Freshwater fishes such as bass, catfish and salmon are very popular catches among anglers in the United States. Additionally, types of freshwater fishes populate different habitats such as rivers, lakes, ponds and streams. Unlike marine fishes, however, freshwater species inhabit environments that make up for only 2 percent of all the water on Earth.

Several types of freshwater fish to eat are popular among anglers, particularly salmon. However, freshwater species are subject to federal and state regulations that affect fishermen. To learn about freshwater habitats, fishing gear and regulations, read the sections below.

Where can I catch freshwater fish?

Freshwater fish species populate habitats where they can breathe, feed and swim. Moreover, different types of freshwater fishes may prefer cold, cool or warm waters. The following are the most common freshwater environments in the country:

  • Rivers – Rivers are generally large bodies of water. Thus, they are optimal habitats for freshwater fishes such as bass, catfish, piranha and tilapia. Additionally, salmon inhabit rivers when young, but typically move on to saltwater environments when they become adults. A river can be classified as tropical, sub-tropical, temperate or desert, each of which house different species.
  • Lakes – Lakes are still or slow-moving habitats. Thus, lakes are the preferred environments of various types of freshwater fishes, such as bluegill, catfish, carps, muskellunge, trout and walleye.
  • Ponds – Ponds are essentially small lakes. Therefore, they also house freshwater fish that prefer still or slow-moving waters. A pond can be a natural occurrence or a man-made environment, both of which can yield different species.
  • Streams – Streams are narrow and shallow waterways that feed into rivers. Moreover, streams typically have some sort of current. Thus, a stream is an optimal habitat for smaller freshwater fish species such as rainbow trout, bullhead and riffle sculpin.

Additionally, certain types of freshwater fishes may be considered aquarium fishes for being able to survive in domestic environments. Popular examples include guppies, tetra and betta.

What gear do you need to catch freshwater fishes?

Most freshwater fishes are caught through angling, which is the most common fishing technique among recreational anglers. Moreover, consider the following types of gear when fishing in freshwater habitats:

  • Rods – Different types of freshwater fishes require different fishing rods. For instance, spinning rods and casting rods are some of the most efficient types of gear for freshwater fishing. Conversely, fly fishing rods are best suited for environments with strong currents.
  • Reels – Fishing reels must be paired with the appropriate types of rods. Thus, bait casting reels, spin-casting reels and fly-casting reels must be respectively paired up with casting, spinning and fly fishing rods.
  • Lures or baits – Freshwater fish species can be lured by various types of artificial lures or live baits. For instance, jigs, soft plastics and spoons can be very effective lures. Additionally, insects, worms, small fish and crustaceans can serve as great live bait.
  • Hooks – Hooks vary according to the size of a fish and/or the width of its mouth. Thus, extra wide gap hooks are recommended for large fish such as a largemouth bass. Conversely, circle hooks may suffice for fish with small mouths like a bluegill.
  • Lines – Freshwater fishes are most commonly reeled in through braided lines, monofilament lines or fluorocarbon lines. In general, braided lines are stronger and sturdier, whereas fluorocarbon lines are thinner and more invisible.

Are there regulations for catching freshwater fish?

Federal and state fishing regulations protect the various types of freshwater fishes from becoming endangered. Thus, freshwater guidelines can include shorter fishing seasons, daily bag limits or minimum size requirements. For example, in New York, only five trout can be caught per day between the months of April and October.

Additionally, freshwater fishes can only be caught by licensed anglers. Thus, fishing enthusiasts must obtain the appropriate fishing licenses that relate to their residency status and fishing purpose. Furthermore, the following governing bodies are responsible for establishing national and multi-state freshwater fishing regulations:

  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
  • Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB)
  • Red River Compact Commission
  • Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC)
  • Yellowstone River Compact Commission and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA)

What are the different types of freshwater fishes?

Various types of freshwater fishes can be found in rivers, lakes and streams. However, a few species are considered more popular than others due to their recreational or commercial demand. Thus, explore the most notable freshwater species in the sections below.

Bass

Bass fishing is one of the most popular recreational sports in the United States, as various species of bass are available for harvesting. For instance, the largemouth, smallmouth and black sea species are considered popular types of bass fish. Moreover, common bass fish spots include lakes, ponds and streams. In addition, consider using small crustaceans and insects when choosing among bass fish bait to lure in this species.

Catfish

Popular types of catfish fish include the channel, blue, white, brown, yellow, black, stonecat, flathead and hardhead species. Generally, catfish fishing is one of the most popular freshwater activities in North America. Popular spots for catching this fish include lakes, streams, rivers and ponds. Furthermore, catfish fish bait may come in the form of live or dead materials, including plants or aquatic insects. Moreover, a catfish is commonly caught during the fall. However, a catfish fishing season varies according to each region.

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Trout

Trout fishing typically involves the catching of rainbow or spotted trout. However, other species include the apache, brook, bull, steelhead and marble trout. In general, cool-water lakes, streams and rivers are among the best trout fishing locations. Furthermore, the best trout fish bait include worms, leeches, crustaceans and small amphibians.

Bluegill

Bluegill fish have a widespread population across the United States. Additionally, they are considered very easy to catch, even in the case of beginners. Thus, bluegill fishing does not require specialized gear. Moreover, a wide variety of bluegill fishing lures and baits can be used, including like worms, grubs and insects. In general, the fishing season for bluegill lasts year-round.

Salmon

Alaska and the west coast of the U.S. are optimal locations for salmon fishing. Despite living primarily in saltwater environments, a salmon typically travels up freshwater rivers in order to breed. Thus, catching this species is common not only in the ocean, but also in rivers and streams. Moreover, the recommended salmon fishing lures vary based on whether an angler wants to fish at sea or on a river. Once caught, this type of fish provides excellent nutritional value and tastes great in a variety of dishes.

Walleye

Walleye fishing is a popular sport from the Canadian border to south states such as Alabama. Furthermore, walleye fish are native to the lakes and rivers in the Midwest. Fishermen will want to consider the diet and feeding habits of a walleye when choosing between fishing lures. Additionally, a walleye is a mostly nocturnal fish that typically inhabits deep and dark bodies of water. Moreover, this fish has an excellent taste and provides good nutritional value to humans.