List of Common Menominee River Fish Species [Updated]
The Menominee River begins in Michigan where the Brule and Michigamme Rivers merge into one body of water. Spanning about 116 miles long, the Menominee River creates much of the Michigan-Wisconsin state border. Along its southbound journey, the river drains many forested areas in northern Wisconsin, and the river eventually empties into the Green Bay of Lake Michigan.
The Menominee River has a deep history starting with the Menominee tribe. The Menominee people believe that their creation started at the mouth of the Menominee River, when an ancestral bear arose from the soil and was turned into the first Menominee human by their Creator. The Menominee Tribe has resided at the mouth of the river for centuries, relying on the growth of rice for much of that time. Today, the Menominee are the only active, native tribe in Wisconsin; however, the Menominee Tribe, river, and wildlife are all currently under threat.
Recently, a mining project called Back 40 has been proposed, and this project would involve using cyanide in a pit sulfide mine to extract metals. One of the biggest concerns for this project is that the use of acid mining will leach harmful metals into the groundwater as well as the Menominee River, which poses a threat to people and wildlife. Another concern comes from Native American tribes, including the Menominee Tribe, which is that the mining will desecrate burial grounds and other sacred sites.
Overall, there is a huge push from organizations like the Coalition to Save the Menominee, Inc. to stop the Back 40 Mining Project from moving forward in an effort to save the people, the water, and the inhabitants of the water including many species of fish. Below are the most common species of fish in the Menominee River that may be affected by acid mining.
List of Fish Species in the Menominee River
1) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
Smallmouth bass are found throughout the Menominee River around structures like logs or debris in the water where the water currents break. Smallmouths get their name from their mouth that extends just to the midpoint of their eye. These fish are an olive-green color with vertical bands on the side of the body, and these bands fade with age.
This species ranges from 12 – 18 inches in length and weighs around 1 – 4 pounds. Smallmouth bass are ferocious hunters and will eat crayfish, insects, and other fish. Due to their eagerness to bite and the strong fight these fish exhibit, anglers love to catch this species in the Menominee River.
2) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Largemouth bass are less abundant and popular than smallmouths in the Menominee River, but they can still be found in areas with slower-moving water and coverings. Largemouth bass get their name from their mouth, which extends past the eye, unlike smallmouths. Largemouth bass have olive-green bodies with dark mottling along the back and speckles along the sides.
This species has an average length of 13 inches and will generally weigh less than 5 pounds, although the largest largemouth ever recorded was 22 pounds and 4 ounces. Largemouths are carnivores that primarily feed on crayfish but will also eat other fish and insects. Much like smallmouth bass, anglers love the thrill of catching this energetic and strong species.
3) Rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris)
Rock bass can be found in clear, rocky, or sandy areas of the Menominee River that have plenty of vegetation to hide in. This species has an ombre body going from a dark green back and lightening all the way to a whitish-green or yellow belly. These fish also have unique dark spots on each body scale, and they have bright red eyes.
Rock bass are generally a bit smaller than other bass as they only get around 6 – 10 inches long and will hardly ever weigh over a pound. This species has a very large mouth, which they use to feed on vegetation, crustaceans, insects, and small fish; however, males will stop eating altogether during spawning season while they guard their nest of eggs.
4) Northern pike (Esox lucius)
Northern pike are another popular sport fish in Wisconsin, and they can be found near dams in the Menominee River where the water is deep, cold, and rocky. This species is characterized by torpedo-shaped bodies that are dark green or brown in color and covered in light spots.
Northern pike grow to about 15 – 25 inches long and weigh around 2 – 5 pounds. They also have pointed mouths that contain many sharp teeth that are pointed backward to ensure a tight grip on prey. Due to the structure of their body, northern pike prove to be vicious predators and will wait motionless until the right moment comes to lunge and eat other fish, frogs, crayfish, small mammals, and birds.
5) Walleye (Sander vitreus)
Walleye use the Menominee River as spawning grounds, and in the springtime, a massive walleye run attracts fishers to the river. Walleye get their name from their big, glassy pupils, and their eyes look like this due to a reflective layer on the inner eye called the tapetum lucidum, which helps walleye see prey in times of low visibility. This species is characterized by a brownish-green body that fades to a cream belly complete with dark horizontal lines.
Walleye average about 11 pounds and can grow up to 30 inches, which makes them a highly desirable sport fish. In the Menominee River, walleye were so popular that populations began to dwindle, so in 2021, over 9,000 walleye were added to the river in hopes to restore the population.
6) Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)
Lake sturgeon prefer to live in temperate river bottoms, and the Menominee River is home to the largest remaining population of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes region. Lake sturgeon have long, slender bodies covered in grayish-brown bony plates. They also have a long snout and toothless mouth with barbels and sucking lips that help them eat insects, snails, and other items off of the bottom of the river.
Despite being a crucial habitat for lake sturgeon, the Menominee River now only supports about 1,200 adult lake sturgeon, and this decline is in part due to the creation of hydroelectric dams throughout the river. Because lake sturgeon are having a hard time getting to spawning areas in the river due to the dams, scientists have created “fish elevators” at these sites that allow fisheries to analyze the lake sturgeon swimming to the dam and release them upstream to spawn.
7) Spotted muskellunge (Esox masquinongy masquinongy)
Spotted muskellunge, more commonly known as spotted muskies, are a population of muskies that are found in the Great Lakes region. These types of muskies can be found in the lower Menominee River in areas where the water is very clear and slow-moving. These fish have darker green or brownish backs that fade to light green sides and a whitish belly. Spotted muskies are known for their darker spotted pattern across their body as well as having pointed tips on the caudal fin.
Muskies are the largest of the pike family, and they can reach about 30 – 40 inches long and weigh 10 – 20 pounds on average, although they can reach up to 70 pounds in certain waters. These fish have jaws lined with long, sharp teeth, and the roof of their mouths are covered in smaller curved teeth. They also have excellent vision both during the day and at night. With these factors combined, muskies make for top predators that eat a number of larger fish species.
8) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Black crappies inhabit impoundments created by dams throughout the Menominee River where the water is slow, deeper, and clear. Black crappies have compressed bodies that are darker green on the back with dark mottling on the silvery sides. They also have 7 – 8 spines on their dorsal fins, which distinguishes them from white crappies, which have 5 – 6 spines.
This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, so the males tend to be larger and darker than the females. Black crappies typically grow to about 8 – 12 inches long and weigh 0.25 – 1 pounds. These fish are able to see relatively well in the dark, so they will generally hunt during the night or early morning for small fish, crustaceans, and insects.
9) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)
Yellow perch, also simply known as just perch, are found throughout Menominee River watersheds where there are clear, temperate waters. Perch can live in areas with low oxygen content; however, they will not be able to survive in waters with higher turbidity. This species is known for its golden yellow to greenish body covered in 6 – 8 dark vertical bars. These fish have yellow or green eyes and orange-red tinted fins.
Yellow perch generally grow to about 7 – 10 inches long and weigh around a pound, although this species is prone to having stunted growth in areas where food is limited. When food is abundant, adults will feed on the bottom of the river with their subterminal mouth, and they will search for items such as benthic macroinvertebrates as well as smaller fish.
10) Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
Pumpkinseeds can be found throughout the Menominee River in areas where the water is clear, warmer, and has lots of vegetation to hide in. This species has a disc-shaped body that is speckled with olive green, blue, orange, and yellow, and they have orange and blue waves running across their faces.
These fish average about 5 – 8 inches long and weigh around 8 – 12 ounces, although they are subject to stunted growth, much like yellow perch. These fish are active during the day and will feed on insects, larvae, mollusks, snails, crustaceans, leeches, small fish, and detritus. At night, pumpkinseeds will rest near the bottom of the river or in vegetation, so they will not be spotted by predators.
11) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Bluegills can be found all around the Menominee River where waters are very slow. Bluegills have disk-shaped bodies with an olive-green back, an orangish-yellow belly, and a black dot at the base of the dorsal fin. These fish get their name from the bluish hue surrounding the gill covers. Bluegill average around 7.5 inches in length, and weigh around half a pound as adults.
These fish have very little mouths, so they will only eat smaller prey such as zooplankton, insects, worms, and snails. Bluegills are a main source of food for many larger fish such as largemouth bass, so they have adapted to be maneuverable. For instance, this species can make very quick stops by spreading out their pectoral fins.
12) White sucker (Catostomus commersonii)
White suckers are found in colder, clear waters of Menominee River watersheds. These fish have long, round bodies with dark brown or green backs, cream bellies, and clear fins. When males are breeding, they will gain a gold coloration on their backs as well as reddish stripes on their sides.
This species has a large size range, but adults typically grow to about 10 inches long and weigh about 1 – 5 pounds. White suckers have a unique mouth that is subterminal, toothless, and contains thick lips. With this mouth, they feed on the bottom of the water and suck up anything like fish, fish eggs, plants, mollusks, insects, and algae.
13) Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)
The freshwater drum, also known as sheepshead, resides mainly near the mouth of the Menominee River in slack currents. They are characterized by their silver bodies with a lateral line that extends all the way through their caudal fin. Freshwater drums average about 10 – 14 inches long, and they get their name from the drumming or croaking noise males can make with a specific muscle in their body to attract mates.
Freshwater drums are benthic creatures and inhabit water with silty or rocky bottoms. They have large teeth that help them eat a variety of prey off the bottom of the river including snails, insects, small fish, and mussels.
14) Brown trout (Salmo trutta)
Brown trout are a common sport fish in the lower Menominee River and they prefer to live in slow-moving water. This species has a brown or olive green body with dark-colored spots, and their undersides are tannish. Adult brown trout range from about 7 – 22 inches in length and weigh anywhere from 1 – 5 pounds. Female brown trout tend to have a larger abdomen and a smaller head compared to males.
Brown trout primarily feed on invertebrates and crustaceans, but larger individuals will prey on other fish. Brown trout have been introduced to waters all over the world, but their stocks have seen a major decline since the early 2000s in Wisconsin. Fortunately, efforts have been made to increase the population, and now fishers can see an increase in the number of brown trout in the Menominee River.
15) Brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)
Brown bullheads are found near impoundments in the Menominee River where water is slow-moving and contains vegetation. Brown bullheads are a type of catfish that have dark brown, scaleless skin. The head of the brown bullhead is a solid color, but the trunk has dark mottling. Brown bullheads average around 8 – 14 inches long and weigh 1 – 3 pounds.
This species also has eight barbels on its head that sense touch and chemical stimuli. They use these barbels along with their terminal mouths and tiny teeth to feed on insects, small fish, fish eggs, mollusks, plants, leeches, worms, and crayfish on the bottom of the river.
16) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Channel catfish are found more towards the northern areas of the Menominee River, and they can be found living near woody drift piles and other covered areas. Like all catfish, the channel catfish does not have scales and has barbels on the upper and lower jaw; however, the channel catfish can be distinguished by its deeply forked tail, silvery body, and overbite.
Channel catfish can be differentiated from bullheads by their tails. Bullheads will have square tails, whereas catfish have forked tails. Channel catfish also tend to live in murkier water, so their barbels come in handy when hunting for snails, fishes, snakes, frogs, insects, aquatic plants, and even birds.
17) European carp (Cyprinus carpio)
European carp, also known as common carp, are found throughout the Menominee River, and they prefer to be in warmer, slower-moving water with muddy bottoms, although they can adapt to a variety of environments. Common carp are not native to North America, but in the late 1800s, common carp were introduced to the United States by immigrants from Europe who wanted to be able to continue eating these fish when they came to the county.
This species has a sturdy body with a bronze or green back and whitish sides. They have large scales and two pairs of barbels on their upper jaw that can help them find food. These fish also have a unique way of eating. When finding food, common carp suck up mud from the bottom of the river and expel it from their mouths so that they can selectively feed on particles that are suspended in the water.