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brown back with silvery reflections, sides tinged golden yellow with dark edged scales, belly white, scales large, no nipple-like extension on lower lip


Quillback Distribution

common from the Great Border rivers into the large interior rivers and most river impoundments in Iowa


bottom ooze, plant materials, and aquatic insect larvae

State Record


Expert Tip



Quillback carpsucker are abundant in the clearer streams in Iowa. Their range extends from the Great Border Rivers into the large interior rivers and most river impoundments. Along with the river carpsucker they often comprise a major portion of fish biomass in these rivers. Small streams occasionally have quillback populations, but their abundance is usually rare.

Quillback carpsucker prefer moderately clear, highly productive streams that contain large, deep pools adjacent to stable gravel or rubble bottoms. This fish is less tolerant of turbidity than the other carpsuckers, although they are often found in close association. Quillback adapt readily to other habitats and often inhabit slow flowing streams, natural lakes and river impoundments.

Appearance of quillback varies widely, and they are often misidentified as other carpsuckers. The most notable characteristic is the lack of a nipple-like projection at the middle of the lower lip. They may be distinguished further from the other carpsuckers by the number of scales along the lateral line. The quillback has from 37 to 41 scales. Adults are commonly 12 to17 inches long and weigh from 1 to 3 pounds.

Quillback are early spring spawners. They prefer shallow areas in moderate current over sand and gravel bottoms. Spawning activity commences in April and May when water temperatures range from 55 to 70 degrees F. The adhesive eggs are randomly broadcast and sink to the bottom where they hatch unattended. Fecundity of a six year-old female is about 64,000 eggs. Quillback are a long-lived species with fish as old as 11 years found in populations. Growth averages up to 3 to 4 inches per year in the younger ages to about 1 to 1 1/2 inches each year for the older specimens. A six year old quillback would be about 12 inches in length and weigh slightly over one pound. Quillback feed primarily on bottom ooze, plant materials, and on aquatic insect larvae. It has been reported to hybridize with highfin carpsucker.

Quillback are not of particular importance to anglers and are seldom caught except in very early springtime. Snagging for quillback occurs in the fast water below dams, where they tend to congregate. The commercial catch of quillback remains low and incidental to river carpsucker as neither species is in demand as a food-fish. They are an important forage fish to predators when they are young.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5280.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Pleasant Creek Lake Linn 4 miles North of Palo 401.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa 104.00
Petersons Pit, West Story 4 miles northeast of Ames 33.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00