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Iowa is home to 148 different fish species. Check out these helpful tips to help you identify Iowa fish.
What to look for?
Fish often are described by characteristics of their body shape, mouth, fins, and even scales. Knowing key characteristics of different kinds of fish will help you identify them. Fish that look alike or have similar characteristics are grouped together.
Ten species of catfish live in Iowa waters. Catfish have rounded, scaleless bodies with flattened bellies. They are further distinguished from other groups by the eight barbells or “whiskers” around their mouths. Strong, sharp spines are located at the insertion of the dorsal and pectoral fins.
channel catfish species profile
black bullhead species profile
flathead catfish species profile
Find tips to help you identify Iowa's large catfish in this helpful guide.
Get tips from our fisheries biologists on how to fish for channel catfish and bullheads.
Some of the most popular sportfish species, such as basses, bluegill, and crappies are members of this family. “Sunfish” is a general term that describes six different species of disc-shaped fish found in Iowa waters. They typically are small and generally are short and deep bodied.
All sunfish have at least one spine at the front part of the dorsal fin, which is never completely separated from the rear portion. Their body is deeply compressed laterally with pelvic fins nearly beneath the pectoral fins.
bluegill species profile
green sunfish species profile
redear sunfish species profile
Get tips from our fisheries biologists on how to fish for bluegill.
Three black bass species live in Iowa waters.
largemouth bass species profile
smallmouth bass species profile
Get tips from our fisheries biologists on how to fish for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.
Two kinds of crappie are found in Iowa. They are not as deep-bodied as other members of the sunfish family and they are black and white. The lower jaw is longer than the upper and they are “humped-backed.” Crappies seldom exceed two pounds.
white crappie species profile
black crappie species profile
Get tips from our fisheries biologists on how to fish for crappie.
Iowa’s popular gamefish, walleye, sauger and yellow perch, are some of the 20 members of the perch family in Iowa. The remaining members are various species of darters. Members of the perch family have rather slender, elongated bodies and a large bone on the gill cover that ends in a flat spine. The spiny and soft portions of the dorsal fin are completely separated.
yellow perch species profile
walleye species profile
sauger species profile
Get tips from our fisheries biologists on how to fish for yellow perch and walleye.
The native brook trout and the naturalized rainbow and brown trout are the only coldwater gamefish in Iowa. Trout are covered by tiny scales and their fins have no spines. They have an adipose fin on the back behind the dorsal fin.
All Iowa trout streams, more than 100, are located in nine northeastern counties, roughly east of the Cedar River and north of the Cedar Rapids and Maquoketa. Most coldwater streams are in private ownership, with trout fishing allowed by public access agreements between the Department of Natural Resources and the landowners. Natural reproduction of brown and brook trout presently occurs in a few streams, but most trout found in Iowa streams are produced at Manchester, Decorah and Big Spring trout hatcheries.
brook trout species profile
rainbow trout species profile
brown trout species profile
Learn how to fish for trout with these tips from our fisheries biologists.
These important gamefish have three species in Iowa: northern pike, muskellunge, and grass pickerel. Members of the pike family have long, cylindrical bodies with a short dorsal fin far back on the body. Their heads are flattened with duckbill-shaped jaws lined with very sharp teeth.
northern pike species profile
muskellunge species profile
The Iowa DNR used data collected from muskellunge in the Iowa Great Lakes (East and West Okoboji, and Spirit Lake) to create a length-weight conversion chart to help catch-and-release anglers determine the weight of their fish.
Length-weight Conversion Chart
Length-weight Conversion Chart
Learn how to fish for muskie with these tips from our fisheries biologists.
This is a very diverse family with 50 representatives in Iowa; most are small, less than 12 inches long as adults. Introduced species (carp, white amur, and goldfish) may reach large sizes. Native minnows are similar in appearance to suckers, but have fewer than 10 rays in the dorsal fin. Minnows have scaleless heads.
common carp species profile
white amur (grass carp) species profile
Once referred to as "sea basses", three members of this family are found in Iowa. Two native species are the white bass and yellow bass, and the hybrid striped bass is an exotic species. This hybrid, also known as the Palmetto bass, is the cross of a female ocean striped bass (Morone saxatilis) and a male white bass. This fish, which does not occur in natural populations, was originally hybridized in the southern United States as a rapid growing fish adaptable to freshwater environments. Hybrid striped bass also provide a trophy fishery, with the current state record weighing nearly 20 pounds. Hybrid striped bass were stocked recently in community lakes such as Lake Manawa, Gray's Lake, Blue Heron Lake and Ada Hayden Lake, to improve the quality of these urban fisheries.
Get tips from our fisheries biologists on how to fish for hybrid striped bass and yellow bass.
Sixteen species have been collected from Iowa waters, but several are listed as threatened or extirpated. The characteristic mouth is on the underside of the head and surrounded by fleshy lips. The head is scaleless and the fins lack rays.
Many suckers are often confused with minnow species, but they differ in many features. Most suckers have 10 or more dorsal fin rays, which is always one or two more than the native minnows. The pharyngeal tooth pattern is wholly different in the suckers.
Primitive fish in Iowa include the paddlefish, bowfin, sturgeon, gar and lamprey. They lack one or several of the features more "advanced" fish species have, such as jaws, ganoid scale type, lack of vertebrae, body structure, or phylogenetic relations.
Iowa has several peculiar families with only one or two members. Some of the more common fish include the freshwater drum, brook stickleback, and gizzard shad. Mottled and slimy sculpins are found in the trout streams of northeast Iowa. American eel, mooneye, and burbot are only found in the largest of Iowa's rivers. Other unique Iowa fish include the central mudminnow, brook silverside, banded killifish, blackstripe topminnow and the trout-perch.