List of Common Lake Livingston Fish Species [Updated]
Located in eastern Texas, Lake Livingston is one of the state’s most popular lakes for fishing. It is a large man-made reservoir, with a total surface area of over 90,000 acres (roughly 36,422 hectares) and a maximum depth of 77 feet (approximately 23.5 meters). This lake is part of the Trinity River Basin, which has the largest watershed area that is fully enclosed within the state of Texas. The Trinity River is the third largest river in the state by average flow, and it directly feeds Lake Livingston, which is located in the lower part of the basin.
In 1969, the Trinity River Authority (TRA) and the City of Houston completed construction on a dam across the Trinity River, creating the large lake that now serves many purposes for the people in eastern Texas. In addition to recreational uses, the water from the reservoir is used for irrigation, municipal, and industrial purposes in the surrounding counties. Lake Livingston is also home to many fish species (listed below), some of which are native to the area, and some of which are regularly stocked to maintain healthy broodfish collections in the lower basin.
The lake is managed by the TRA, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) assisting in the management of the fish populations and various recreational aspects of the lake and surrounding park. Another organization called the Friends of Lake Livingston (FoLL) helps with habitat construction and education programs in cooperation with lake management.
There have historically been problems with invasive aquatic vegetation disrupting the lake and river ecosystems, most notably water hyacinth, giant salvinia, and water lettuce. The TRA treated these outbreaks with herbicides and attempted to establish more native vegetation, but so far their efforts have not been as successful as hoped. Listed below are several of the various fish species living in this ecosystem despite the challenges posed by invasives.
List of Fish Species in Lake Livingston
1) American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)
While not abundantly present in Lake Livingston itself, paddlefish are a fascinating species of particular note. This species is a freshwater fish native to the rivers and lakes of eastern Texas, and they have been considered a threatened species in the state since 1977. However, the most interesting fact about this species is that it is the oldest recorded fish species in North America. Fossil records lead researchers to believe that paddlefish are older than dinosaurs, dating back 300 million years. These incredible fish can reach sizes of up to 7 feet long and 200 pounds in weight, but most individuals will generally remain around 10 – 15 pounds.
Paddlefish are threatened due to several factors, including the construction of dams, such as the Lake Livingston Dam. Dam construction can interrupt their ability to reach adequate spawn sites, and a higher flow rate of the water is an important trigger necessary for paddlefish to reproduce. A few individuals may be found in the reservoir itself as a residual effect of some stocking efforts, but paddlefish mostly prefer the faster-flowing water provided by the Trinity River, which feeds into Lake Livingston and continues on through the dam. This species has also suffered a decline in population due to overfishing and illegal harvesting of their eggs for caviar, making the regulations around accidental catches very strict.
2) Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula)
Alligator gar is one of Texas’ most interesting freshwater fish species. Unlike many of the other species found in Lake Livingston, alligator gar have two rows of small, sharp teeth along the upper and lower jaws. They are the largest species of gar found in Texas, reaching sizes of up to 8 feet long and weighing nearly 300 pounds. Because of their size and teeth, there is a common misconception that these fish are dangerous to humans. In reality, they are relatively harmless to humans and feed on smaller fish and the occasional bird or small mammal.
The historic range of alligator gar used to extend from the Mississippi River Valley all the way down to the estuaries in the Gulf of Mexico. However, their range has declined over the years, in addition to their population size. Their numbers remain strong within the state of Texas, but Lake Livingston enforces a daily bag limit of 1 fish under 48 inches (122 cm) for all recreational fishing. Sportfishing of this species may also be restricted or temporarily suspended if the ideal conditions for gar reproduction are observed in any area of the lake.
3) Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus)
Blue catfish are one of the most popular sportfish in the US, and they also happen to be the largest freshwater sportfish found in Texas. Some individuals can weigh as much as 100 pounds, though most are only able to reach weights between 20 – 40 pounds. They are also the most abundant catfish in Lake Livingston, accounting for over 85% of the fish harvested from the lake. Their diet mostly consists of smaller fish and mollusks, and in some areas of the US, they have been used in attempts to reduce the population of invasive Asian clams. Unfortunately, these attempts at controlling invasives have not been very successful.
Blue catfish are a hardy species and can survive in a wide range of temperatures, climates, and habitats, though they do migrate seasonally in search of their preferred temperature of 28 – 30° Celsius. In Lake Livingston, they are found both in the river basins and in the spacious waters of the reservoir, staying near the bottom of the lake where they can scavenge a variety of freshwater snacks.
4) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
The channel catfish is the third most popular sportfish at Lake Livingston after largemouth and white bass, making it an important species when it comes to lake management. These catfish are not as abundant in this lake as blue catfish are, but their population levels are stable. Approximately 35 – 60% of the annual angling efforts in Lake Livingston are directed toward catching catfish, with channel catfish being the most coveted catch. They are native to the Mississippi Basin, but they have been introduced and spread across the US due to their popularity as a sportfish.
Channel catfish are bottom feeders, and mature adults have eight barbels, or “whiskers”, that have taste buds on the surface and tips to help them find food. They also have taste buds on their skin to help sift through the sediment at the bottom of lakes. These adaptations make the omnivorous channel catfish a very successful scavenger. Like blue catfish, channel catfish have a deep fork in their tailfins, but their distinguishing feature is their jaw. These fish have an upper jaw that protrudes further out than their lower jaw, making them look like they have a bit of an overbite.
5) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)
Flathead catfish are true to their name in the appearance of their heads, but they otherwise share many other similarities with other catfish species. They have no scales and several barbels around their mouths that serve as whiskers, helping them sense their surroundings and find food. However, unlike their relatives, flathead catfish are hunters, and they will only eat live fish. Flatheads can reach sizes of up to 48 inches (122 cm) long and over 100 pounds, making them the second-largest sportfish in Texas after their relatives, the blue catfish.
Flathead catfish are native to the state of Texas, and their populations are stable across the state, so they are not considered a threatened species. However, their population is not abundant in Lake Livingston, and while they are present in the lake, they are rarely seen during the management surveys. Since flatheads are not the most popular sportfish, this species is not actively stocked in the lake.
6) White crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
White crappies are small fish native to eastern Texas and Lake Livingston, but their abundance is very low. In Louisiana, these fish are also referred to as “white perch” even though they are not a member of the perch family. Another name for them is “sac-a-lait” which is Cajun French for “bag of milk.” These little milk sacks are polygynandrous, which means that females will mate with multiple males, and males will mate with multiple females. The males are then left to guard the nest until the newly hatched young begin to swim, at which point the young fish quickly vacate the nest area in order to avoid being eaten by the male.
Trap net fishing for white crappies was discontinued in 2016 in Lake Livingston because of the low catch rate, as this species is not particularly sought-after by local anglers. Creel surveys conducted in the lake since 2016 have made inferences about the population size of white crappies, but no effort has been made to alter their abundance in the reservoir.
7) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Similar in size and shape to their cousins, black crappies are distinguished by their random pattern of large black spots across their bodies, as opposed to the vertical arrangement seen on white crappies. Their other distinguishing characteristic is their dorsal fin, which is longer at the base and has more spines on average than those seen on white crappies. They generally only reach sizes of up to 12 inches (30.5 cm) long, so they are not the largest fish found in Lake Livingston.
Black crappies are native to eastern Texas, and Lake Livingston is part of their native range. The state does not consider them an invasive species, though they have been introduced in some areas of the western US for recreational purposes. Their presence in Lake Livingston has been recorded, but their abundance has remained low over the last several years. They are not a popular sportfish for the anglers who frequent Lake Livingston, so there is little to no management of this species.
8) White bass (Morone chrysops)
White bass is a popular sportfish across the US, which has led to stocking efforts that have increased its native range. While this species is native to Texas, it is specifically native to the Red River Basin, and it has been introduced into the Lake Livingston area because of its popularity as a sportfish. In this particular lake, the popularity of white bass has been highly variable, and it can account for anywhere between 12% to 58% of the angling effort depending on the year.
White bass are a predatory species, and by the time an individual has matured, they are primarily hunting other fish. Their preferred prey is gizzard shad, which are abundantly present in Lake Livingston. Interestingly, white bass do not construct a nest. The males will migrate upstream in advance of the females, and then they will crowd around different females in little groups. Males and females will release their sperm and eggs simultaneously, and the fertilized eggs will sink and attach to substrate (preferably gravel) at the bottom of the river. The little fry will hatch 2 – 3 days later and begin feeding on small invertebrates in the stream. White bass grow very quickly and soon become competitive hunters in the reservoir.
9) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
In Lake Livingston, there are two subspecies of largemouth bass present in the reservoir. The first is Micropterus salmoides salmoides, and this species is native to Texas and will be discussed in depth below. The second is Micropterus salmoides floridanus, and it deserves a brief mention because it has been stocked periodically in the reservoir. There was some speculation that, because these two subspecies interbreed, the native population would experience positive genetic effects. However, there does not appear to be much impact on the native population, and recruitment of the species as a whole has remained low in this lake.
As the number one most popular sportfish in the US, largemouth bass have been stocked in multiple lakes and rivers across the country. Their original range extended across the US, east of the Rocky Mountains, with small populations in southeastern Canada and northeastern Mexico. Today, these popular fish have been introduced all across the US and Mexico, and they have even been spread into Central and South America.
Largemouth bass are native to eastern Texas and Lake Livingston, and their population there is stable, though not overly abundant. However, due to a lack of suitable habitat in the reservoir, their population has been restricted to the embayments and creek arms around the lake. Efforts are being made by the TPWD and FoLL to increase the littoral habitat preferred by this species, even though there has been a decrease in angling efforts directed toward catching largemouth bass in Lake Livingston over the last decade.
Regardless of their popularity among recreational anglers, largemouth bass play a prominent role in aquatic ecosystems. Large individuals are voracious predators and will generally be the dominant piscivorous predator in whatever river or reservoir they inhabit. Large adults will even eat baby alligators! Unlike catfish, they generally hunt by sight and will therefore prefer clear, calm water over turbid depths. Because of their accomplished hunting, largemouth bass can pose problems in ecosystems where they have been introduced for sport fishing. For example, in the Adirondack Lakes, introduced largemouth bass have contributed to a decline in biodiversity of the native minnow communities.
10) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)
Another popular sportfish, striped bass have been introduced to many rivers and lakes across the US. Their native range stretches across the entire east coast of North America, starting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, extending all the way to Florida in the south, and then west into the Gulf of Mexico. They are not native to most of Texas, and they have been intentionally stocked in Lake Livingston for many years. However, their population has not been able to gain much purchase in this lake.
Recruitment of new individuals into the population has remained historically low, and the population has only been maintained due to the stocking efforts of the management. Striped bass are not particularly popular among the anglers who frequent Lake Livingston, so they are mainly stocked as a source of broodfish for hatchery production of other bass. Since their population has never really stabilized in the lake, they do not pose any ecological or invasive problems to the reservoir ecosystem.
Unlike many other species of fish, striped bass are sexually dimorphic, with females generally growing to larger sizes on average than males. However, the males mature more quickly, sometimes reaching adulthood twice as quickly as females. Like many species of fish, striped bass are anadromous, meaning they migrate upstream in order to reproduce. These fish require a higher flow rate of water to hatch successfully, so they do not typically perform well in lakes and reservoir systems like Lake Livingston.
11) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
As their common name suggests, bluegill have a light blue coloring around the flap over their gills. This coloration is more pronounced in breeding males than in females and juveniles. This species does not usually grow to large sizes; they can reach lengths of up to 15 inches (38 cm), but most individuals will remain around 4 to 6 inches (10.2 to 15.2 cm). Bluegills are omnivorous and will generally eat anything from zooplankton to smaller fish. They rely on their eyesight to find food, and their eyes have adapted to filter out the more harmful UV spectrum.
In Lake Livingston, bluegill are present in the reservoir, but they are not very abundant. They are not targeted by recreational anglers, nor by lake management, though they do provide a food source for larger and more popular sportfish. Bluegill are native to most of eastern Texas, with a native range that is predominantly located around and throughout the Mississippi River Basin. The TPWD does not give this species much attention, as bluegill are largely ignored by anglers, if they’re even caught at all.
12) American gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)
Gizzard shad is one of the most abundant and most popular species of prey fish for the other larger fish in Lake Livingston. It is a favorite snack of the resident white bass population, so it is very beneficial that these fish are abundantly present.
Gizzard shad are easily distinguishable from their cousins, the threadfin shad, by the shape of their mouths. The upper jaw of a gizzard shad protrudes further forward than a threadfin, giving its head a blunt, rounded appearance. They generally do not grow to be very large, making them an ideal food source for large fish and birds. Adult gizzard shad grow to an average length of 9 to 14 inches (22.8 to 35.5 cm), although rare individuals have been recorded at almost 20 inches (51 cm) long.
Gizzard shad are native to most of the central and eastern United States, including the state of Texas. In Lake Livingston, the TPWD manages the population of this species to ensure there is ample forage for the populations of bass in the reservoir. However, no stocking has been required as the population has remained stable and abundant.
There are a few areas in the US where gizzard shad have been introduced outside of their native range. While the ecological impact of this introduction has not been severe yet, there is a lot of potential for this species to cause damage to those ecosystems. For example, gizzard shad will outcompete sunfishes for food, resulting in declining populations and overall growth rates. Their presence has also been found to cause an increase in phytoplankton levels, which can decrease the clarity of the water and affect visual predators in their ability to hunt.
13) Threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense)
Threadfin shad are the smallest of the species of prey fish in Lake Livingston. Mature individuals usually only reach a maximum of 6 inches (15 cm) in length, making them a target for smaller predators in addition to the larger specimens. In addition to their smaller size, threadfin shad are distinguishable from gizzard shad by their protruding lower jaws. This characteristic makes their heads look smaller and flatter, giving them a more angular shape.
The current range of threadfin shad is largely to the west of the Appalachian Mountains, extending into eastern Texas and the Rio Grande Basin. However, their native range in the US is somewhat debated. Before 1945, threadfin shad were only recorded in a restricted range from the Gulf of Mexico, into Mexico and Florida. In 1948, this species was recorded in some impoundments of the Tennessee River, although there is evidence that they were stocked there as a prey species. Afterward, they were able to migrate to other parts of the country, though due to a lack of early records in some states (such as Arkansas), it is still unclear whether it was migration or stocking that produced populations of threadfin shad in these states.
In Lake Livingston, threadfin shad are very abundant and a popular prey species for larger sportfish. The TPWD has not stocked the lake with these fish as they are naturally occurring in that part of the state, but they do monitor the population levels as they relate to sportfishing. Most anglers are not after shad and are usually more focused on catching large sportfish such as bass and catfish. Both of these groups prey on the shad population, so ensuring stable and abundant levels of threadfin and gizzard shad is important to the management of the lake, though little effort is required to maintain adequate levels.