List of Lake Champlain Fish Species 2023 [Updated]

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List of Champlain Fish Fish Species 2023 (Fishable & Not) [Updated]

view of Lake Champlain from Vermont
Lake Champlain is a large lake that borders Vermont, New York, and Canada. Photo by James St. John / CC BY-SA 2.0

Named after Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer from the 17th century, Lake Champlain is a beautiful and picturesque lake. It is located on the border between Vermont and New York, as well as across the US/Canadian border in Quebec.

While Lake Champlain is a popular destination for weekend recreators, not many people know just how it was formed. It is the eighth largest natural body of freshwater in the continental United States, and has an interesting natural history! This beautiful lake was formed by the melting of Pleistocene era glaciers around 200 million years ago when the Earth began to heat up.

Getting to Lake Champlain is pretty simple – the accessibility and recreation opportunities make it a popular destination for Canadians and New Englanders alike. It is only about an hour’s drive south from Quebec, Canada. If you are coming in from New York City, the lake is about a five hour long drive. Boston is only a three and a half hour drive away! Lake access is off of US Route 2 where it crosses between Vermont and New York. Escaping the city life to visit this serene lake is definitely worth the trip if you are in the area.

How Big & Deep is Lake Champlain?

how big is lake champlain
Lake Champlain is a large, 490 square mile lake located in a valley of the Adirondack Mountains. Photo by Annacecchini, CC BY-SA 4.0

This gorgeous lake is crystal clear, and provides stunning views of the Adirondack Mountains. With 490 square miles of water surface, 587 miles of shoreline, and water that gets as deep as 400 feet, there are endless opportunities for fun and recreation at Lake Champlain! Paddle boarding, kayaking, diving, sailing, and sport fishing are among the most popular activities at this incredible lake!

When it comes to fishing, Lake Champlain is a great place to cast your line! It is renowned for its trout and landlocked Arctic salmon, but also has an incredibly diverse community of fish species.

While there are over 90 species of fish found here, Lake Champlain is a wonderful place to catch yellow perch, white perch, bluegill sunfish, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, brown bullhead catfish, and northern pike in particular!

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List of Fish Species in Lake Champlain [Updated]

1) Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

catch and release yellow perch Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)
Photo by Heath Alseike / CC BY-SA 2.0

Yellow perch are identifiable by their elongated, golden-yellow bodies and the dark vertical bands that run down the sides of the fish. They are popular sport fish that can grow up to a foot in length (30 cm). While they are commonly found in many freshwater rivers and lakes, they tend to spend their time under the protection provided by shoreline vegetation.

P. flavescens are food items for many other species of fish and birds; they are a favorite meal for gulls and ducks! While yellow perch feed on a variety of items, they prefer to dine on the larvae of insects, crustaceans, and small fish.

Yellow perch spawning season occurs from late in February through March. They are a semi-anadromous species, meaning that they will reside in freshwater or brackish rivers and then travel to smaller freshwater streams when it is time for spawning. Female yellow perch lay their eggs in gelatinous strands, which stick to aquatic vegetation near the shoreline. These fish do not build nests during spawning, but instead rely on the habitat features available. Yellow perch also do not guard or protect their eggs or young.

A member of the bass family and not the perch family, the name “white perch” can be deceiving. These fish are silvery white in color, and can grow to be around 19 inches (49 centimeters) in length. White perch prefer to live in brackish waters, but they are also common in freshwater habitats and coastal areas on the east coast of the United States.

The majority of the diet of white perch consists of the eggs of other fish. They will prey on the eggs of walleye and other perch species. They are also known to eat minnows and crustaceans.

White perch have very high reproduction rates. A single female can release 150,000 eggs in a single spawning season! Multiple males will fertilize the eggs of a single female, and the fertilized eggs will hatch within a week.

3) Bluegill Sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus)

bluegill fish of saguaro lake
Photo by Scott Harden, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bluegill sunfish are very popular sportfish across North America. They are sometimes also called “bream,” “brim,” or “sunnies.” Bluegill are native to freshwater systems across North America. These gorgeous fish are notable and identifiable by their beautiful iridescent coloration. 

Typically, bluegill grow to be around 6 inches in length (15 centimeters), but they can grow to be up to 12 inches long (30 centimeters). Different populations of bluegill might display variety in color morph, but they tend to be a very distinguishable deep green or blue color. Bluegill sunfish have a deep and highly compressed body shape; when you see one, you will notice that it is ovaline and relatively flat.

Bluegill sunfish are opportunistic feeders, so they tend to eat whatever is available in the environment. They typically feed on insects, worms, larvae and crustaceans.

Bluegill have high reproduction rates, and a single female can spawn three times in a season. Between the months of May and August, she will release anywhere from 2,300-81,000 eggs per spawning event. Females will lay their eggs in the substrate in nests built by a male bluegill. After she lays her eggs, the male will fertilize and defend them.

4) Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

smallmouth bass in shallow water
Smallmouth bass are most easily distinguished from largemouth by the dark vertical bands on the body.

While the maximum recorded length for a smallmouth bass is 27.2 inches (69 centimeters), these fish are usually caught when they are somewhere between 12 and 16 inches (30-40 centimeters) in length. In lakes where smallmouth are found, they tend to live in shallow, rocky areas along shorelines. Largemouth bass have a single horizontal dark stripe, but the smallmouth can be distinguished by the multiple vertically-oriented stripes along its body.

Juvenile smallmouth bass typically feed on plankton and small aquatic insects. The diet of adult smallmouth bass consists of crayfish, insects, and other fish. Some smallmouth bass are cannibalistic, and have been recorded eating other smallmouth bass.

Male smallmouth bass will build spawning nests in the gravel substrate of shallow waters. Above the nest, a mating pair will perform a spawning ritual. Eggs are fertilized, and hatch within a week or so. Male bass will guard the nest until the fry are hardy enough to live on their own.

5) Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

a young largemouth bass swimming amongst rocks
Photo courtesy of Ken Hammond via the United States Department of Agriculture.

The largemouth bass, or “green bass,” is a carnivorous freshwater fish species that can be found in freshwater habitats all across the United States, Mexico, South America, and Africa. They are a popular species for sport fishing. Females tend to grow larger in size than males, and mature largemouth bass can be around 30” in length (76 cm). Largemouth bass have high longevity and can live to be up to 25 years old. These fish thrive in habitats that have calm and clear waters.

A largemouth bass can be identified by its elongated body, and dark greenish/yellow coloration. They have a dark horizontal stripe running down the side of the body, and can often be distinguished from other species of bass by its larger sized mouth.

Largemouth bass are carnivorous throughout their lives, but their dietary preferences change throughout their life stages. As juveniles, M. salmoides eat a diet consisting of insects, zooplankton, and smaller fish. As they mature, their diet shifts and they begin to feed on larger insects, crayfish, and other fish.

Spawning season for largemouth bass is in the springtime. Males will build nests in gravel substrate under shallow water. Females deposit eggs in these nests, and the males will come along later and fertilize them. The fertilized eggs will develop and hatch in approximately four to six days! Interestingly, males will protect their school of larvae for the first month of their lives.

6) Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris)

a rock bass in lake champlain
Rock bass are distinguished from other bass by their rows of dark spots and red-hued eyes. Photo by Cephas, CC BY-SA 3.0

Rock bass are often also called “rock perch” or “red eye,” and they are a native species to freshwater systems in eastern North America. While they are similar in appearance to the smallmouth bass, they are unique in that they have six anal spines (these make up the anal fin, which helps the fish stabilize while swimming), many rows of dark spots on their sides, and red colored eyes. They are also typically smaller in size than smallmouth bass.

This species of bass prefers to reside in clear, vegetated, and rocky areas of stream pools and lake shorelines. This type of habitat provides cover and protection from their predators – large bass, northern pike, muskie, and walleye. Rock bass like to feed on smaller fish like yellow perch, minnows, insects, and crustaceans. Adults are most active in feeding in the early mornings and evenings, so this is the best time of day to catch them!

At 2 or 3 years of age, rock bass are mature enough to begin reproducing. They are a polygynandrous species, which means that males and females have multiple mates in the span of a single breeding season. Between the months of April and June, female rock bass will lay anywhere from 2,000 to 11,000 eggs in nests built by males. She lays her eggs simultaneously as the male releases sperm. The males practice highly aggressive nest guarding, and raise the young for a short period of time after hatching. 

7) Brown Bullhead Catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus)

An adult brown bullhead catfish
Brown bullhead catfish can typically be found at the bottom of Lake Champlain. Photo by Stas & Lana (CC BY-NC),

Brown bullhead catfish are a species of bullhead that are very similar to black bullhead catfish. They are widely distributed in freshwater habitats across North America, and sometimes referred to as “mud cats,” or “mud pouts.” These catfish are large, and typically grow to be around 21 inches (53 centimeters) in length. They have dark brown/ green colored backsides, and lighter green/ yellow bellies. Like other catfish, brown bullheads do not have scales.

Brown bullhead catfish are bottom feeders, and have slightly subterminal mouths to enable this feeding style. They are an omnivorous species, feeding on algae, leeches, worms, insects, and other small fish species.

This species of catfish can live for 6-8 years, and they spawn in the months between April and June. During each breeding season, the females are monogamous and stick to a single mate. Females build nests and lay their eggs in dark, protected locations under shallow water. Both males and females practice protective behaviors toward the eggs, and they continue to guard the young for a few days after they hatch.

8) Northern Pike (Esox lucius)

fish species lake superior
Photo by Jik jik CC BY SA

Northern pike are found in freshwater systems all across the Northern Hemisphere. They are easily distinguishable by their long, slender bodies and olive-green coloration. Northern pike have light colored spots on their sides, and a long, flattened snout. These fish have a mouth full of sharp teeth, helping them to prey on anything that moves! They grow to be very large, and can range in length from 18-20 inches (46 to 51 centimeters)!

E. lucius can be found in streams, lakes, and large rivers. They prefer areas that have shallow waters and dense vegetation. While fishing for northern pike, it’s a good idea to cast near the shoreline around rocky or densely vegetated spots.

Pike are known for their aggressively carnivorous tendencies, and they eat a lot of food every day. They mainly prey on other fish species, but have been known to eat frogs, mammals, and even waterfowl! These large predatory fish hide out under cover until prey comes along, and then they strike fast to catch a meal.

Northern pike are broadcast spawners. Females will release eggs over vegetation, and one or more males will come along and fertilize them. They spawn in shallow waters during the springtime months.

9) Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus & annularis)

black crappie in lake champlain
Both white and black crappie (pictured) can be found in Lake Champlain. Public domain.

These freshwater sunfish are most commonly known as crappies, though they have other common names such as speckled perch, strawberry bass, calico bass, and papermouth. There are two species of crappie in the genus Pomoxis – the black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis). Both can be found in Lake Wateree. Their names can be deceiving, as light or dark body coloration varies by individual. The easiest way to tell them apart is by their markings. The white crappie has dark vertical stripes and spots on its sides, while the black crappie has dark irregular blotches covering its body. They also differ in the number of dorsal spines; white crappie possess 5 – 6 spines and black crappie possess 7 – 8 spines. Finally, they differ in habitat preference, as white crappie can be more often found out in the open water and black crappie tend to prefer dense vegetation to hide in.

Crappies are social fish and gather together in large schools. Even during the breeding season, nests are built close together, forming large nesting colonies. Spawning occurs in May and June, and crappies are very fertile – they can overpopulate if uncontrolled! Both white and black crappie diet consists of small fish, zooplankton, crustaceans, and insects. Crappies are small in size – the average individual weighs 1 lb and measures 5 – 12 inches in length. Despite their size, they are a very popular gamefish.

10) Bowfin (Amia calva)

A bowfin fish swimming in vegetation
Bowfins prefer the more shallow, well-vegetated portions of Champlain. Photo by Phil’s 1stPix / CC BY-NC 2.0

The bowfin, also known as the mudfish or mud pike, is a long, bottom-feeding bony fish that is native to Lake Champlain. They can grow up to 43 in (109 cm) and are named after their dorsal fin, which runs the length of their back like a bow. They prefer slow-moving water and are most often found in well-vegetated shallows and bays and the still, deep regions of Lake Champlain. They can survive in lower oxygen environments than most other fish due to their ability to surface and breathe air, similar to lungfish. This, combined with their strong jaws and teeth and tenacious predatory lifestyle, is likely why they have survived for many millions of years!

Bowfin are often called living fossils, being the only surviving member of the order Amiiformes. They possess a number of primitive traits, such as a high proportion of cartilage in their skeleton, an oddity among bony fish. They are not typically fished for their meat, as it can be rather tasteless, but rather are fished for the challenge of catching them.

11) Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

A group of longnose gar
Longnose gar are prehistoric fish with snouts twice as long as their heads! Photo by Phil’s 1stPix / CC BY-NC 2.0

Longnose gar are solitary creatures and are typically only found in groups during the spawning season (spring and summer months), though they are relatively common in Lake Champlain in comparison to other locations in which they’re found. Gar play an important ecological role; because of their role as top predators, they are critical to reducing overpopulation in forage fish. While gar meat is consumed by humans, their eggs are extremely toxic. They are most often found in shallow, well-vegetated or weedy areas. In 2018, a record-breaking longnose gar was caught! This fish was a massive 14 pounds and 10 ounces, breaking the previous 1999 record by one and a half pounds.

Longnose gar can be identified by their elongated, needlelike snouts which are more than twice the length of their heads. They have built-in armor via their interlocked, rhomboid, ganoid scales. A unique fact about longnose gar is that they can survive indefinitely with aerial oxygen only. This is because they have highly vascularized swimbladders and can close their gills in low oxygen levels. They, like bowfin, are living dinosaurs and look as such!

12) Burbot (Lota lota)

Are there burbot in lake champlain
Burbot are one of two deepwater predators in Lake Champlain. Photo by Trüsche Walchensee, CC BY-SA 3.0

Burbot are not a well-known or highly fished species in Lake Champlain, but are one of the top predators in the lake and help to keep other fish populations in check. They feed quite voraciously on smelt, perch, lake trout, sticklebacks, bloater, sculpin, bass, fish eggs, clams, and crayfish and other crustaceans. Younger, smaller burbots are eaten by larger bass, smelt, lake trout, muskellunge, and sometimes yellow perch if the burbot is small enough, which makes them an all-around important member of the food web both as predators and as prey. They are among one of two (along with lake trout) deepwater predators in Lake Champlain.

Sometimes called eelpout for their long, slimy, almost eel-like appearance, burbot are able to grow up to 30 inches long and 18 pounds, though closer to 12 inches and 2 pounds is average. Their slender bodies are quite flexible; these fish have been known to wrap themselves around the arms of fishermen after being caught.

They are incredibly sensitive to pollution and turbidity, which is why they’re able to thrive in the clean, cold waters of Lake Champlain. They can be found closer to the surface during the winter, but in the summer dive into deeper, cooler waters between 25 and 60 feet down.

13) Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

brown trout in lake champlain
Brown trout can be fished year-round in Champlain, but must be at least one foot long. Public domain.

Brown trout are so named for their coloration. In the cold waters of the lake, they are often around a foot in length and five pounds, but due to the large size and great amount of biodiversity in Lake Champlain, they can grow closer to two feet. Lake Champlain fishing regulations require that any brown trout caught need to be a minimum of one foot in length, but can be fished year-round (including ice fishing). Interestingly, brown trout rely on stocking to maintain populations here, though the first brown trout was recorded in the lake in 1883

They’re not picky eaters, feeding on aquatic insects, zooplankton, worms, crayfish, clams, snails, and many small fish, like minnows and darters, and are well-supported by the large variety of life found in Lake Champlain. They often live around five years, spawning several times from October through December and laying between 400 and 2,000 eggs depending on the age and size of the female.

14) Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

a channel catfish in lake champlain new york
Channel catfish indicate healthy conditions, as they tend to be sensitive to water quality issues. Public domain.

Often referred to as “fork-tailed cat,” “fiddler,” “spotted cat,” or “lady cat,” the channel catfish is another species among the most popular game fish in North America. Catfish are named for their distinctive whiskers, or barbells, that help them locate food in dark, murky water. They can live up to 15 – 20 years, and unlike many other catfish they prefer clean, clear waters, so finding one is an indicator of healthy water quality! 

Channel catfish are light yellow-grey in color, often with small black spots, and their smooth and scaleless bodies set them apart from other species of fish. They have flat, broadly shaped heads, slender bodies, and forked tails. In New York, including Lake Champlain where food and space are plentiful, channel catfish can reach a whopping trophy size of 20 pounds! However, most are closer to two to four pounds.

I. punctatus have a very keen sense of smell and taste, and interestingly, they have taste buds that cover their body surface, enabling them to detect proteins in the water and thus hone in on potential food. They prey on small fish, crustaceans, insects, clams and snails, and even small mammals or birds if given the opportunity.

Channel catfish have monogamous mating structures, so they stick with one mate throughout a spawning season. They are cavity nesters, and a female will lay between 3,000 and 50,000 eggs in the nest crevice.

15) Cisco (Coregonus artedi)

school of whitefish in lake champlain
Whitefish are closely related to cisco, but their snouts are longer than their lower jaw. Photo by

Closely related to the lake whitefish, cisco belong to the salmon family (Salmonidae) and the whitefish genus (Coregonus).  They can be identified by their protruding lower jaw that is longer than the upper jaw, the presence of an adipose fin, and a strongly forked tail. Their fins are largely clear, though can appear more milky in adults, while the rest of their coloration typically ranges from dark blue to pale olive along their backs with silvery sides and off-white coloring on the rest of their body. Typically, they are around a foot in length but this can vary by several inches, and usually weigh around a pound at most. 

Well-adapted to cold waters, cisco are most often found in the cool depths of Lake Champlain, though in late autumn they move to shallow waters in large groups to spawn. Females can lay anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 eggs on the lake bottom, which hatch the following spring and are not guarded or aided by either parent. They sometimes remain closer to the surface through winter, making them a popular catch during ice fishing season. There are no size or catch limits on cisco in Lake Champlain. Due to their smaller size, they are an important food item for many larger predatory fish, such as pike and burbot, though cisco themselves feed mostly on plankton and aquatic insects.

16) Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus)

alewife in lake champlain invasive
Alewife are actually invasive in Lake Champlain and pose some environmental issues. Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program
/ CC BY-NC 2.0

The alewife is an anadromous fish, meaning that it spends most of its life in saltwater, but migrates to freshwater to spawn. The alewife is also known as the river herring, and it arrived invasively in Lake Champlain in 2005 via Lake St. Catherine that drains in Champlain. In 2006, scientists began studying the possible negative impacts of alewife in Lake Champlain based on data collected on their impacts on the Great Lakes. They have since become well-established throughout the lake, though they are incredibly temperature-sensitive, and great numbers of them die off each winter. This poses potential issues with water quality, as many are not eaten and wash ashore.

They are around 12 in (30 cm) long, silver with a slightly green back, and have a black “eye” spot near their gill. They are pelagic planktivores, meaning they are often found feeding on plankton neither at the bottom of the lake nor too close to the surface. During the spawning season in late spring and early summer, they make an exception and travel to shallow shorelines at night to spawn.

17) Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)

colorful pumpkinseed fish lake champlain
Pumpkinseeds can be identified by their bright coloration and red spot on the gill cover (operculum). Public domain.

Closely related to bluegill, the pumpkinseed is a deep-bodied, small-mouthed fish in the sunfish family. They are brightly colored and distinguishable by a small red spot near the edge of their operculum, which does not have a spike. The first spiny dorsal fin extends into the second soft dorsal fin, so the two fins visually become one.

The native range of the pumpkinseed extends farther north than any other fish species belonging to the Lepomis genus in the sunfish family. They are colony nesters, with as many as 15 shallow, oval-shaped nests in a single colony. The female arrives after the males have built their nests, deposits her eggs which stick to the bottom, and leaves the male to guard the eggs and hatchlings. For the first 11 days, the males keep a close eye and have even been observed to return with straying hatchlings in their mouths.

18) Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)

a large lake sturgeon
It is illegal to catch these gentle giants, as they only reproduce once or twice per decade and few young survive to maturity. Photo by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

The lake sturgeon of Lake Champlain are the oldest and largest of the lake’s fish species, capable of reaching over 7 feet in length and as much as 350 pounds, with males living around 55 years on average and females living up to 100 years. However, they have been known to live up to 150 years. They only mate here every four to seven years, making it even more imperative that anglers abide by the fishing regulations for these ancient creatures. In fact, they are encouraged to avoid targeting sturgeon at all during these rare spawning events, as their slow rate of reproduction and growth puts them at particular risk of being overfished. The Lake Champlain Committee has outlined steps to take if you do happen to encounter or accidentally catch a sturgeon during a spawning year.

Rather than actual scales, sturgeon possess tough skin and bony plates, remnants from their prehistoric days many millions of years ago. Despite their massive size, sturgeons are relatively harmless, using their incredibly sensitive facial barbells and flat snouts to locate bottom-dwelling prey like snails, crayfish, insect larvae, mussels, fish eggs, and clams.

19) Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis)

school of whitefish in lake champlain
Whitefish are closely related to cisco, but their snouts are longer than their lower jaw. Photo by Marco Verch / CC BY 2.0

As might be surmised by their name, lake whitefish have a pale coloration. They look quite similar to their close relative the cisco, one of the primary differences being that lake whitefish’s snout overhangs its shorter lower jaw. This allows them to feed easily both on lake bottoms as well as water surfaces.

These deep dwellers are quite reclusive, often found in schools at depths of up to 200 feet. Their size averages at a foot and a half in length and up to four pounds. As juveniles, they’re found along shallow shorelines and feed on zooplankton, but as adults move to much deeper waters and feed on aquatic insects, freshwater shrimps, fish eggs, and small fish. Most adult feeding takes place at or near the bottom of the water. Their diet is somewhat restricted due to their small mouths.

Spawning occurs from September through November in shallower waters two to four meters deep, typically at night. Depending on her size, a female lake whitefish can lay anywhere from 10,000 to well over 100,000 eggs. These are dispersed over sand or rock and hatch the following spring. In the early 1900s, lake whitefish were nearly entirely extirpated from Lake Champlain due to overfishing, with as many as 60,000 whitefish being harvested yearly! Restoration plans for Lake Champlain include “A stable population of lake whitefish with spawning populations lake-wide, including historical spawning areas that still contain suitable habitat,” per the Strategic Plan For Lake Champlain Fisheries.

20) Walleye (Sander vitreus)

close up of walleye teeth sander vitreus
Walleye’s sharp teeth enable it to be an incredible predator and an important part of the food web. Public domain.

Walleye and their close relative the yellow perch can be found in Lake Champlain itself as well as adjoining rivers, streams, and inland lakes. In fact, the Missisquoi River is considered an invaluable spawning ground for the walleye found in Champlain. Usually they are found in waters ranging from one to ten feet in depth, as going deeper than this results in oxygen levels too low to support their needs. Due to their popularity as sport fish, their populations rely on stocking programs to keep them healthy and are provided by fisheries located directly on the lake.

The largest member of the perch family, walleye can grow to nearly 3 feet and 20 pounds. Their identification is relatively easy, with coloration of dappled brown and yellow and a distinct torpedo shape. Their eyes are large and often have a white, clouded appearance. The Vermont state record walleye was actually caught in Lake Champlain, weighing in at 14 pounds and 8.8 ounces. 

A spiny dorsal fin and sharp canine teeth make it known that this fish is a voracious predator, feeding on fish smaller than they are. These include bass, trout, perch, sunfishes, and even some pike.

Spawning begins once water temperatures reach between 42 and 50° F (5.5 to 10° C). A single female can lay around 100,000 eggs, typically broadcasting them over rocks that will help to catch and shelter them. They prefer dimmer, cooler waters, and after mating in shallower, warmer tributaries will typically move back to cooler Lake Superior and inland lakes.

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