List of Fish Species in Moosehead Lake 2023 [Updated]

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Moosehead Lake
Moosehead Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, spanning about 118 square miles! Dana Moos / CC BY 2.0

Located in central Maine, Moosehead Lake is known for its unique shape that resembles the head of a moose. Moosehead Lake was created during the most recent ice age along with over a thousand other bodies of water in the Moosehead Lake region.

This lake spans about 118 square miles with a maximum depth of 246 feet, and it is considered to be one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States. The shores are surrounded by dense forests and mountain ranges including Mt. Kineo, and the lake’s pristine beauty has attracted both visitors and wildlife who now call the lake home.

Moosehead Lake’s popularity increased in the early 1900s when people found this location to be a serene escape from the crowded and lively city in the summertime. By the mid-1900s, Moosehead Lake was involved in the logging industry, and it was filled with steamboats transporting large amounts of wood across the lake. Presently, Moosehead Lake is still involved with the forest products industry, and it is enjoyed by locals and tourists from across the country who find comfort in its beauty.

The popularity of this region, however, has posed a threat to local wildlife due to the desire to develop more communities, which would result in land loss. While this conservation issue is still being debated, the Land Use Planning Commission is looking at a Draft Moosehead Region Planning Packaging that would still allow for township development but would decrease the amount of development that was originally planned, allowing both economic growth for the region while encouraging conservation.

Despite the conservation threats to the Moosehead Lake region, the lake and surrounding areas are still inhabited by many thriving species including warblers, loons, moose, deer, and hundreds of other woodland species that attract wildlife spotting and birding enthusiasts. The lake also attracts people who fish from all over the country year-round since the lake is inhabited by more than 15 species of fish. Below are the most common species of fish found in Moosehead Lake.

List of Fish Species in Moosehead Lake

1) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Caught smallmouth bass
Smallmouth bass are a popular sport fish thanks to their aggressive nature when feeding. G Key / No copyright

Native to North America

Smallmouth bass typically weigh around 2 – 3 pounds as adults in Maine. This species is a green-brown color, and its upper jaw does not extend past its eye, unlike the largemouth bass. These fish prefer cooler, clear water ranging from 58 – 72°F and can feed upon anything from fish to frogs and bugs. Smallmouth bass are a popular sport fishing species due to the species’ aggressive nature when feeding, and while smallmouth bass are frequently caught in Moosehead Lake as well as other areas throughout Maine, this species is not native to the state.

Smallmouth bass were introduced to certain waters in Maine in the late 1800s as a source of food and sport. Since then, the species has made its way into waters throughout the state. What makes these fish able to survive so well in non-native habitats is that male smallmouth bass guard their eggs and juveniles from predators. In Moosehead Lake, smallmouth bass have a very large population and are harmful to native species of salmonids if the population is left unchecked, so there are no regulations for the amount of smallmouth bass a fisher can take from the lake.

2) Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

Lake trout fish
At Moosehead Lake, only 5 lake trout can be caught per day. Louis Imbeau / CC BY 4.0

Native to northern North America and Canada

Lake trout, also known as togue, are a cold-water species and prefer to live in deeper waters. This species is the largest freshwater species in Maine, with individuals averaging 18 – 24 inches in length and 2 – 4 pounds in weight; however, togue are long-living species that can easily live over 20 years, so older individuals can reach over 30 inches and over 10 pounds. With its great size, togue are able to prey on other game species such as bass and perch, and some adults have even been found to prey upon smaller individuals of their own species.

Togue can be identified by their elongated bodies, creamy white spots, and forked tail, and they are a common ice-fishing species at Moosehead Lake, although fishers are able to find them year-round. The population of togue at Moosehead Lake is not as abundant as other bodies of water in Maine, so there is a regulation in place that only allows fishers to catch five fish per day, and only one togue caught can be larger than 18 inches.

3) Eastern brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

Brook trout in river
Eastern brook trout in Moosehead Lake tend to be 14 – 17 inches in length. Evan M. Raskin / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

The eastern brook trout prefers clean, well-oxygenated, cooler waters between 50 – 65°F. This species is greatly affected by their environment, so the sizes of individuals vary, but a study found that individuals in Moosehead Lake average around 14 – 17 inches in length. These fish will prey upon aquatic insects and smaller fish.

During the spring and fall, eastern brook trout can be found near the shore, and they are found in deeper waters during the summer and winter. This species can be distinguished from other trout by dark wavy lines on their backs and white edges on their fins. Because eastern brook trout are impacted by non-native species like bass, brook trout populations are regulated in Moosehead Lake. Currently, the regulation is a one-fish limit with a minimum length of 14 inches, and all brook trout between 18 and 22 inches must be released alive.

4) Landlocked Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar sebago)

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon
Landlocked Atlantic salmon spend their entire lives in freshwater with temperatures below 65°F. Frank Sengpiel / CC BY 4.0

Native to the Northeast United States

Landlocked salmon get their name because they complete their whole life cycle in freshwater, unlike sea-run salmon. Landlocked salmon are found in colder waters that are below 65°F, and they average about 16 – 18 inches and 1 – 2 pounds. This species can be identified by its silvery body and black markings along the back, and during spawning season in mid-October to late November, males develop a hooked jaw called a kype.

Landlocked salmon primarily feed on rainbow smelt, so it is crucial that smelt populations are abundant in order for the landlocked salmon to survive. Moosehead Lake, as well as other areas of Maine, are very popular salmon fisheries, so the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is constantly changing regulations to improve the balance of smelt and landlocked salmon in the state. At Moosehead Lake, the current regulation is a limit of one salmon daily, and from April 1 – April 30, there is an added regulation that enforces the live release of any salmon caught.

5) Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax)

Rainbow smelt in hand
Rainbow smelt are small, silvery fish that are an important source of food for landlocked salmon. Marcus Rosten / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America, Europe, and Asia

Rainbow smelt are a cold-water species, and they can get to about 6 – 8 inches long. These smaller fish are silvery with a green back and iridescent sides. At Moosehead Lake, smelt nurseries can be found in the Moose River and Brassua Lake, which supply the larger fish species in Moosehead Lake with a valuable food source.

Landlocked salmon are especially in need of smelt, so with low smelt populations come low salmon populations and/or smaller and less fatty salmon. Scientists often study the smelt populations at Moosehead Lake because this landlocked salmon population is highly dependent on the amount of smelt available.

6) Burbot (Lota lota)

Burbot fish
There are no fishing regulations for burbot at Moosehead Lake, as they’re not considered to be a major sport fish in Maine. darfio / CC BY-SA 4.0

Native to Canada and the northern United States

Burbot, commonly known as cusk, is a cold-water species that generally grows up to about 24 inches and 3.5 pounds by the time an individual lives 13 years. Burbot are unique due to their unusual spawning habits. This species spawns in pairs or large groups under the ice during winter, and instead of laying eggs in nests, the eggs are simply dispersed along the bottom of a body of water. Once mature, burbot can be identified by their tan to dark brown, long, slimy-appearing body riddled with dark spots and completed with a single chin barbel.

In Moosehead Lake, burbot are found to primarily prey on smelt and crayfish; however, they are opportunistic predators, so they will feed on other fish, insects, and invertebrates, too. This species also feeds at night, so fishers who are interested in catching them often go night ice fishing. Currently, burbot are not considered a major sport-fish in Maine, so there are no fishing regulations in place for this species.

7) White perch (Morone americana)

Caught white perch
White perch were introduced to Moosehead Lake in 1984 but are not considered to be a major sport fish. Steve DeGrace / CC BY 4.0

Native to northeastern North America

White perch were introduced to Moosehead Lake in 1984. This species averages 8 – 12 inches long and generally weighs 0.5 pounds. Characterized by their large scales, spiny fins, and gray-green to silver gradient, white perch like to inhabit moderate temperature water with silty or sandy bottoms.

White perch are opportunistic foragers that will feed on macroinvertebrates, crustaceans, and fish eggs including their own eggs. While the species is fished at Moosehead Lake, it is not considered to be a major sport fish.

8) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)

Caught yellow perch
Yellow perch prefer clear waters that have a moderate temperature. mayessj / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Yellow perch were introduced to Moosehead Lake in the mid-1950s. This species averages about 6 – 12 inches and weighs 0.25 – 1 pounds. This species of fish has yellow-green sides and a green back and head, and the body displays 6 – 8 large, dark vertical bands.

Yellow perch prefer moderate-temperature waters that are very clear, and they are able to adapt to low-oxygenated waters. Yellow perch juveniles use their gill rakers to feed on zooplankton, and as they grow, these fish will feed on benthic macroinvertebrates. Like the white perch, yellow perch are also fished at Moosehead Lake, but it is not a major attraction for fishers.

9) Pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus)

Pumpkinseed sunfish in hand
Pumpkinseed sunfish are a great species for beginners to catch, as they will enthusiastically bite down on any bait that looks like food. moxostoma / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Pumpkinseed sunfish range from about 6 – 10 inches in Maine, and they weigh under a pound. This species has a disc-shaped body that is speckled with olive green, blue, orange, and yellow, and orange and blue waves run across the face.

Pumpkinseeds prefer moderate-temperature waters and will spawn only in warmer temperatures of about 68°F. These fish are opportunistic omnivores and will feed on anything from snails, worms, small fishes, and vegetation. Pumpkinseed fish are a favorite among beginner anglers because they are easy to catch due to the fish’s enthusiasm to bite down on any bait that looks like food.

10) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Group of rainbow trout
Rainbow trout in Maine can weigh up to 7 or 8 pounds and are usually 8 – 16 inches long. Alexander Williams / No copyright

Native to western North America

Rainbow trout caught in Maine are about 8 – 16 inches long and can get up to 7 – 8 pounds. This species varies in coloration, ranging from greenish to silver, but they are commonly identified by their pink or red band that runs laterally from their head to tail. Rainbow trout prefer cooler waters that range from 55 – 68°F, but they are able to adapt to warmer temperatures. They are typically found closer to the bottom of a body of water.

Rainbow trout are aggressive feeders that prey primarily on aquatic insects, but they will also eat anything from crustaceans and mollusks to amphibians and leeches, which allows for fishers to use a variety of lures to catch this species. While rainbow trout are found in Moosehead Lake, this species is only native to western North America. Because of its popularity, rainbow trout have been introduced to every continent except for Antarctica. Maine began periodically restocking rainbow trout populations in its waters starting in the 1930s.

11) Northern pike (Esox lucius)

Northern pike underwater
Northern pike are highly adaptable fish and can be found in many different types of water. Julien Renoult / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America and Eurasia

Northern pike range from 24 – 30 inches long and weigh 3.5 – 7.5 pounds once sexually mature, which is around 3 – 5 years of age. Northern pike have long, slender bodies that are dark green or brown with lighter colored spots. This species is incredibly adaptable to water temperatures, clarity, and oxygen content, so they can be spotted in many different types of water.

Northern pike are ferocious predators. They have a mouth full of sharp teeth and a powerful tail that allows them to easily catch prey, which mainly consists of fish as well as amphibians and even birds. Northern pike were illegally introduced to Maine’s Belgrade Chain of Lakes in the 1970s, and since then, the species made their way into many of Maine’s bodies of water including Moosehead Lake.

12) Round whitefish (Prosopium cylindraceum)

Person holding round whitefish
The round whitefish is not popular with fishers because of its small mouth and diet. LevPN, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to northern North America and northeastern Asia

Round whitefish are generally 10 – 14 inches long, and they can live for up to 8 years. This species is characterized by its cylindrical body that goes from a dark brown color on its back to silver on its sides, and its fins are typically a light orange color. In Maine, round whitefish are now only found in large, deep lakes, although there are a few populations that are found in rivers.

Round whitefish have very small and toothless mouths, so they primarily feed on zooplankton and midge larvae. Because of their small mouths and diet, fishers rarely catch this species. Fishers do still find round whitefish in Moosehead Lake, but the population seems to be dwindling much like lake whitefish which are now believed to be completely absent from Moosehead Lake.

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