Common Shiner

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


This cyprinid is robust with a stout body and is moderately compressed laterally. The body 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 whole body and have dusky dorsal and caudal fins. Common shiners are one of a few minnow species with dark pigmentation behind scattered scales, looking like 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 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

Widely distributed throughout Iowa 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. It has been documented in upper pools of the Mississippi River, but is absent from the Missouri River.


Plant and animal material

State Record

State Records are not documented for non-game species.

Expert Tip

One of the most common baitfish, 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 lives in 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 to seep 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. 

These minnows build nests and spawn in the spring over clean gravel and commonly use the nests of other minnows. Adults reach 8- to 10-inches long.

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
Spirit Lake Dickinson One mile North of Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5340.00
Volga River Clayton This stretch includes the headwaters in Fayette County and flows through Clayton County where it empties into the Turkey River just west of Garber. 81.00
Missouri River (Sioux City to Little Sioux) Harrison Chris Larsen Park: 1280 Larsen Park Road/Sioux City, IA. Located on the Sioux City riverfront along the Missouri River. Larsen Park offers 110 acres on the Sioux City Riverfront. Managed by the City of Sioux City. 64.00
Missouri River (Council Bluffs to state line) Fremont Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive/Council Bluffs, IA 51501 phone: 712-366-0220. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lake Manawa State Park has boat ramps on the Missouri River within the park. 61.00
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 Coldwater section begins below Livingood Springs and east of Old Stage Road flowing through Allamakee County and the Effigy Mounds National Monument where it empties into the Mississippi River. 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
Ten Mile Creek Winneshiek Located 2 miles northwest of Decorah. 10.64
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
Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque in Swiss Valley Park just off Swiss Valley Road. 3.25
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
McLoud Run Linn Along the east side of I-380 in central Cedar Rapids 2.50
Otter Creek Fayette Located 3 miles southeast of West Union. 2.50
Trout Run (Winneshiek) 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
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
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 Management 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
Joy Springs Clayton South on Alpha Ave, off Highway 3 about 3 miles west of Strawberry Point in Joy Springs County Park. 0.80
Spring Creek Mitchell Located on the west edge of Orchard. 0.80
Ozark Springs Jackson T86N - R1E; Section 32 0.70
Brush Creek Jackson Located 3.5 miles north of Andrew just south of 200th street. Only this "upper" section of Brush Creek is stocked. The "lower" section of Brush Creek is no longer stocked with trout and is closed to public fishing. 0.50
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