List of Fish Species in Lake McConaughy 2023 [Updated]

Pond Informer is supported by its readers. We may earn commission at no extra cost to you if you buy through a link on this page. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

List of Common Lake McConaughy Fish Species [Updated]

Catamaran on Lake McConaughy
Lake McConaughy attracts many tourists looking to hunt, boat, fish, and more! Geoff Robinson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Less than ten miles northeast of the small town of Ogallala lies a not-so-hidden gem of a retreat known to most Nebraska natives. At 22 miles long and 4 miles wide, Lake McConaughy has earned the title given to it by locals: Big Mac. Formed on the North Platte River by the Kingsley Dam in 1941, it is the largest body of water in the entire state.

Although its original purpose was as a reservoir of water for irrigation purposes, Lake McConaughy has since garnered additional uses. The Kingsley Hydroplant was built in 1984 to produce clean electricity and is able to produce 50,000 kilowatts of power. Campgrounds, cabins, and even golf courses can be found surrounding it.

Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area is a popular tourist destination, regularly attracting over a million visitors annually to fish, hunt, boat, and even scuba dive. Just south of the Kingsley Dam the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission runs a visitor center and interpretive center.

Despite originally being man-made, Lake McConaughy has become an important habitat for local wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. It has clear, open waters, with its deepest point at a staggering 142 feet deep, making it the perfect environment for many large fish. With over 100 miles of white sand beach and a surface area of 35,700 acres, there is plenty of room for combinations of warm, cool, and coldwater fish.

The lake itself stays relatively cool even in the summer, rarely breaching 80°F for more than brief periods. Although it typically freezes over in the winter, Lake McConaughy quickly melts in the spring. With such clean and beautiful waters, it is no wonder one might be curious about what sorts of species can thrive in Lake McConaughy. Listed below are several prominent species.

List of Fish Species in Lake McConaughy

1) Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Adult walleye fish
During the day walleyes will usually be hiding in the depths of the lake. Photo by Engbretson Eric, USFWS on Pixnio

Native to North America

If any fish is synonymous with Lake McConaughy, it’s the walleye, a slender olive and gold member of the perch family. Walleyes are the most commonly reported catch at Lake McConaughy, which boasts the state’s record for the largest walleye at 16 lbs 2 oz. Along with white basses, young walleyes are stocked annually by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and are a popular sport fish.

Walleyes are voracious predators with sharp, prominent canine teeth and two dorsal fins. Although they primarily eat other fish, walleyes are known to eat insects, snails, and even small mammals and birds. They are found in a variety of lakes, rivers, and ponds throughout North America but tend to prefer deep, clear lakes.

Walleyes are named for their glassy eyes which contain a layer of pigment known as tapetum lucidum. This unique adaptation allows walleyes to see in dark, rough waters — their preferred hunting grounds. Walleyes are known to hide in the depths of lakes during the day and typically swim to shallow waters during the evening and night to hunt.

2) White bass (Morone chrysops)

White bass in lake
White basses migrate upstream to spawn; the males go first and the females follow shortly after. Eric Engbretson / Public domain

Native to North America

As with walleyes, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission stocks white basses yearly. White basses are migratory fish that can be identified by their silver, shiny coloring and the five to eight horizontal black stripes on their side. The bands above their lateral line are unbroken and those below are often broken and faint. It has a uniquely arched back that is not found in other basses and two dorsal fins.

White basses migrate upstream in large schools to rivers to spawn, with the males traveling first and the females following shortly after. After arriving at their spawn point, spawning occurs randomly in the current, with eggs sinking and sticking to the river floor or vegetation. After this, parents do not care for their young and instead return downstream.

White basses often hunt in schools, driving their prey to the surface in a recognizable show for spectators. Typically this prey includes minnows and other small fish, but white basses are known to eat insects and crustaceans. White basses are fast-growing and short-lived, averaging 6 to 14 inches and living only six to seven years in the wild. White basses are often bred with striped basses in hatcheries to create hybrids known as wipers. Wipers have become increasingly popular with anglers since their introduction in the ’80s for their hardiness and aggressive nature.

3) Northern pike (Esox lucius)

Adult northern pike
Northern pikes are huge fish, with many reaching lengths of 4 feet! Jik jik, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Northern Hemisphere

With its long, snake-like body, large yellow eyes, and a snout full of sharp, constantly replaced teeth, the northern pike is instantly recognizable. It is typically olive green with irregular yellow speckling and has a single dorsal fin far back on its body which lacks any sharp spines.

Northern pikes grow incredibly quickly, often growing 10 to 15 inches within their first year and continuing at a rapid pace until sexual maturity at three to four years for females and four to five years for males. Even then, they may continue to grow four inches annually in prime conditions, regularly reaching four feet long and 40 lbs. As this monstrous growth rate may suggest, northern pikes are highly opportunistic carnivores and regularly eat small mammals and birds in addition to their staple diet of fish and invertebrates.

Although they regularly migrate in the spring to spawn, northern pikes are mostly sedentary throughout the year and tend to stay in their own territory. Their preferred domain during the summer is cool, slow-moving waters with plenty of vegetation. Although they are hardy apex predators as adults, northern pike rarely live to adulthood, being preyed on by a variety of predators including older pikes.

4) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)

Striped bass fish
Striped bass can be found in saltwater and eat a wide variety of sea creatures. Steven G. Johnson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Atlantic Coast of North America

Striped bass can be distinguished from their close relative, the white bass, by their six to eight horizontal stripes. They vary in color from light green to black, brown, or blue, with a white underside. Striped bass are anadromous, meaning they hatch and grow in freshwater and then move to saltwater. Striped bass move to saltwater by their first winter and eat a wide variety of sea creatures, from fish to crabs to even squid. They can live up to 30 years and grow up to five feet during this time.

Females take substantially longer to become sexually mature than males, with males typically maturing between two to four years and females taking four to eight years before reproducing. After maturing, striped bass return to freshwater to spawn, and one female’s eggs may be fertilized by as many as 20 males. Striped bass eggs require a steady river flow to stay afloat and are not raised by their parents.

5) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Channel catfish in net
Channel catfish vary greatly in size, with an average length of 16 to 24 inches. moxostoma / CC BY 4.0

Native to North and Central America

As the state fish of Nebraska, the channel catfish is as popular as it is plentiful. Channel catfish can be found in a wide variety of water sources but tend to prefer slow-moving water. They vary dramatically in size, typically ranging 16 to 24 inches long and two to seven lbs, but can easily reach upwards of 20lbs, with the largest channel catfish ever reported being 58 lbs. Channel catfish are typically olive to light blue in color and young channel catfish can be distinguished from other catfish by the black speckling on their sides.

Due to the taste buds found all over their bodies, channel catfish have an excellent sense of smell and taste. These heightened senses not only enable them to find food with ease but also allow them to communicate with one another using chemicals and pheromones. Like many other catfish, channel catfish are able to produce sounds to scare predators by grinding their pectoral fins against their pectoral girdles. Channel catfish typically spawn in early summer, when males create nests in hollow cavities to protect eggs and fry from fast-moving water.

6) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Largemouth bass in man's hands
Largemouth bass are easy to recognize as their upper jaw extends past their eyes. Thecatsmilk, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America and northern Mexico

Known for their insatiable appetite and fighting vigor, largemouth bass will eat almost anything that moves, including their own kind. They are named for their long, typically ajar mouths and have an upper jaw extending past their eyes. This feature makes them easily recognizable, along with the dark horizontal band across their sides. As with other black basses, largemouths have a dark, greenish-black coloration and a white underbelly. They typically grow to 12 to 15 inches but can easily grow larger, with the unofficial record-holder weighing in at 25 lbs.

Reports on when largemouth bass reach sexual maturity vary from 3 months to 3 years and some theorize that this depends on size rather than age. Regardless of the age of maturity, both males and females usually continue to spawn for 12 years. Males build nests by fanning their tail fins across the bottom of a body of water and guard their fry for a month after hatching.

7) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Person holding rainbow trout
Rainbow trout thrive in clear water and prefer cool or cold temperatures. California Department of Fish and Wildlife / CC BY 2.0

Native to Pacific tributaries of North America and Asia

Named for their bright, beautiful coloring and purplish iridescent sheen, rainbow trouts are prolific members of the salmon family. Their dorsal color is dark olive, separated from their silvery underbelly by a characteristic bright pink or red band that goes laterally down their body. During spawning times, this streak turns a deep red in males and bright pink in females.

Rainbow trout require very clean, oxygenated water to thrive and prefer cool or cold temperatures. Throughout their lives, rainbow trout may move from freshwater to brackish water to seawater, but they only spawn in freshwater. During spawning in the spring, females may lay anywhere from 200 to 8000 eggs in their nests. Rainbow trout are commonly farmed fish that have been introduced throughout the world. Despite their moderate size (7 – 12”) the diet of the rainbow trout consists almost exclusively of insects, primarily river flies.

8) American gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)

Gizzard shad in hand
American gizzard shad are primary feeders and one of the most prevalent species in US ponds & lakes. Matthew Inabinett / CC BY 4.0

Native to the United States

Despite rarely being caught by fishers, the American gizzard shad is often one of the most prevalent species in the ponds where it dwells and is able to maintain high populations. This is due to being primary feeders and not regularly competing with one another for food.

Young shad school in large groups and filter water through their gills to eat zooplankton and phytoplankton. During this time, gizzard shad grow very rapidly, quickly reaching their adult size of two pounds. With age, the dark spots on the shoulders of their silver bodies tend to fade. Within their first year of life, American gizzard shad typically transition to a solitary life, supplementing their diet with sediment.

Gizzard shad are often intentionally introduced to ponds due to their ability to significantly impact them. When gizzard shads consume nutrients from detritus and are then eaten, those nutrients are redistributed back into the food chain. This can dramatically increase ecological productivity. American gizzard shad are also often introduced to feed game fish such as walleye and bass. On rare occasions, this can be a double-edged sword, as too many young shad can deplete the plankton community and cause an immature ecosystem to temporarily collapse. Luckily, this tends to self-correct as adult shad switch to an almost exclusively detritus-based diet.

9) Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Adult freshwater drum
Freshwater drum fish have a visible line running through their side that allows them to detect the vibrations of other fish. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / No copyright

Native to North and Central America

As the only sciaenids to spend their entire life in freshwater, the freshwater drum is aptly named. Like other drums, it is known for the grunting noises that males are known to make with muscles around their swim bladders. While the exact reason for this abnormal behavior is unknown, it is assumed to be related to spawning. Freshwater drums have a stout gray body and a divided dorsal fin. They have a hunched appearance, with a sloping head and prominent white lips.

Freshwater drums prefer lakes and rivers with clean floors, as their prey of choice are bottom-dwelling invertebrates. More specifically, they primarily eat bivalves, as indicated by their large molars. Freshwater drums are able to tolerate murky waters and stay oriented with the enlarged otolith bones in their ears. They have a uniquely elongated and therefore sensitive lateral line running all the way through their tail. This visible sensing organ extending along their side allows them to detect the vibrations of other fish.

10) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)

Yellow perch underwater
Yellow perches are accustomed to slow-moving, cool water and remain active all year round. Robert Colletta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

At a typical adult size of seven to ten inches, yellow perches play the role of prey as well as predator. Young yellow perches often resemble walleyes and can be distinguished from them by seven vertical bars on their sides and bright yellow coloration. They are poor swimmers with low acceleration speeds, making them a major source of food for many larger game fish. Yellow perches typically school in shallow waters for safety, breaking up in the evenings and reforming during the day. Their excellent vision not only aids them with effective schooling but with hunting. Yellow perches are limited to a diet of primarily insects, invertebrates, and the eggs and young of other fish.

Yellow perches are well-adapted to slow-moving, cool waters and remain active year-round, continuing to swim and hunt even under ice. Although they prefer shallow waters throughout the year, they travel shoreward mostly in the mornings and evenings, retreating to cooler waters during the day in hot seasons. Yellow perch spawn during the spring, laying gelatinous strings of eggs into vegetation that stick and harden. These eggs are laid outside of any sort of nest and receive no parental care.

11) Common carp (Cyprinus carpio)

Group of common carp
Common carp are considered to be a nuisance in local ecosystems due to their destructive tendencies. Leonard G. at English Wikipedia, CC SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Eurasia

An incredibly large and hardy minnow, common carp were introduced as farming and sport fish around the world in the 1880s. Unfortunately, they have since then become regarded as a nuisance due to their invasive and destructive tendencies in local ecosystems. They often uproot aquatic plants while feeding, consequently muddying the waters they live in. It’s no wonder common carp are able to wreak havoc — the heavy-bodied fish can thrive in almost any condition and can spawn 300,000 eggs multiple times a year. Additionally, they can get incredibly large, regularly reaching a whopping 75 lbs.

Despite its poor reputation in North America, the common carp is a prized sporting fish in Europe due to its delectable meat and difficulty to catch. Common carp can be distinguished from other members of its genus by the two pairs of barbells on their upper jaws. They have large scales and a relatively uniform coloration but can be green, yellow, brown, or silver. Common carp are closely related to koi and similarly long-lived, living upwards of 40 years.

12) Black bullhead (Ameiurus melas)

Young black bullhead catfish
Black bullhead catfish are scaleless and thrive in poor water conditions. George Chernilevsky, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to central United States and Canada

Despite being related to them, black bullhead catfish dwarf channel catfish at an average of one to two lbs. The small fish have scaleless dark brown or black bodies with pale yellow or white underbellies. They can be easily recognized by their black barbels, flat head, and tan crescent before their square tail fins. Like channel catfish, bullheads thrive in poor water conditions. They prefer slow-moving water and can easily survive in murky, poorly oxygenated waters.

Black bullheads are omnivorous bottom feeders with a wide diet including algae and crustaceans. They feed nocturnally most of the year, but during the winter they have a lessened appetite and may temporarily stop eating altogether.

Black bullheads have a relatively short lifespan at only six to eight years in the wild, and it takes approximately half of their life to reach sexual maturity. This timespan means that it is critical for black bullhead fry to survive to adulthood. Unlike many species of catfish that only have the male playing a parental figure, both males and female black bullheads play an important role in raising their young. After spawning in the spring, both parents take turns guarding their eggs. Even after hatching, fry are closely protected by their parents, who will circle around them for two weeks until they are able to be on their own.

13) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Smallmouth bass swimming
Smallmouth bass thrive in large, clear lakes and cool streams. Photo by Engbretson Eric, USFWS on Pixnio

Native to Eastern-central North America

True to their name, smallmouth basses have a narrow, short jaw that never extends past their eyes. This feature in addition to connected dorsal fins and bright red eyes distinguishes it from its close relative, the largemouth bass. Smallmouth basses have brownish-green coloration and dark vertical bars. At an average of 10 to 12 inches, they tend to grow to a similar size as largemouth bass.

Smallmouth bass do not tolerate dirty or polluted waters, instead requiring large, clear lakes and cool streams. They hide in the cover of shallow, shaded water throughout the day. As an ambush predator, smallmouth bass may eat a variety of fish, crustaceans, and insects. Although smallmouth basses are not typically picky, they have a noteworthy preference for crawfish and their diet may consist of them up to 2/3 where present. Males will often build several nests by fanning their wings and deciding among them, settling on large, perfectly circular nests in the gravel.

14) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

Adult black crappie
Black crappies are well-loved by anglers thanks to their mild taste and ability to put up a fight when being caught! Eric Engbretson / Public domain

Native to North America

Black crappies are flat, vertically compressed sunfish that average eight to ten inches long. They can be distinguished from white crappies by their dark coloring, rows of black spots, and their number of dorsal spines. While white crappies typically have six dorsal spines, black crappies often have seven or eight. Black crappies are popular with anglers due to their mild, palatable taste and the fight that they put up.

Black crappies often hunt in schools and prefer to hunt in shallows waters during the early morning. The diets of young black crappies primarily consist of larvae and crustaceans, but larger crappies often eat other fish. They are particularly drawn to dine on forage fish, such as shad, but have been known to even eat their own young. Male crappies form nests in substrates near the shoreline where females deposit their eggs in. Females are not involved in caretaking, but males protect their young for two to three days after hatching.

15) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Bluegill in lake
A bluegill’s coloration depends on its sex. For example, male bluegills usually have brighter colors. Brian Gratwicke / CC BY 2.0

Native to North America

Small, opportunistic feeders, bluegills are often the first catch of young anglers. The memory of catching a bluegill is often paired with that of being “finned” for the first time by their sharp, barbed dorsal fins. Since they hunt primarily using vision, bluegills require clean, quiet water to thrive. They prefer shallow water with vegetation to keep them safe from predators and act as hiding spots for them to ambush unsuspecting insects.

Bluegills have a laterally flattened body and small mouth. While their exact coloration depends on age and sex, with breeding males being the brightest, bluegills have distinct coloration. Males are green with an orange throat and yellow belly which females lack. Bluegills have a characteristic dark blue or black spot covering their gill and several dark vertical bands regardless of their age or sex. Bluegills are also known for their large pectoral fins which enable them to maneuver and turn with ease.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.