Scientific name: 
Ameiurus catus

Distribution: North America: Rivers of the Atlantic coastal states of USA from Florida to New York.

Habitat: Sluggish, mud-bottomed pools, open channels, and backwaters of small to large rivers; also in lakes and impoundments.

Key characteristics for distinction: The White catfish has white chin barbells, which distinguish it from other species. There are four pairs of barbels ("whiskers") around the mouth, two on the chin, one at the angle of the mouth, and one behind the nostril. White catfish lack scales and possess an adipose fin, as well as a single, often serrated spine in the dorsal and pectoral fins. Their tail is moderately forked and they have a noticeably broad head, large mouth and stout body and are smaller in size than channel catfish.

Coloration: bluish-gray on their back and sides and white underneath

Feeding habits/specializations: fish, insects, mollusks, algae

Reproduction: nesters/guarders, spawn in early summer

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 37.5 in

Predators: larger predatory fish

Importance to humans: gamefish

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Catfish have numerous external taste buds, many of which are located on the barbels. Consequently, they can taste something by simply touching it with their barbels.



White sucker

Scientific name: 
Catostomus commersonii

Distribution: North America: throughout most of Canada to the Atlantic Coast, south through North Carolina to New Mexico in the USA, becoming less common in the southern High Plains. 

Habitat: Inhabits a wide range of habitats, from rocky pools and riffles of headwaters to large lakes. Usually occurs in small, clear, cool creeks and small to medium rivers.

Key characteristics for distinction: long, round-bodied fish; fish's suckermouth with its fleshy lips are located in the inferior position at the bottom of its head, as the fish obtains its food from bottom surfaces

Coloration: dark green, grey, copper, brown, or black back and sides and a light underbelly

Feeding habits/specializations: bottom feeder; phytoplankton, detritus, algae, diatoms, insects, invertebrates

Reproduction: Adults home to certain gravelly spawning streams. Two to four males will crowd around a female and press against her with their fins. Eggs are scattered and adhere to the gravel or are carried downstream and adhere to the substrate when the water is calmer. The spawning act lasts for 3-4 seconds and may occur 6-40 times an hour. Spent adults return to the lake 10-14 days after spawning began. Most females return to the lake during the first half of the downstream migration followed by most males in the latter half. Downstream fry migration occurs between dusk and dawn

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 26 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: minor commercial/aquaculture/gamefish/bait

Conservation status: not evaluated



Yellow bullhead catfish

Scientific name: 
Ameiurus natalis

Habitat: found in slow current over soft substrates in pools and backwaters of creeks and small to large rivers, and in oxbows, ponds, and lakes.

Key characteristics for distinction: The Yellow Bullhead has white or yellow chin barbels throughout most of its range. The anal fin is long and fairly straight in outline, with 24-27 rays. The rays at the front of the anal fin are slightly longer than those at the rear. There are 5-8 large teeth on the rear of the pectoral spine. The caudal fin edge is rounded or truncate (almost straight).

Coloration: The body is yellow-olive to slate-black above, with a lighter, yellow-olive side and w hite to bright yellow below. The fins are dusky, and the anal fin commonly has a dusky stripe in the middle.

Feeding habits/specializations: insects, algae, worms, mollusks, crustaceans, small fish

Reproduction: guarders/nesters

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18.5 in 

Importance to humans: gamefish

Conservation status: not evaluated



Yellow perch

Scientific name: 
Perca flavescens

Distribution map: North America: Atlantic, Arctic, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River basins from Nova Scotia and Quebec west to Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territories in Canada, and south to Ohio, Illinois and Nebraska in the USA; south in Atlantic drainages to Santee River in South Carolina, USA.

Habitat: Inhabits lakes, ponds, pools of creeks, and rivers. Also found in brackish water and in salt lakes. Most commonly found in clear water near vegetation; tends to shoal near the shore during spring.

Key characteristics for distinction: Elongated body, 5-8 dark vertical bands on the sides, two separate dorsal fins (one spiny, one smooth), forked tail.

Coloration: golden or greenish-yellow body, reddish-orange fins

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds on immature insects, larger invertebrates, fishes and fish eggs during the day.

Reproduction: Spawns between February and July in the northern hemisphere and between August and October in the southern hemisphere. Considered to be semi-anadromous, which means it lives in fresh or brackish rivers and spawns in small, shallow freshwater streams. The female lays long, gelatinous strands of amber-colored eggs, which stick to underwater vegetation, tree branches and other debris

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 12 in

Predators: Preyed upon by fishes and birds.

Importance to humans: commercial/gamefish/aquarium

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Yellow perch are relatively poor swimmers. They are not able to accelerate quickly.