Common Shiner

Common Shiner, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


This cyprinid is robust with a stout body form and moderately compressed laterally. Body color is olive-green with bluish reflections on the back and the sides, and the belly is silvery. Breeding males are tinted with pink over their entire body and have dusky dorsal and caudal fins. Common shiners are one of a few minnow species which have dark pigmentation behind scattered scales, giving the appearance that some scales have been lost. The scales along the sides are elevated and appear diamond shaped. A broad mid-dorsal stripe, along the top of the back, is subtended by 2 or 3 narrow, parallel stripes and is best seen by viewing the fish from above. The dorsal and pelvic fins have 8 rays, while the pectoral fins have from 15 to 17, and the anal fin usually has 9 rays. A large, terminal mouth is nearly horizontal and has no barbel. Strongly hooked pharyngeal teeth on sturdy arches are arranged in a 2, 4-4, 2 formula.


Common Shiner Distribution

Common shiners are widely distributed throughout the entire state, but are far more prevalent in the large interior rivers, natural lakes, and the Mississippi River, where they are found in most fish collections.


Forage consists of both plant and animal material.

State Record

State Records are not documented for non-game species.

Expert Tip

One of the most common bait fish, and one of the most collected fish in stream and lake surveys. This makes it one of the most likely fish for bigger fish to eat, so having baits that look like Common Shiners is a great idea!


The Common Shiner is widely distributed throughout the entire state with the exception of southwest Iowa. It is most abundant in the large interior river and natural lakes, where it is found in most fish collections. The Common Shiner has been documented in upper pools of the Mississippi River but is absent from the Missouri River.

The Common Shiner inhabits high-gradient streams of medium-size with moderate to swift current, clear, cool, weedless water, bottoms of gravel, rubble and bedrock. It is found in the pools of streams where riffles and pools alternate in rapid succession. As flow decreases late into summer, streams of this type are reduced to a series of isolated pools but water continues percolate through the gravel between pools. Adults and young migrate downstream after spawning to winter in larger, deeper waters with lower gradients. It is occasionally taken in clear lakes over a silt-free bottom. In Iowa, the Common Shiner reaches its greatest abundance in the upstream tributaries of major interior rivers.

These minnows build nests and spawn in the spring over clean gravel and commonly utilize the nests of other minnows. Forage consists of both plant and animal material. Adults reach 8 to 10 inches in length, and they are an excellent bait fish.

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing

Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5280.00
Little Sioux River (Correctionville to Missouri R) Harrison Little Sioux Park, 2 miles SW of Correctionville, Woodberry County Conservation Board 57.00
Yellow River Allamakee T96N, R6W, S3 to T96N, R4W, S24 25.00
Paint Creek Allamakee Located in Yellow River State Forest, 3 miles west of Harpers Ferry off of State Forest Road or CR B25. 11.00
Maquoketa River (trout portion) Clayton The Upper Maquoketa River from Joy Springs downstream to Backbone Lake contains trout year-round. The area 3 miles southwest of Strawberry Point off 400th is stocked with catchable fish. 8.00
Bloody Run Creek Clayton Located 2 miles west of Marquette off of Highway 18. 6.50
Sny Magill Creek Clayton Located in the Sny Magill Wildlife Management Area, 3 miles southwest of McGregor along Keystone Road. 5.00
Coon Creek Winneshiek Located in Coon Creek Wildlife Management Area, 7 miles northeast of Decorah. 2.60
Wapsi River Trout Section Mitchell Located 0.5 mile west of McIntire. 2.50
Otter Creek Fayette Located 3 miles southeast of West Union. 2.50
Trout Run Winneshiek Located on the south side of Decorah off Trout Run Road. 2.20
Upper Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque near Swiss Valley Nature Center, just off Swiss Valley Road 2.10
Burr Oak Creek Mitchell Stream located just north of Osage. T98N, R16W, S4, 5, 9, 10 2.00
Brush Creek Jackson Located 2 miles norteast of Andrew just south of 261st street. 1.90
Brush Creek Fayette Located in Brush Creek Canyon State Preserve, 1.5 miles north of Arlington off of CR C2W or 90th Street. 1.60
Casey Springs Winneshiek Stream located north of Decorah. T99N, R9W, S25, 26 1.50
Richmond Springs Delaware 3 miles south of Strawberry Point. Located entirely within Backbone State Park. Closest to north park gate access. 1.40
Little Turkey River Delaware 3 miles east of Colesburg in Hoffman Wildlife Managment Area off Hubbard Road 1.20
Bear Creek Fayette Located 6 miles southeast of Fayette off of Kornhill Road or CR C24. Access from 128th Street. 1.20
Tete des Morts River Jackson Located near St. Donatus. T87N, R3E, S4 1.10
Twin Bridges Delaware Just south of Highway 3 about 5.5 miles west of Colesburg in Twin Bridges County Park 0.90
Mink Creek Fayette Located on private property 1.5 miles north of Wadena, access on Bighorn Road. 0.90
Lower Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque in Swiss Valley Park just off Swiss Valley Road 0.80
Spring Creek Mitchell Located on the west edge of Orchard. 0.80
Joy Springs Clayton South on Alpha Ave, off Highway 3 about 3 miles west of Strawberry Point in Joy Springs County Park. 0.80
Ozark Springs Jackson T86N - R1E; Section 32 0.70
South Cedar Creek Clayton Located 2 miles south of Garnavillo and may be accessed from Jigsaw Road. 0.50
Bohemian Creek Winneshiek Located about 1.5 miles east of Protivin. 0.30