Freshwater Fish Species in Georgia 2023 (ID + Pics)


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List of Common Freshwater Fish Species in Georgia [Updated]

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia
Okefenokee Swamp (pictured) is located in Georgia and is the largest swamp in North America. pseabolt, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A southeastern state with diverse inland and coastal landscapes, Georgia is rife with productive freshwater systems. Large rivers and streams are found all throughout the state, forming collective basins where nutrients mix and fish populations converge. Some of these basins drain into the Atlantic Ocean, creating estuarine pathways through which migratory species may enter and exit the state.

Many of Georgia’s streams form connections with visually stunning and pristine lake systems. The networks created by these bodies of freshwater sustain forested wetlands, such as swamps and marshes. Significantly influencing Georgia’s biodiversity profile, its Okefenokee Swamp is the largest of its kind in all of North America. Its sheer size is a testament to the state’s unique ecology.

With lakes and streams covering thousands of acres and miles, Georgia is home to hundreds of species of freshwater fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Due to their importance in their native environments and the local threats to their survival, many of these animals are now under state protection. Some of Georgia’s most notable coldwater, warm water, and endemic fish are listed below.


1) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Largemouth bass
The largemouth bass is Georgia’s state fish and is a highly valuable game fish. Mark Eanes / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America and northern Mexico

In 1970, the largemouth bass was designated as the state fish of Georgia. This voracious carnivore, which is best known for its enormous gape and its capacity to consume prey half its size, is the state’s most valuable game fish. The local record for this hefty fish was caught in Montgomery Lake in 1932. As it weighed 22 pounds and 4 ounces (10 kg), it continues to hold the world record.

Largemouth bass inhabit most of Georgia’s warm water streams, ponds, and lakes. Some specimens may occasionally be found in brackish waters located close to the coastline. They seldom venture towards coldwater systems, such as those associated with mountainous regions along the northeastern coast of the state.


2) Southern Appalachian brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

Brook trout in hand
Brook trout in Georgia rarely reach lengths of more than 8 inches. Michael / CC BY 4.0

Native to the southeastern US

Georgia’s only native salmonid, the Southern Appalachian brook trout is part of an S. fontinalis subpopulation that is restricted to local headwater streams. Generally, this species favors lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds with cool to mild water temperatures all throughout the year. As it is sensitive to fluctuations in pH, nutrient concentrations, and pollutants, it does not stray far from the most pristine water bodies.

Set apart by their speckled appearance, local specimens of brook trout rarely grow to more than 8 inches (20 cm) long. Fully grown adults feed on aquatic insects, small fish, and crustaceans, while their juveniles stick to a diet of insects and their larvae. They prefer to feed and spawn in streams with a high flow rate and in beds where groundwater rises to the surface.


3) Suwannee bass (Micropterus notius)

Suwannee bass in hand
In Georgia, Suwannee bass is only found naturally in two rivers. cmvecsey84 / CC BY-NC 4.0

Native to Florida and Georgia

The Suwannee bass is naturally found in just two rivers that make their way southward from Georgia and into Florida – the Suwannee River and the Ochlockonee River. These rapidly moving waterbodies contain shallow shoals with neutral to basic pH conditions. This bass is most likely to be found searching for crayfish and smaller fish in these sandy shoals.

A type of black bass, M. notius is relatively small compared to its close cousins. Though it can grow to a maximum length of 16 inches (41 cm), wild specimens rarely measure more than 8 inches (20 cm) long. They are distinguished by dark, olive-green blotches which run through the length of both flanks and form a band where the body tapers toward the tail.


4) Redeye bass (Micropterus coosae)

Redeye bass underwater
Redeye bass have a preference for rocky areas of streams. Michael A. Alcorn / CC BY 4.0

Native to Georgia and Alabama

The species epithet, coosae, refers to the river that the redeye bass calls home. Coosa River, a considerably long body of water that connects the Alabama River to some of Georgia’s streams, is a historically important tributary. While the river saw many important events that shaped Alabama’s trade routes and settlements, it also sustained a diverse community of flora and fauna.

The redeye bass favors the cool, rocky sections and pools of streams, particularly those that meander along the base of the Coosa Mountain. A black bass with an elongated shape, it is easily told apart from its congeners due to the deep-red pigmentation of its eye. Another distinguishing feature is its tail, which is edged with white pigmentation along the top and bottom margins.


5) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Channel catfish in net
Channel catfish is an economically important fish and is the most commonly grown freshwater fish in the US. Tim / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

The official state fish of several midwestern and southeastern states of the US, the channel catfish is one of the most popular gamefishes throughout its native range. As an economically important food fish, it is also the most commonly grown (through aquaculture) freshwater species in the US. This hardy species thrives in just about any freshwater feature, though its spawning adults strongly favor those with protection from strong currents.

Known for being expert hunters due to their well-developed sense organs, the channel catfish plays an important predatory role wherever its populations form a dominant part of the food chain. Anglers are encouraged to search for it along rocky shorelines during low-light periods of the day. During dusk or dawn, this catfish is likely to move toward shallower areas to search for prey.


6) Chain pickerel (Esox niger)

Caught chain pickerel
In Georgia, chain pickerel can be naturally found in water bodies in the northeastern part of the state. Clara Dandridge / CC BY 4.0

Native to the eastern coast of North America

The chain pickerel is naturally found in many lake and stream systems of northeastern Georgia. It also has a thriving population in South Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. It favors vegetated bodies of freshwater, where it can remain hidden as it swims between curtains of vertical vegetation. It also prefers to stay in quiet, slow-moving pools or in deeper areas during mid-summer.

Local anglers enjoy targeting the chain pickerel due to its feistiness and the acrobatics it performs in an effort to escape being caught. Large specimens are a welcome sight to behold as they can measure as much as 31 inches (79 cm) long. Once one of these is spotted close to the surface of clear waters, the chain-like pattern of pigmentation may be distinguished instantly.


7) Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Man holding walleye fish
It’s best to catch walleye in rough waters, as they have ocular adaptations that allow them to see in turbid water. Rob Foster / CC BY 4.0

Native to Canada and the northern US

With ocular adaptations that allow it to hunt in turbid and dark waters, the walleye is best caught in rough waters during a condition that anglers often refer to as “walleye chop”. This species’ feeding activity is naturally increased during the windiest periods of the year, especially as other fish struggle to compete with it when their own vision is compromised by poor visibility.

The northern region of Georgia is the southernmost point of the walleye’s natural distribution in the US. Here it can be fished in the tributaries of the Tennessee River and Coosa River. To meet the demands of local fishers, the local department of natural resources (DNR) also regularly stocks thousands of walleyes in the state’s reservoirs.


8) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

Black crappie
If you’re looking to catch black crappie, you should try to catch them in the morning, as they hunt for food at this time. the swamp ass / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

A remarkably prolific fish, the black crappie is a rapid grower in warm waters. Some specimens become sexually mature when they are just 2 years old, spawning thousands of gametes as soon as temperatures warm in spring. The growth rate and development of crappies are usually indicative of the state of a freshwater body’s ecological stability. If crappies begin to show stunted growth and are overpopulated, it’s likely that there is a lack of apex predators in the system.

Black crappies can live for as long as 7 – 15 years, depending on ambient conditions in their habitats. Juveniles and young adults feed on small crustaceans and plankton, whereas adults may feed on small minnows, shad, insects, and aquatic larvae. They are best caught early in the morning, which is when they usually search for food.


9) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Bluegill in hand
Bluegills are crucial secondary consumers, controlling the rate at which small crustaceans and insects spread & reproduce. Scott Clark / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Like crappies, bluegills can quickly grow and reproduce to overpopulate closed water systems. A well-balanced diversity of apex predators should help control their abundance, allowing those that survive to mature into well-developed specimens. Unfortunately, due to increased angling pressures in many parts of the US, it is increasingly rare to come across large bluegills.

An important forage fish in many stocked ponds, bluegills also play a crucial role as secondary consumers. They feed on small crustaceans and insects, thereby controlling the rate at which they spread and reproduce. If bluegills were removed from their native environment, major losses in some of the most ecologically important groups of fish are likely to occur.


10) Gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)

Gizzard shad in hand
Gizzard shad are abundant in their native range and are a key food item for highly-valued game fish. Teresa Mayfield / CC BY 4.0

Native to the US

An important forage fish for many apex predators, the gizzard shad may comprise a significant portion of the aquatic community wherever it is found. In many reservoirs throughout its native range, it is one of the most abundant of all freshwater fish species. A desirable source of high-quality proteins, it is an essential part of the diet of highly-valued game fish.

In Georgia, the gizzard shad is found in many rivers and basins. It also naturally occurs in some brackish waters. Increasing temperatures in spring to summer signal the onset of its spawning period, which quickly leads to a mass increase in its localized abundance. The absence of predators can thus result in an uncontrolled increase in its biomass.


11) Shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum)

Shortnose sturgeon underwater
Shortnose sturgeon are threatened by poachers and anthropogenic developments. jeffcherry / No copyright

Native to the East Coast of North America

As an amphidromous species, the shortnose sturgeon regularly migrates between bodies of water to spawn and search for food. It spends most of the year in river systems that are located inland or close to the coastline. Though it may migrate downstream during the spawning period, opting to release its gametes in estuarine locations, it rarely ventures into marine waters.

The shortnose sturgeon is naturally found in a handful of rivers that exit through the southeastern coastline of Georgia. A federally endangered species, it is known for being long-lived and for maturing much later than most freshwater fish. Its populations continue to be threatened by anthropogenic developments and by poachers, so conservation efforts may be crucial for its survival.


12) Shoal bass (Micropterus cataractae)

Man holding shoal bass
Shoal bass populations in Georgia are mainly restricted to three river systems. Mat1583 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Native to Georgia and Florida

Once thought to be a subspecies of M. coosae (the redeye bass), this perciform was only described as a separate species in 1999. Part of the confusion lies in it having red eyes. As its flanks are marked by dark, vertical stripes, it may also be misidentified as the smallmouth bass. Like its congeners, its olive coloration and its blotches of darker pigmentation help it remain camouflaged in vegetated areas.

In Georgia, populations of the shoal bass are largely restricted to three river systems – the Flint, Ocmulgee, and Chattahoochee rivers. Non-native bass species threaten its existence in other freshwater systems. To survive as a species, rock shoals that meet its spawning requirements need to be conserved and protected from anthropogenic disturbance.


13) Cherokee darter (Etheostoma scotti)

Cherokee darter
The Cherokee darter is considered endangered by the IUCN. skitterbug / CC BY 4.0

Native to Georgia

The Cherokee darter is one of Georgia’s endemic species as it is only found in the Etowah River System. This system includes dozens of calm creeks found north of Atlanta. Existing populations of this darter are increasingly fragmented, and just a few can be considered healthy. Due to the loss of its natural habitats and current threats related to anthropogenic pollutants, its status is now endangered (IUCN).

A member of the perciform family (Percidae), this darter favors microhabitats that are found close to the riffle zones of rocky creeks. It is generally white or yellow-colored, and its flanks are covered by around eight vertical bars that run over its back. Individuals rarely measure more than 2 inches (5 cm) long.


14) Ocmulgee shiner (Cyprinella callisema)

Ocmulgee shiner
Although Ocmulgee shiners are rare, their populations are considered to be stable. sgtbird08 / CC BY-NC 4.0

Native to Georgia

Like the Cherokee darter, the Ocmulgee shiner is one of Georgia’s very own endemic species. It is a small-sized member of the Cyprinidae family of carps and minnows. As its name suggests, it is found in the Ocmulgee River, which is a tributary of the Altamaha Drainage System. In general, it favors conditions in sandy to rocky areas in small to medium-sized stretches of streams.

So far, despite its rare nature and the increasingly severe threats to its natural habitats, its populations continue to be deemed stable. As a result, the IUCN has listed it as a species of ‘least concern’. As a minnow, it has a nondescript appearance and can easily be confused with its close cousins.


15) Threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense)

Caught threadfin shad
Threadfin shad can reach a maximum length of just 8 inches. Clara Dandridge / CC BY 4.0

Native to the US

Threadfin shad are commonly found in the rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds of the southeastern US. An important forage fish for many valuable game fishes, it grows to a maximum length of just 8 inches (20 cm). It is often found in mixed-species schools with gizzard shad, its close cousin. It usually stays in pelagic zones with moving water, rarely making its way into deeper and calmer layers of freshwater features.

The presence of threadfin shad may be an indicator of stable water conditions and high dissolved oxygen concentrations. Sensitive to changes in water parameters, this shad seldom survives through periods of excessive heating. As this important primary consumer feeds on plankton and thrives in open water, it seldom faces ecological pressures related to competition for space and food.


16) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Man holding smallmouth bass
Smallmouth bass are fairly sensitive to pollutants, so they can act as bioindicators of clean conditions in freshwater environments. Patrick Jackson / CC BY 4.0

Native to central and eastern North America

Also locally known as the bronzeback, the smallmouth bass is a popular game and food fish throughout most of North America. This valuable black bass is known for its muscular and powerful body, which thrashes as it attempts to escape the angler’s hook. It is distinguished from its congeners by the dark, horizontal bars on its head and the vertical bars along the length of its flanks.

The smallmouth bass prefers to feed and spawn in high-visibility waters, where its eyes can easily scan for prey and detect potential sources of danger. Compared to its conspecifics, it is more sensitive to pollutants and warm waters. Thus, it can function as a bioindicator of relatively pristine conditions in freshwater environments.


17) Redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)

Redear sunfish in hand
Redear sunfish are present in all major river systems throughout Georgia. Tia Offner / CC BY 4.0

Native to the southeastern US

The redear sunfish is found throughout the state of Georgia as it is present in all major river systems. Also commonly referred to as the “shellcracker”, it is known for feeding on shelled mollusks. Its pharyngeal teeth are able to crush and grind exoskeletons to expose the underlying, nutrient-rich tissues. Due to this specialization, it is seldom affected by competition from other game fish.

Named for the red edge on the flap that covers its operculum, the redear sunfish is anatomically similar to the bluegill. In productive systems, it is able to grow to a maximum length of about 17 inches (43 cm). However, in most fished bodies of water, it rarely measures more than 9 inches (23 cm) long.


18) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)

Flathead catfish
The flathead catfish is quite a large fish that has been introduced to many of Georgia’s river systems. Clara Dandridge / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America and northern Mexico

Named for the flattened and wide appearance of its mottled, brown-black head, the flathead catfish is one of the largest of its kind. Capable of growing as long as 61 inches (155 cm) and weighing as much as 121 pounds (55 kg), it is often considered a monster fish. Fortunately, however, its monstrous tendencies are targeted only toward smaller fish, worms, and crustaceans that are associated with the benthos.

Also called the mud cat or shovel cat, the flathead catfish has deliberately been introduced into many of Georgia’s river systems, including those that drain out into the Atlantic. It cannot survive in marine habitats, but it can tolerate periodic exposure to low salinity conditions in estuarine environments. Popular among anglers, its meat is known for being remarkably tasty.


19) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)

Striped bass in hand
Striped bass spend most of their adult lives in saltwater, only migrating during the spawning period. inbetweenbays / CC BY 4.0

Native to the Atlantic Coast of North America

An anadromous species, the striped bass regularly migrates between freshwater and marine habitats. It spends most of its adult life in saltwater, where it primarily feeds on herring and shad. As the spawning period approaches, mature striped bass make their way into estuaries and swim upriver until they reach their ideal spawning locations.

In Georgia, striped bass are found in several river basins all throughout the state. While some of these belong to populations that are native to the Atlantic and Gulf drainages, a good portion of fished individuals arise from batches of intentionally stocked and hatchery-grown fish. These stocked fish are unable to form self-sustaining populations in the wild.


20) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Caught rainbow trout
Anglers in Georgia are encouraged to fish stocked rainbow trout populations, as they can negatively impact native brook trout populations. Teresa Mayfield / CC BY 4.0

Native to the northern Pacific Ocean (Asian and North American coastlines)

As rainbow trout are not naturally found in Georgia, they are annually released to meet the recreational demands of local anglers. Thousands of hatchery-raised specimens are legally stocked in state-run reservoirs and ponds. Anglers revel in the excitement of deep, trout-filled pools throughout the stocking period (March – October). It’s not uncommon to bait a 9 to 12-inch (23 to 30-cm) specimen, especially in productive tailwaters.

Stocked rainbow trout populations may affect those of wild brook trout in the southern Appalachian range. Anglers are thus encouraged to fish them, especially before temperatures warm and affect their survival rates in the wild. There are many regulations that apply to specific streams and impoundments, so visiting anglers must consult with the local DNR.


21) Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus)

Atlantic sturgeon
Atlantic sturgeon are increasingly rare fish with bony plates & scutes on their bodies. Cephas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to eastern North America

Federally protected due to its endangered status in many parts of the US, the Atlantic sturgeon is an increasingly rare fish. This slow-growing subspecies is set apart by its primitive appearance and its armor-like features. Bony plates and scutes run the length of its back and flanks and its tail is morphologically similar to that of a shark.

In Georgia, this anadromous species regularly migrates into a handful of coastal streams. During its spawning season, it is known for traveling over relatively long distances as it makes its way further upstream. River basins that are known for occasionally being inhabited by Atlantic sturgeons include Savannah, Ocmulgee, Altamaha, Oconee, Ogeechee, and Satilla.


22) Longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

Longnose gar underwater
In Georgia, average-sized longnose gar can be found in a number of river systems. Siddarth Machado / CC BY 4.0

Native to North and Central America

Another seemingly ancient fish, the longnose gar retains some of the primitive features of its ancestors. Able to breathe with its gills in water and employ its vascularized swim bladder to breathe atmospheric air, it can survive in challenging environments with poorly oxygenated conditions. Named for its lengthy and pointed snout, its jaws are filled with sharp, cone-shaped teeth!

This monster fish favors sluggish, freshwater to brackish conditions in swamps, rivers, streams, and lakes. A nocturnal predator, it prefers to feed on the fresh meat of crustaceans, small fish, and aquatic insects. The oldest specimens can measure as long as 6 feet (1.8 meters) in pristine waters. Average-sized longnose gars can be found in about a dozen river systems all throughout the state of Georgia.


23) River redhorse (Moxostoma carinatum)

River redhorse in hands
The river redhorse belongs to the sucker family and its diet mainly consists of mollusks, small crustaceans, snails, and aquatic insect larvae. Nicole Michel / CC BY 4.0

Native to eastern North America

In Georgia, the range of the river redhorse is largely restricted to the river basins that extend into Alabama and Tennessee. This species’ limited habitat preferences are attributed to its low tolerance for pollution, water turbidity, and siltation. Its populations are highly sensitive to many anthropogenic disturbances. Its presence is thus often indicative of pristine conditions.

A member of the Catostomidae family of suckers, the river redhorse is a bottom-feeder in creeks, streams, and lakes. Its diet is usually composed of aquatic insect larvae, small crustaceans, snails, and mollusks. As it looks similar to many of its congeners, its main distinguishing feature is its set of enlarged pharyngeal teeth.


24) Altamaha shiner (Cyprinella xaenura)

Altamaha shiner
Altamaha shiner populations are at risk and are therefore being closely monitored by ichthyologists. Thebarredowl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Georgia

Found just in the Oconee and Ocmulgee River basins in the Altamaha drainage system, this shiner’s populations are now threatened by poor stream quality and damming projects. Its eggs are sensitive to sedimentation, which occurs whenever stormwaters force polluted sediments into rivers. It doesn’t help that this small minnow is quite elusive, making it difficult to track its occurrence.

Though Altamaha shiners are small, freshwater fish that grow to just 4.5 inches (11 cm) long, they are important in Georgia because they can only be found in the rocky and sandy pools of the state’s creeks and streams. As the need for their conservation is evident, their presence is closely monitored by local ichthyologists.

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