List of Fish Species in Lake St. Clair (Updated)

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Lake St. Clair
Lake St. Clair is a shallow, cold-water lake that is located in both the US and Canada. NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Located near Detroit, Michigan, Lake St. Clair is a shallow, cold-water lake that sits along the border between the United States and Canada, providing recreational and commercial opportunities for people in both countries. A substantial portion of the shoreline is developed to provide access to the water and a large 1,600 ft (488 m) boardwalk is just one of many attractions around the lake.

Lake St. Clair connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie, making it a part of the Great Lakes system, and its central position among the Great Lakes has earned it the moniker “Heart of the Great Lakes.” Another benefit of its location is that it sees its fair share of monstrous lake sturgeon and other sport fishes. As far as sport fisheries go, Lake St. Clair is prolific and harbors many species of bass, perch, sunfish, sturgeon, and more.

The best time to fish Lake St. Clair is from March to September. During this time, anglers can count on channel catfish, bluegill, crappies, perches, and basses to bite so long as the right bait and location are chosen. Several fishes can also be captured year-round, so something is available within Lake St. Clair every season. Prospective anglers must be at least 17 to acquire a fishing license from their local Michigan Department of Natural Resources office. For fish consumption guidelines, see this website.

Fish Species in Lake St. Clair

1) Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii)

Caught cutthroat trout
At Lake St. Clair, cutthroat trout can be fished all year round. Darrin Gobble / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Several trout species are stocked into Lake St. Clair annually. The first on this list is the incredibly popular cutthroat trout. This species’ abundance in the Great Lakes is unnatural, as humans have introduced cutthroats to Michigan since 1895 for recreational fishing. The deep Great Lakes provide ample foraging habitat, while the rivers connected to the lakes allow the cutthroat trout to spawn and reproduce.

This trout species, like most, is usually anadromous and is born in shallow streams. They spend their first two years of life in these streams before migrating to the ocean. After spending several years in the ocean, adult cutthroat trout migrate to their natal streams and spawn, starting the cycle anew. Some introduced populations, like those found in Lake St. Clair, are residents in streams throughout their lives.

Anglers searching for cutthroat trout should use aquatic insect larvae, or nymphs, found where they are fishing. Imitation baits and fly fishing are also acceptable methods. These fish make excellent tablefare. The fishing season for cutthroat trout at Lake St. Clair is open all year.

2) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Rainbow trout in hand
Rainbow trout can be identified by a red- or rose-colored stripe that runs down the side of their bodies. Max Miley / CC BY 4.0

Native to eastern Russia and the west coast of North America

The rainbow trout is one of North America’s most ubiquitous and popular sportfish. Both the rainbow trout and cutthroat trout were introduced from the west coast to Lake St. Clair to improve the recreational fishing in the area. The rainbow trout is sometimes called the steelhead salmon and is split between two groups based on migration habits–steelheads migrate to the ocean, whereas rainbow trout remain landlocked. They are easily recognizable by the rose-colored stripe running down their sides. While it can be found worldwide, O. mykiss is only native to the west coast, coastal Alaska, and parts of eastern Russia. This salmon is a large species with an average length of around 24 inches (61 cm).

As the name suggests, the rainbow trout is a large, beautiful, and popular game fish that often boasts a striking red and silver coloration. Therefore, it is usually stocked in lakes and rivers in the United States. It is a predator of macroinvertebrates and smaller fish. Many landlocked populations successfully reproduce by utilizing deep lakes as growing habitats and connected shallow streams for spawning.

Rainbow trout are available throughout the year, and the fishing season for rainbow trout at Lake St. Clair is open year-round.

3) Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)

Muskellunge in net
At Lake St. Clair, muskies can be caught from June to December, with a daily catch limit of 1. Patrick Jackson / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

The muskellunge, also known as the Allegheny River pike or barred muskie, is a large, predatory fish and a popular sportfish in Michigan. This species co-occurs with the northern pike and can be distinguished from that species by the number of sensory pores on the bottom of their jaws. For example, muskellunge have six to nine, whereas the northern pike has five or fewer. Hybrids, known as tiger muskies, have five to six.

Slow-flowing aquatic habitats with ample aquatic vegetation are perfect for muskellunge. They use weedy beds for cover and to spawn, providing young muskellunge with a safe space to absorb their yolks and begin hunting. Musky eggs, which can become food for small fish and crayfish, sink to the bottom of the water column and stick to weedy beds. As adults, they are voracious predators, consuming fish, frogs, and even ducklings.

Muskellunge will take a variety of live bait. Anglers may fish for muskellunge at Lake St. Clair from June 4th to December 31st. Only one fish is allowed per angler per day, and anglers must report any Muskellunge they harvest online at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website or via phone.

4) Longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

Longnose gars underwater
Longnose gar can often be found in small groups in slow-moving rivers, lakes, and ponds. Siddarth Machado / CC BY 4.0

Native to North and Central America (the most expansive range of the gar). From waters on the East Coast to New Mexico.

The longnose gar is distinct among the gar species because they possess a long, skinny snout adorned with rows of sharp teeth. They are predatory and use their teeth to hold onto prey items, usually small fish. Of all the gar species, the range of the longnose gar extends the farthest north, reaching areas up into Quebec. An average longnose gar will be about 25 inches (64 cm) long.

Like the muskellunge, this species can be found in slow-moving rivers, ponds, and impoundments. They often occur in small groups. Longnose gar are known as passive hunters because they hover motionlessly in the water until a prey item passes by. Then, they sideswipe the prey item to impale it on their sharp teeth. Longnose gars are essential predators and maintain sunfish, shad, and shiners populations.

To fish for longnose gar, one source suggests using minnows and artificial lures. The hand netting season for this species runs from March 1st to May 31st. They may also be harvested using a dip net from March 20th to May 31st. Additionally, the spear and bow fishing season for longnose gar is open year-round in Michigan.

5) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)

Yellow perch in net
In Michigan, yellow perch can be caught throughout the year and 25 of them can be caught every day. Dylan Shaw / CC BY 4.0

Native to parts of North America

Yellow perch are common in Michigan and are one of the state’s most ubiquitous sportfish. This small yet trendy sportfish is a wonderfully tasting Great Lakes native. They tend to occur in large schools, so they can be caught in abundance, which makes up for their small size, maxing out at around 4 pounds (1.8 kg), 14 inches (35.6 cm). They are an excellent food source for predatory fish, enormous sunfish, pike, and humans.

The native range of the yellow perch extends as far south as Louisiana and north into Canada. Therefore, it can be found throughout most of Canada and the northeastern United States. This species prefers lakes and avoids extremely cold or warm weather. In addition, they are tolerant of hypoxic, or low oxygen conditions.

Yellow perch consume invertebrates and small fish, so using insects or small bait fish might help an angler catch one or many more. Anglers may harvest yellow perch throughout the year in Michigan. The bag limit for this species is 25 fish per day.

6) American gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)

American gizzard shad in hand
During the spring and summer months, the American gizzard shad breeding season takes place, with females mating with multiple males. Sammie Alexander / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Shad are small, silver fish and important prey species for larger predatory fish. They are laterally compressed or flattened vertically with a trailing ray on their dorsal fin. Juveniles have a large, black dot near their gill covers that fades with age. This species is usually found in freshwater habitats, although some populations are in saltwater and freshwater. For these populations, the shad spends most of their time in the saltwater and migrates to freshwater rivers to spawn.

The breeding season for this species occurs in the spring and summer months. Females mate with multiple males and do not perform parental care. Due to their abundance and small size, shad are important prey species for larger predatory fish. Juvenile shads are especially important for developing sport fish. As juveniles, shad diets consist of zooplankton and filtered organic material.

The hand netting season for this species runs from March 1st to May 31st. They may also be harvested using a dip net from March 20th to May 31st. Additionally, the spear and bow fishing season for American gizzard shad is open year-round in Michigan. There is no bag limit for gizzard shad.

7) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Largemouth bass
At Lake St. Clair, the largemouth bass you catch must be at least 14 inches long. Dominic / CC BY 4.0

Native to parts of North America

The largemouth bass is one of the United States’ most well-known and commercially important sportfish. While the smallmouth bass maxes out at around 27 inches (69 cm), the largemouth bass can reach sizes of up to 38 inches (97 cm). As a result, they are often stocked throughout the United States in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs for angling. Like the smallmouth bass, this species constructs large nests, and the males will protect the nest after spawning in the spring.

Largemouth bass often co-occur with gar and muskellunge because these species prefer weedy habitats. As a result, largemouth bass will hide amongst submerged vegetation to ambush unsuspecting prey items like these other hunters. Such prey items might include other fish, amphibians, leeches, insects, small mammals, and birds.

Largemouth bass tend to occupy shallow nearshore areas during spawning and feeding. During the winter, a boat will be required to find largemouth bass hiding in deeper waters. Anglers can use a variety of baits and lures to catch one. Anglers may fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass at Lake St. Clair from June 3rd to December 31st. The combined bag limit for these species is five fish, with a minimum size limit of 14 inches (36 cm).

8) Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Walleye in hand
Walleyes have sharp teeth that they use to primarily eat fish, but also invertebrates, mammals, and amphibians. brendanboyd / CC BY 4.0

Native to the US and Canada

The walleye is a significant commercial and recreational fish. Historically, walleye were the dominant predator in the Lake St. Clair Great Lakes region, but invasive species changed the habitat in the region, and walleye began to disappear. For example, zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) were introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1980s from Africa through ship ballast water. They swiftly colonized the region, transforming ecosystems and destroying submerged pipes.

Thanks to their large eyes, they are well adapted to their nocturnal lifestyle and visual hunting strategy. They also possess an arsenal of sharp teeth, facilitating their carnivorous diet. Walleyes are primarily piscivorous but are known to eat invertebrates, amphibians, and even small mammals.

This delicious fish is highly sought after by sport fishers and anglers looking to catch one can use various fishing tactics. The fishing season for Walleye at Lake St. Clair lasts from May 15th to March 15th, with a 15-inch (38 cm) minimum size limit. Therefore, the maximum number of fish that can be harvested daily is five.

9) Crappies (Pomoxis spp.)

Black crappie
Black crappies prefer clear water and abundant vegetation, whereas white crappies have more generalist habitat preferences. Mathew Zappa / CC BY 4.0

Native to eastern North America

Crappies may be small, but they are very popular sport fish, nonetheless. There are two species native to Lake St. Clair, the black crappie (P. nigromaculatus) and the white crappie (P. annularis).

The two species differ in coloration, which is the primary way to tell them apart. The white crappie has a silver coloration with black bars, and the black crappie has an abundance of dark spots along the body, which gives this species an overall darker appearance. Black and white crappies also have different habitat preferences. Black crappies prefer clear water and areas with abundant submerged vegetation, whereas white crappies have a more generalist habitat preference.

Both species are predators that hunt for small fish and invertebrates at dawn and dusk. White crappies lay their eggs on aquatic vegetation, while black crappies are nest spawners. Male black crappies construct a nest in the sediment of a water body for females to deposit their eggs. Males exhibit short periods of parental care, protecting eggs laid by females in the male’s nest for around five days.

Crappies are easy to catch while still making an exciting catch. The bag limit for all sunfish combined is 25 fish per day.

10) European carp (Cyprinus carpio)

European carp in net
The European carp is considered to be an ecological nuisance and sportfishing pest, so there are no catch limits at Lake St. Clair. Davio / CC BY 4.0

Native to Eurasia and northern Africa

Zebra mussels are not the only invasive species present in the Great Lakes. The European carp, also known as the common carp, is another invader from Eurasia and northern Africa. In the 1800s, European carp made their way worldwide, landing on every continent except Antarctica. Humans introduced them to new freshwater bodies as commercial food fish. Their introduction was a success in some areas, but there were more desirable recreational and commercial fishes in North America, so the introduction was primarily a failure. The non-native carp proliferated without any pressure from predators in their introduced range. Now, European carp can be found in nearly every state except Alaska.

This species is omnivorous, consuming both plants and small invertebrates. In search of food, it digs up gravel beds and uproots native plants, converting otherwise clear streams into murky messes that are unsuitable habitats for many native species. Habitat conversion disrupts local ecosystems by destroying habitats and eliminating food sources for native species.

In addition to being an ecological nuisance, the European carp is considered a sportfishing pest since they are so easy to catch, and anglers would instead hook a largemouth bass or a pike. Therefore, there is no limit on European carp at Lake St. Clair.

11) Pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus)

Caught pumpkinseed
Pumpkinseeds are tiny sunfish, with an average length of 3 inches and a maximum length of 15! Dimitǎr Boevski / CC BY 4.0

Native to parts of North America

The pumpkinseed is one of the jewels of the Great Lakes. This stunning, tiny sunfish sports an iridescent blue and orange coloration. This sunfish is smaller than most other sunfish, with a maximum length of 15 inches (38 cm) and an average length of 3 inches (7.6 cm). While they are not large enough to make a good meal, they are almost always an exciting catch, given their vibrant colors.

They almost exclusively consume invertebrates and snails. In areas where they are introduced, they adversely affect invertebrate populations and readily hybridize with other sunfish.

The pumpkinseed spawns in the spring and the summer. First, like the largemouth and smallmouth basses, the males will construct and guard a nest. Then, over the next 3 – 5 days, the male will tirelessly protect and care for the eggs until they hatch.

The bag limit for all sunfish combined is 25 fish per day.

12) Northern pike (Esox lucius)

Man holding northern pike
A variety of bait can be used to catch northern pike, such as live fish or locally available baitfish. Scott Harris / CC BY 4.0

Native to the US and Canada

As far as pikes go, the northern pike is probably the first that comes to the minds of most anglers. This large, predatory fish is native to the Great Lakes but has been introduced to waters outside its native range because of its popularity as a sportfish. Additionally, the northern pike hybridizes with the Muskellunge, which can lead to some competing interests in sports fisheries.

Northern pikes are aggressive piscivores and ambush predators that hide amongst dense vegetation to ambush their prey. They are common in cold water lakes and reservoirs and migrate to streams to spawn. Eggs are broadcast over weed beds between March and May. During this breeding season, it is best to target northern pike in streams and shorelines; otherwise, they are commonly found near areas with dense submerged vegetation. They are incredibly aggressive and possess sharp teeth, so care should be taken when handling them.

White or yellow lures work best for northern pike, and anglers can use a variety of bait, including live fish like small sunfish, suckers, or locally available baitfish. Anglers may harvest up to 5 northern pike with a length greater than 24 inches (61 cm). An additional five fish may be taken if they are between 15 and 24 inches (38 and 61 cm) in length. The fishing season for the northern pike at Lake St. Clair lasts from March 15th to May 15th.

13) Eyetail bowfin (Amia ocellicauda)

Eyetail bowfin in hand
The eyetail bowfin presumably has similar habitat and diet requirements as the bowfin, but more research is needed. Jason Puma / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Until recently, the genus Amia only contained one extant species known as the bowfin (Amia calva). This ancient group, known as “living fossils,” is evolutionarily significant and allows researchers to study relationships between extinct and extant groups of fish. They are vital because this group of fish diverged from others before a genome duplication event that occurred millions of years ago. Using DNA evidence, A. calva was split into two species, and a previously described species, A. ocellicauda was resurrected.

The diet and habitat requirements of A. ocellicauda are presumably very similar to that of the bowfin (A. calva), although most research may improve our understanding of this new species. The eyetail bowfin possesses a distinct spot on its caudal fin. Unfortunately, A. calva may also possess a similar spot, although it is less distinct than the eyetail bowfin.

The hand netting season for this species runs from March 1st to May 31st. Bowfin may also be harvested using a dip net from March 20th to May 31st.

14) Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)

Group of lake sturgeon
Lake sturgeon are considered endangered by the IUCN and therefore the harvesting of this species is strictly regulated in Michigan and other states. Engbretson, Eric, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the US and Canada

The lake sturgeon is a true giant at a remarkable 8 feet (2.5 m) long and with a maximum weight of 208 pounds (94 kg). They are long-lived fish, capable of living for over 100 years. One source reports a lake sturgeon over 150 years old. Like the bowfin, although not in the same group of fish, lake sturgeon belongs to an ancient group of fishes and is relative to the endangered paddlefish. Lake sturgeon have boney scutes and a heterocercal tail, typical characteristics of ancient fish lineages. This species can be found along the bottom of water bodies, where they use their sensitive barbels to search for benthic organisms in the substrate.

The IUCN Red List considers sturgeon among Earth’s most endangered groups. Loss of habitat, particularly spawning grounds, has resulted in a severe reduction in lake sturgeon populations. Due to their rarity and conservation concerns, the harvest of lake sturgeon is strictly regulated in Michigan. The season for this species lasts from March 16th to July 15th, but anglers may only have fish in their possession from July 16th to September 30th. Only fish between 42 and 50 inches (107 and 127 cm) may also be kept. Anglers must report lake sturgeon harvests online at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website or via phone.

15) White bass (Morone chrysops)

White bass in hand
If you want to catch white bass, it’s recommended to use flies, spinners, or miniature plugs. moxostoma / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Despite sharing a familiar name with the black basses (genus Micropterus), white bass belongs to a different family entirely. Instead, they belong to a group known as the temperate basses, which contains select fish species in the family Moronidae. Comparatively, black basses belong to the family Centrarchidae. This species is stouter than other temperate basses and is silver with several horizontal black stripes. The average length for white bass is around 12.5 inches (32 cm).

White bass can be found in deep, clear water where they hunt for invertebrates and fish, mainly native shad species like the American gizzard shad (D. cepedianum). Additionally, temperate basses are scattered spawners and do not make a nest. Instead, they congregate in large groups, migrating upstream to swift streams before mating. Once in spawning territory, females release thousands of sticky eggs that settle in the substrate.

Flies, spinners, and miniature plugs are great for anglers to catch this species. Anglers may harvest white bass throughout the year in Michigan and collect up to 25 fish daily.

16) White perch (Morone americana)

Caught white perch
Despite its name, the white perch is not actually a true perch but a temperate bass. Clara Dandridge / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Like the white bass, the white perch is not a true perch. Instead, it belongs to the family Moronidae, the temperate basses. They are lightly colored fish with a dusky caudal fin and nearly white bellies. They are very similar to the white bass, another temperate bass species, but white perch, unlike their close relatives, lack any stripes. White perches inhabit large bodies of water, such as lakes, impoundments, and estuaries.

Like other temperate basses, the white perch is a scatter spawner that provides no parental care for its offspring. Typically, fish in the family Moronidae migrate to their spawning grounds, often from brackish habitats to freshwater streams, but the white perch does not need to make this migration. Each adult female releases between 20 and 50 thousand eggs over spawning territory. Young white perch are especially susceptible to predation, but the largest piscivores only hunt adults.

There are no harvest regulations for white perch.

17) Yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)

Yellow bullhead in hands
Yellow bullheads are tolerant of pollution, which makes them highly adaptable in human environments. Alina Martin / CC BY 4.0

Native to the US and Canada

Yellow bullheads are among the most common bullheads in North America. As a result, these small catfish species are often accidentally caught by anglers looking for larger species. Yellow bullheads are dark olive on their dorsal surface and have light-yellow bellies. One pair of downward-facing whiskers are dusky colored, whereas the others are lightly colored. On average, yellow bullhead is around 8.8 inches (22.4 cm) in length.

Yellow bullhead can be found in rivers and lakes with calm water and soft substrates like mud, sand, or vegetation. Yellow bullheads are also pollution-tolerant, making them excellent at adapting to human environments. It hunts for small insects, mollusks, and crustaceans such as clams and crabs.

The spear and bow fishing season for bullheads (Ameiurus spp.) is open year-round in Michigan.

18) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Caught channel catfish
In Michigan, 10 channel catfish can be caught per day, as long as they are at least 12 inches in length. Hayes Valentine / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Whereas the yellow bullhead is a catfish caught accidentally, their much larger cousin, the channel catfish, is one of the most sought-after sportfish in the United States. The yellow bullhead has a square tail, while the channel catfish has a forked tail. Channel cats are also much larger than bullheads, around 10 – 20 inches (25 to 51 cm) on average.

The channel catfish thrives in clear streams and can tolerate turbid water. They also can survive in brackish water. Young channel catfish have the typical invertebrate diet seen in other catfish species. The adults consume various prey items. Channel catfish reproduction is temperature-dependent and is initiated when the water temperature reaches at least 75 °F (23.9 °C). When temperatures are favorable, male channel catfish construct a nesting area for females to lay their eggs. Males protect and care for the eggs until they hatch.

The National Parks Service suggests using live fish and nightcrawlers to catch channel cats. The fishing season for channel catfish is open year-round in Michigan, and anglers may harvest up to 10 fish that are at least 12 inches (30 cm) in length.

19) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Person holding smallmouth bass
Smallmouth bass tend to be found close to rocky beaches or gravel beds. Matt Berger / CC BY 4.0

Native to the US and Canada

If you are searching for a great smallmouth bass fishery, Lake St. Clair is one of them! This big sunfish is a common catch in lakes and rivers throughout most of the United States, thanks to intentional introductions as sportfish stock. They are native to water bodies east of Montana in the United States. Smallmouth bass are solidly greenish-gray and have striking red eyes. Their mouths do not extend past the farthest edge of their eyes, whereas the mouths of largemouth bass do.

Anglers can expect to catch smallmouth bass along rocky beaches and gravel beds. They are voracious predators and will consume most types of bait. This species will construct nests during the springtime spawning season to protect their eggs. Male smallmouth bass will protect the eggs until they hatch and can often easily be seen during this period. Some sources recommend targeting these protective males or using them as a clue that other smallmouth bass are in the area.

From May to June, smallmouth bass guard their nests and may be more challenging to catch. Therefore, anglers may fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass at Lake St. Clair from June 3rd to December 31st. The combined bag limit for these species is five fish, with a minimum size limit of  44 inches (36 cm).

20) Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Freshwater drum
Freshwater drums can be large fish, with a possible maximum weight of 50 lbs. brendanboyd / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Freshwater drums can be found even when fishing is slow. They are not bony fish, but their filets are not remarkable either. They are perch-like, silvery fish with a rounded caudal fin. This trait can help distinguish them from perches, which usually possess slightly forked caudal fins. A defining characteristic of the freshwater drum is a complete lateral line extending into its caudal fin. This species can be rather large and achieve a maximum weight of around 50 pounds (23 kg).

The most striking feature of the freshwater drum is its unusual teeth which look like a series of molars and are specially designed to crack open sturdy mollusk shells. These teeth are not uncommon in other fish species, but they are particularly pronounced in freshwater drums. In addition, this species can produce a deep, throaty noise that they use to scare off predators and communicate. This action is possible because they have particular muscles to vibrate their swim bladder.

They are bottom dwellers and eat similar prey as catfish, which can be of a similar size. Their bottom-feeding diet includes insects, fish, crayfish, and mollusks. Freshwater drums enjoy slow currents in deep reservoirs and lakes. Spawning occurs in schools annually from late spring to early summer. Thousands of offspring are produced in one spawning event and are left to fend for themselves in the open water.

The spear and bow fishing season for freshwater drum is open year-round in Michigan.

Keyla P
About the author

Keyla P

I have a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources focusing on Wildlife Ecology and a minor in Entomology. I am also an award-winning student researcher with five years of experience with wildlife-related research.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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