Florida has thousands of lakes, ponds, and river systems that make up big parts of freshwater habitat despite having 1,350 miles (2172 km) of coastline. A wide range of freshwater fish species, both native and exotic, may be found in the state.
Florida’s freshwater habitats are a vibrant and diverse ecosystem, from snakelike air breathers to classic, well-known sportfishing species.
15 Most Interesting Freshwaterfish in Florida
1. American Eel
The bodies of American eels are snake-like. Adults have a light brown back and bottom, with yellow-brown on the sides. An eel will grow to be 20 inches long (51 cm) and weigh up to 9 pounds (4 kg) on average.
These eels are most often found in rivers that go to the sea, but they may also be discovered in lakes and ponds with similar access to the ocean. American eels leave rivers and travel to the Sargasso Sea to reproduce, spending the majority of their lives in freshwater. After spawning, the eels die.
Let’s get a deeper understanding of the most essential landforms before we examine some of these lesser-known but no less fascinating types.
American eels are opportunistic predators who will consume anything given the chance. Insects, small fish, frogs, and other animals may be found at this site. They may live up to 42 years, although most migrate to spawn sooner.
Eel is a frequent ingredient in sushi and smoked eel dishes, and American eels are especially popular. Eels are sold to markets as far away as Asia from the fisheries and hatcheries along the Atlantic coast.
2. American Shad
Shad spend the majority of their time in the sea, swimming upstream to spawn. Adults range in weight from 3 to 8 pounds (1.5 to 3.5 kilograms) and have an 18-inch (45.7-centimeter) length. They have a green or blue metallic sheen on their backs and are mostly a shiny silver color.
Shad spend the majority of their lives in saltwater, unlike eels. They migrate to Florida’s St John’s and Nassau Rivers to spawn between December and April.
Both in the ocean and when they come into freshwater to spawn, shads are filter feeders. They are important food sources for a wide range of predators, and they belong to the lowest level of the food chain. They’ll hit flies and other tiny spoons while fishing, too.
They’re well-liked smoked, fried, or broiled, and they’re considered to be quite delicious fish. The roe, which is sometimes called fish eggs, is considered superb.
3. Atlantic Sturgeon
Barbeles under their lips, a suction-style lips without teeth, and huge body plates rather than scales distinguish Atlantic sturgeon from other fish. Their backs are usually dark brown, while their stomach is normally pale white. These huge fish may grow up to 14 feet (4.3 meters) long and weigh almost 800 pounds (363 kilograms).
In the spring and summer months, these sturgeon swim back and forth between fresh and saltwater habitats, returning to freshwater to spawn or feed.
Sturgeon eat crabs, shrimp, worms, and other invertebrates and look for food on the bottom. The usage of their eggs as caviar is their greatest contribution to the food industry.
While they are not officially endangered, Atlantic sturgeon are considered to be near-threatened across the world.
A pingo is a spherical of soil topped with an ice core. Permafrost regions are the most common location for this. Central Asia has the most spectacular examples of pingos. At the world’s highest elevations, pingos may be found. At 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level, the Tibetan Plateau features pingos.
4. Black Crappie
With a tall and thin body, the black crappie is a big panfish. The brownish spots and fins on their bodies are usually distinguishing. The majority of individuals measure 11 inches (28 cm) and weigh 5 pounds (2.2 kg). Black crappie prefer open water, unlike other panfish species.
They’re more often seen in lakes and sluggish rivers, where they may be found in deeper parts. They school in large numbers and stay in a small space, much like other crappie.
Insects, tiny fish, and crustaceans are among the foods that Crappies consume. They’ve established a thriving sportfishing business based on a variety of baits, including worms and minnows.
The body of bluegill is deep, the back is dark green, and the throats are orange to yellow in color. They may grow to be 7.5 inches (19.1 centimeters) long and weigh up to 2 pounds (0.9 kg).
In Florida, bluegill can be found in lakes and ponds all throughout the state. They prefer to congregate in water that is at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) deep. Insects and insect larvae make up the majority of their diet.
The body of bowfins is enormous, and their dorsal fins span the majority of their back. They have a wide mouth, rounded tail, and backs that are covered in mossy to brown colors.
Bowfins have an air bladder that may be mistaken for a lung. Both oxygen and buoyancy are gulped in the surface waters, which are common. This adaptation comes in handy since they prefer sluggish water, swamps, and low-oxygen locations.
Adults may grow to be 30 inches (75 cm) long and weigh 8½ pounds (3.8 kg). Other fish species, such as catfish, perch, and shad, make up the majority of their diet. Bowfins aren’t often thought of as good table fare, despite their abilities when hooked.
7. Chain Pickerel
Elongated bodies, long snouts, and huge teeth characterize chain pickerel. They have a creamy-yellow belly and a distinctive woven pattern across their body. They tend to be olive to brown on their backs.
Pickerel may grow to be approximately 3 feet (0.9 meters) long and 7 pounds (3.1 kg) in weight. They are most often found in well-vegetated lakes, rivers, and swamps, where they ambush prey from the vegetation.
The pike family’s smallest gamefish is chain pickerel. Plugs, spinners, and crankbaits may all be used to attract minnows at any time of year.
8. Channel Catfish
Large, grayish catfish known as channel cats may be found across Florida. Barbels, rounded fins, and scaleless bodies characterize these fish.
Catfish may be ravenous and acquisitive feeders, eating a variety of prey species. They consume crayfish, insects, fish, and invertebrates without teeth and swallow their prey. Their favorite foods grow in size as they get larger.
Channel catfish averages 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kg) in weight and 12 to 24 inches (31 to 61 cm) in length when they reach adulthood. They may grow to weigh nearly 50 pounds (22.6 kg) in exceptional cases.
9. Florida Gar
The gar have thick, armored scales covering their bodies. The backs of Florida gar are green or brown, while the bellies are paler. The lengthy, narrow nose of gar bears sharp, conical teeth that may be recognized at all times.
Adults gar grow to be about 20 to 52 inches (51.7 to 132.2 cm) long and weigh up to 22 pounds (10 kg) on average. They breathe using an air bladder, just like bowfins, and may be seen swallowing air at the surface in low-oxygen water.
Canals, streams, and rivers criss-cross the state, making them ideal gar habitats. They prefer to live in damp or sandy bottoms near underwater vegetation.
10. Harlequin Darter
In the state of Florida, Harlequin darters are a protected species. Their bodies are generally a dark green color with six to seven pale spots. Their pelvic fins protrude flat against the bottom and their first dorsal fin has a crimson lining.
These darters are tiny fish, measuring approximately 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) in length. Debris accumulations in streams and rivers are where they most often may be found. Only the Escambia River basin in Florida is home to these fish.
Darters are particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation, snag removal, and habitat fragmentation because they are often confined to one waterway.
11. Largemouth Bass
The most commonly-fished species in the United States is the largemouth bass. Their upper jaw extends beyond the rear edge of their eye, making them easily identifiable from comparable-looking bass species.
From rivers and lakes to canals and ponds, they may be found in every kind of water in the state. They’re most commonly found near thick vegetation or underwater structures. This species may grow to be over 20 inches (51 cm) long and weigh more than 15 pounds (6.8 kg) in Florida.
Crustaceans, worms, and smaller fish make up the majority of largemouth diets. Animals like alligators, large fish, and birds of prey rely on them as a significant food source.
12. Redbreast Sunfish
A long, flat earflap distinguishes the redbreast sunfish from other similar sunfish. This extends from behind the eye and the gill plate, and is often black. They might have a brilliant red to orange patch on their neck, as well as a lustrous blue or green sheen on their sides.
Sand-bottomed and sluggish rivers are where you’ll find the redbellies. They are not recognized to live in the southern parts of Florida, and they are only found in the northern half.
Insects and larvae, as well as minnows, snails, clams, and shrimp, are among the food sources available to these sunfish. These fish can grow up to be about 12 inches (30 cm) in length.
13. Striped Bass
With the typical bass-shaped body, striped bass is a ferociously-fighting species. They have seven or eight black stripes that run the length of their body and are generally silver to white in color. Adults range in length from 2 to 3 feet (1 meter) and weigh 10 to 30 pounds (4.5 to 13.6 kg).
The St John’s River and its tributary systems, as well as certain rivers in the panhandle area, are where they are most common in Florida. They prefer cooler-running water to spawn, despite being a native species. The state’s restocking efforts are important for Florida’s populations.
Smaller fish make up the majority of a striped bass’s diet. As a food source, shad are extremely vital to them.
The spotted sucker has no spines, scales, or a downward-facing mouth with enormous lips. They have up to twelve rows of spots on their sides and are usually sandy in color. Adults may grow to be around 19 inches (48 cm) long.
Littleer streams are preferred by these suckers. In order to vacuum up invertebrates from the bottom, they use their mouths. They are the main food source for a variety of bigger game fish in most waterways.
Warmouths are a specific kind of panfish with a fat, deep body. They have a scarlet eye, a huge mouth, and stripes across their face, unlike other panfish. They may grow to be 12 inches (31 cm) long and weigh 2.25 pounds (1 kg).
They’re most often discovered in damp, mucky bottoms of the earth. Swamps, streams, rivers, and ponds are all included in this. Warmouths prefer to stay near the banks, around submerged vegetation. The majority of their diet consists of crayfish, shrimp, and minnows.
4 Invasive and Introduced Freshwater Fish in Florida
Florida is no stranger to invasive species, from the wild monkeys of Florida to giant pythons. A wide range of animals brought to the region by humans find the warm climate of the Sunshine State a natural habitat.
This includes both swamps and freshwater habitats along the state’s coast. We’ll look at some of the most fascinating freshwater invaders and how they’ve affected the ecosystem here.
Arapaima is a type of large fish found in the Amazon basin of South America. Adults may grow up to 14 feet (4.2 meters) long and weigh up to 400 pounds (180 kg) when they are fully grown. The bodies of Arapaima are long and have huge green or gray scales. With a sloping forehead, flattened skull, and overall oval shape, they have a unique head shape.
Air breathers, like Arapaima, must surface every ten minutes or so to take a breath of air. This enables them to thrive when the shallow lakes, ponds, and river areas where they live start to dry up in their native habitats.
They have huge jaws and can leap out of the water to capture prey. Arapaima feed mostly on crustaceans and fish that can fit in their mouths. This can be a major issue for native fish in Florida, since they are unable to withstand the pressure of a bigger predatory fish.
While there is no indication that they have started to breed or establish themselves in the state, adult fish have been documented in several cases. Wildlife officials keep a close eye on these giant South American predators.
2. Bullseye Snakehead
Snakeheads are torpedo-shaped fish with long dorsal and anal fins that run down their bodies. They are another air-breathing species. They have a skull with razor-sharp teeth that is flat. The eyes of most snakeheads are red, and the body is dark brown with black markings around the tail.
The snakehead is a common fish found across its natural range, being native to Pakistan, Malaysia, and southern China. Snakeheads may be found in Florida’s canals and stagnant, densely packed waters.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission caught a 31.5-inch (80-cm) snakehead that weighed 9.2 pounds (4.2 kg). Several individuals have been documented to reach a maximum height of 4 feet (1.2 meters) and weigh 66 pounds (30 kg).
Snakeheads pose a severe danger to other freshwater animals as a predator. The depletion of other fish populations is exacerbated by the extra pressure they create when they first arrive and establish.
3. Butterfly Peacock
These fish are also known as peacock bass and look a lot like largemouth bass. Peacocks are golden in color with three vertical black stripes on their backs and a tail spot, which is the main difference.
Peacocks were introduced to Florida canals by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, despite their Amazon River Basin origin. The purpose of the introduction was to limit the proliferation of foreign foraging fish in canals, particularly spotted tilapia.
Peacock bass have a extremely low chance of spreading beyond the places they were intended to colonize, do a fantastic job controlling populations of other invasive fish, and bring in millions of dollars to the state due to their excellent quality as a sportfish.
Native fish species are not threatened by peacock bass. They’re tiny fish feeders who are on the lookout for speed. Adults may grow to be 19 inches (48 cm) long and weigh up to 12 pounds (5.4 kg).
4. Common Carp
In the United States, carp is a well-known invasive fish. The Mississippi River is infested with Asian carp, but they aren’t the only ones. In comparison to other states, common carp are not as problematic in Florida, although they do exist.
It’s a European native that was brought to the United States. The Apalachicola and Ochlockonee river systems were invaded by common carp in the 1800s. They consume insect larvae, snails, algae, and other foods by absorbing silt from the bottom and swallowing them.
The majority of carp can weigh 10 pounds (4.5 kg). They pose little danger to indigenous species at the moment, although they are eaten by bigger fish and creatures like alligators.
Freshwater Sportfishing in Florida
Largemouth bass, black crappie, and sunfish are the most common species for anglers to pursue in Florida. Catch and release fishing is encouraged throughout Florida for trophy fish, but instead of providing a replica mount, the programs encourage catch and release.
Ethical Taxidermy and Ecology
These mounts are museum-quality fiberglass recreations of the angler’s measurements taken before releasing the fish. Before moving on to include bass and other freshwater fish, the concept was popularized with saltwater fish such as billfish, mahi-mahi, and other declining species.
Overall, these mounts provide a great way to preserve a once-in-a-lifetime fish without harming the animal. By not removing breeding adults, it also helps to keep populations healthy.
By The Numbers
With 3.1 million people, Florida is the number one state for anglers in the United States. With over $5 billion spent in 2013, total expenditure value was number one. The 2.1 million angels from outside of Florida, as well as the $8.7 billion effect on Florida’s recreational fishing business, are not included in these figures.
A total of 1.7 million people fished freshwater, with a $1.7 billion economic effect. Florida is truly the sportfishing capital of the world, as a result of this.
Regular stocking programs maintain striped bass populations in check. Peacock bass was introduced to control an invasive species and to monitor an nuisance species, but it also gave rise to a valuable freshwater fishing business.
Large areas of marine habitat are still being protected through ongoing efforts. Ongoing restoration efforts include Everglades clean-up programs, the prohibition of dumping in tributary areas, and wildlife management.
Large portions of marine habitat are still being protected from degradation by continuous actions. Ongoing restoration projects include those to restore the Everglades, stop dumping into tributary areas, and manage wildlife.
Large areas of aquatic habitat are still being maintained in pristine condition, thanks to ongoing efforts. Ongoing restoration projects include Everglades wetland protection projects, the ban of dumping into tributary regions, and wildlife management.
Climate change will have an enormous impact on Florida’s native and invasive species in the long-term. Because the northern parts of Florida are too chilly in the winter for many species to thrive, they are currently confined to the southern parts. Their range grows as the climate becomes warmer.
Storms and hurricanes are becoming more intense and plentiful as a result of global warming. At least part of the blame for the departure of exotic pets and research animals that have finally established themselves in the state is due to these storms and the damage they cause. These events will become more common as storms become more common and violent.