Basin Fish

The Upper Mississippi River Basin supports more than 25% of freshwater fish in the United States

Warmwater Fish

Warmwater fish thrive in summer water temperatures greater than 70° F.

Largemouth Bass - wMicropterus salmoides 2000
Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) thrive in shallow, fertile lakes and river backwaters with abundant aquatic plants, and in vegetated bays of larger lakes. They feed on crustaceans, insects, fish, frogs, snakes and mice, and are voracious eaters. Largemouth bass, technically in the “black bass” group of fishes and part of the sunfish family, is the most popular game fish in the U.S.

Largemouth Bass

Bluegill Fish
The bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) is a slab-sided fish with a small mouth, typically seven to eight inches long. Bluegill live and breed prolifically in deep or shallow vegetated, shady areas along the banks of streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands. Bluegill are a common host for freshwater mussel larvae (glochidia) that attach to gills or fins, are encysted (covered by cells of the fish), and transformed into microscopic juveniles that drop off to form new mussel beds.


Common Shiner
The common shiner (Luxilus cornutus) is a silvery, slab-sided freshwater minnow. It is an opportunistic feeder and plays a huge role in converting the basic productivity of streams and lakes (algae and the tiniest animals) into food for larger fish and other predators such as fish-eating birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Common Shiner

Crappie - wPomoxis nigromaculatus spawn
Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) reach a fairly large size and are readily caught, which makes them a popular panfish in the United States. They thrive in quiet, temperate lakes, ponds, rivers and streams with abundant aquatic vegetation and sandy to muddy bottoms. By day, crappie are less active and concentrate around weed beds or submerged objects such as logs and boulders. At dawn and dusk they feed by approaching shore or moving into open water.

Black Crappie

Catfish - wIctalurus punctatus 97
Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are found in small and large rivers, reservoirs, natural lakes and ponds. They are cavity nesters, laying eggs in crevices, hollows or debris to protect them from swift currents. These bottom-dwelling, opportunistic carnivores have long whisker-like barbels on the face with thousands of taste buds and sensory pores to detect prey. A common adult channel catfish is 22 inches long, with the longest reported length at 52 inches.

Channel Catfish

Paddlefish - wPolyodon-spathula
American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) is native to slow-moving, large, deep streams in the Mississippi River basin, from New York to Montana and south to the Gulf of Mexico. They eat simply by swimming around with an open mouth, and feed only on plankton (microscopic plants and animals). Paddlefish live up to 50 years and can migrate hundreds of miles before spawning. They are sometimes referred to as "primitive fish" because they were present in the Basin 125 million years ago when some dinosaurs still existed.


Black Redhorse - blackredhorse-chevaliernoir
The black redhorse (Moxostoma duquesnii) is a species of the sucker family, Catostomidae. It is found in small to medium rivers with moderate to fast currents, permanent flow and a bottom of clean rock or gravel. Altered flow regimes, siltation and turbidity caused by urbanization and agriculture have altered the habitat of this bottom feeder, resulting in spotty distribution and even extinction in parts of eastern North America.

Black Redhorse

Hornyhead Chub
The hornyhead chub (Nocomis biguttatus) is a small species of minnow found in rocky pools and riffle sections of small to medium-sized streams, commonly in water two to six feet deep. It is a visual feeder that thrives in clear water, and is active primarily during daylight.

Hornyhead Chub

Coolwater Fish

Coolwater fish thrive in summer water temperatures 65-70° F.

Northern Pike
Northern pike (Esox lucius) are found in sluggish streams and shallow, weedy places in lakes and reservoirs, as well as in cold, clear, rocky waters. They are typical ambush predators; lying in wait for prey, holding perfectly still for long periods, then exhibiting remarkable acceleration as they strike. They inhabit any water body that contains fish, but suitable places for spawning are also essential. Because of their cannibalistic nature, young pike need places where they can take shelter between plants so they are not eaten.

Northern Pike

Southern Redbelly Dace - wChrosomus-erythrogaster-male-KS
The southern redbelly dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster) is a North American species of freshwater fish of the family Cyprinidae. It is a slender minnow with two dusky stripes separated by a broad golden or yellowish stripe along the side. Breeding males are brilliant red on the undersurface of the head and body, with the lower fin and undersurface near the tail lemon yellow. Redbelly dace thrive where there is permanent flow of cool, clear water and a gravelly or sandy bottom. It often schools with other minnows such as stonerollers and creek chubs.

Southern Redbelly Dace

American Brook Lamprey - wLampetra-appendix
American brook lamprey (Lethenteron appendix) feed on algae and detritus for between three and seven years before they become sexually mature adult fish. Males, aided by females, construct small nests by picking up pebbles with the mouth and moving them to form the rims of a shallow depression. Often adults work in groups and build nests communally. During and after construction of nests, sticky eggs are deposited and adhere to sand and gravel. Adult American brook lamprey have a nonfunctional intestine so they cannot eat, only live for four to six months and die after spawning.

American Brook Lamprey

Walley - wSander-vitreus-male
Walleye (Sander vitreus) are native to Canada, the Great Lakes, the Missouri River basin and the upper Mississippi River basin. Walleye thrive in cool, deep, quiet waters. They are found under cover of tree roots, logs and aquatic plants during the day, and travel to shallower waters at night. This popular fish is named for its pearlescent eye, which is caused by the tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of pigment that helps the fish see and feed at night or in turbid water.


Blacknose Darter - wPercina-maculata-ala
Blacknose darter (Etheostoma duryi) tends to inhabit headwaters, creeks and small rivers with swiftly moving water. Fry mature in slower moving areas such as shoals and pool margins. Cool, rocky areas where they rest under and around stones are preferred. They also use overhanging vegetation and undercut banks for additional refuge. The blacknose is unique among darters because its partially developed air bladder allows it to swim in mid-water, sometimes leaping upward out of the water to capture flying insects.

Blacknose Darter

Topeka Shiner
The Topeka Shiner (Notropis topeka) is a relatively uncommon fish found in the Mississippi River watershed from Minnesota west to Montana and south to Missouri and Kansas. It is a small minnow with an olive-yellow back, dark-edged scales and silvery-white sides and belly. Breeding males have orange-red fins and orange-tinted heads and bodies. The Topeka shiner has been on the endangered species list since 1998.

Topeka Shiner

Smallmouth Bass
The smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) is native to the upper and middle Mississippi River basin, the Saint Lawrence River–Great Lakes system, and the Hudson Bay basin. The species thrives in streams, rivers and the rocky areas, stumps and sandy bottoms of lakes and reservoirs. The smallmouth prefers cooler water temperatures than its cousin the largemouth bass, and as a result often seeks out deeper, faster moving water during the hot summer months. It can survive in a stronger current than other black bass. Because it is intolerant of pollution, the smallmouth bass is a good natural indicator of a healthy environment.

Smallmouth Bass

Coldwater Fish

Coldwater fish thrive in summer water temperatures less than 65° F.

Brook Trout - wSalvelinus-fontinalis-female
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is one of the least tolerant species of coldwater fishes and does best in waters where there are no fishes competing for similar niches. Stream dwelling brook trout require habitat consisting of resting areas in pools, feeding sites near riffles or swiftly flowing water, and escape cover that is normally found along undercut banks, under woody debris, trees or large rock ledges. Territories are established as a result of aggressive behavior, which increases when current velocities, availability of food and the degree of visual isolation heighten.

Brook Trout

Mottled Sculpin - wCottus-bairdii
Mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdii) live in fast moving currents and feed primarily on bottom dwelling aquatic insects. Females choose a mate based on physical attributes. As larger males pick out nesting sites with better qualities, the female's choice of the largest male indicates she is picking good genes in a mate and also a good environment for her young. After mating she leaves or is chased away by the male. Males do this because females will eat the eggs after spawning. Males continue to protect the eggs until they have absorbed their yolk sac and are ready to move on.

Mottled Sculpin

Brown Trout - wSalmo-trutta-sd
Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) have higher tolerance for warmer waters than brook or rainbow trout. On average they live for 12 years but can have an extended life span of up to 18 or 20 years. Individual fish typically range from 7 to 14 inches in total length with exceptional individuals approaching 20 inches. Because brown trout are large, non-native and a dominant predatory fish, they are a threat to native fish populations, particularly within the confines of small stream habitats.

Brown Trout

Habitat influences the species and numbers of fish found in a waterway.
If habitat meets a fish’s needs, it can survive there.
If it doesn’t, it won’t be found there.

Generally, streams are cooler at their headwaters, then become warmer as they widen and absorb sunlight. A larger stream typically supports more fish species if conditions permit.

Fish on this page are examples of species found in Upper Mississippi River Basin streams.
There are 127 fish species in the Basin.


Fish Fact

When sediment covers gravel streambeds, smallmouth bass can’t successfully spawn.

Fish Fact

Fish kill due to turbidity decreased 60% with conservation tillage and stream buffers.

Fish Fact

The market size of the fishing industry, by revenue, is estimated at $11.5 billion.