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20 Freshwater Fish to Put on Your Catch and Eat Bucket List

Randall Bonner

If you’re a carnivore angler who enjoys putting your catch on the table and has an adventurous palate, you’ll want to explore some of these culinary options.

Looking to put something new on your hook and on the menu? Here’s a list of a few fish everyone should try at least in an effort to expand their horizons and their palate. Bon appetit!

Chinook or “King” Salmon

Fall Chinook Caught by Author
Fall Chinook Caught by Author

Although it’s an anadromous salmonid, this is top of the list for a reason. So flaky, so delicious, and the Spring run Chinook are probably the best table fare on the planet due to the extra fat they store for the journey upstream through low water obstacles. Personally, I like them best with a simple smoke, and don’t overthink your salmon brines, it’s all about the process.

Coho Salmon

babe
Ashley Nicole Lewis with a Columbia River Coho (Author pictured in background)

If Chinook are King Salmon, then Coho are the Queen of the salmonids. They have their own unique flavor and the color of the meat is brighter than their cousin species and maintains a unique color through the cooking process. Best served with lemon, butter, and dill.

Steelhead

MEAT
Some steelhead caught by the author after being pulled from the brine to dry

Steelhead are slightly lesser table fare to those who are avid anglers of salmonids, however they’re worthy of being at the top of the list when it comes to freshwater fish. Like their anadromous salmon counterparts, their ocean diet makes them a tasty treat when they return to the rivers. Although they are essentially a rainbow trout that has spent a majority of their life in saltwater, they are still much higher quality table fare than their lifelong freshwater kin, which can be attributed to their diet in the salt.

Walleye

TJ Hester of Hester's Sportfishing with a female that was released.
TJ Hester of Hester’s Sportfishing with a female that was released.

These top the list in terms of warm water species. Typically, the brooder females are spared, and the smaller males are released into grease if ya know what I mean…

Yellow Perch

RecordPerch
Tia Wiese’s world record perch caught in Idaho measured 15.5 inches long, with a 12.75-inch girth

Often called the “poor man’s walleye” the yellow perch is equally delicious table fare, but is more of a tapas plate than a feast, and takes a little more care to prepare. They are quickly becoming popular favorite farmed fish for aquaculture, and topped the list of underrated fish you should probably be eating.

Crappie

CrappieBDL
James “Big Daddy” Lawler of the radio broadcast “Gettin’ Outdoors” displays his personal favorite freshwater gamefish

Although yellow perch are a popular favorite, crappie are my personal favorite panfish. They have flaky filets and their picky diet shines through the flavors in their oily flesh.

Channel Catfish

Luke from CatsAndCarp.com
Luke from CatsAndCarp.com

As far as catfish species go, the channel cat is typically a chosen favorite by anglers and commercial fishermen alike. They’re easy to catch, and you can create your own bait with simple ingredients from the grocery store. They grow fast, and the 1-2lb range fish are the best quality table fare. A hybrid channel cat is typically the species grown by commercial farmers.

Brad Hole with a bucket of smelt
Brad Hole with a bucket of smelt

As a general rule, I would advise against eating “bait,” but smelt are an exception to this rule. Typically netted and not caught by hook and line, they are a popular favorite “baitfish” fit for table fare.

Mountain Whitefish

MountainWhitefishBobbyLoomisBanksLake
This Mountain Whitefish is a near record, caught in Banks Lake by Bob Loomis

Many salmon and steelhead anglers mistake this species for a “trash fish” without knowing it’s actually in the salmonid family. Although it does not possess the same pinkish-orange-reddish flesh, it has surprisingly palatable qualities.

Bluegill

Bluegill caught by author
Bluegill caught by author

“The Gateway Drug” for young anglers, this is the foundation where most of us got their start fishing. Probably the easiest fish to catch and one of the toughest to clean. Like just about anything else, they taste good battered and fried, but there’s a certain nostalgia to eating these fish that everyone should take part in at least once. While they aren’t top notch table fare, they really aren’t that bad. If I only had to pick two fish for this list, it’d be king salmon and bluegill, to capture both spectrums of salmonids and warmwater species.

Rainbow Trout

TroutCulinaryStyle

If you didn’t get your start with bluegill, it probably came from this species. One of the most popular farmed fish, they’re readily available at any grocery store, and there’s probably a hatchery that stocks a body of water near you. Given the proper attention it deserves, trout can be top quality table fare.

Striped Bass

Striper
Louis Russo with a striped bass caught from Lake Murray, SC

As far as bass go, this species makes for prime table fare. With large, flaky filets of white meat, this one takes the cake.

White Bass

White Bass Kanchic Yang
Kanchic Yang with the new Minnesota State Record White Bass

In the same way that yellow perch is the “poor man’s walleye” the white bass is the poor man’s striped bass. Hybrids of the two are commonly stocked for recreational anglers. White bass are also one of the more common farmed freshwater fish.

Tilapia

Tilapia

The only reason Tilapia belongs here is that everyone should try it at least once. This is the most basic freshwater farmed fish on the market, and even though the conditions it’s normally raised in are pretty poor, this common table fare fish is a good basis of comparison for those who have tried everything else. If you can catch and eat your own, more power to you.

“Wiper” Hybrid Bass

Angler Russel Nielson with Utah’s state-record wiper (Photo courtesy of KCSG News)
Angler Russel Nielson with Utah’s state-record wiper (Photo courtesy of KCSG News)

Perhaps the best of both worlds is the white bass x striped bass hybrid. A little beefier than a white bass, and a little more broad than the slender striper.

Northern Pike

Northern Pike Jake Hofer

Although notorious known for being bony fish, if you take the care to remove the “Y” bones, these are palatable table fare.

Gar

Gar Beka Garris
Photo courtesy of Beka Garris

Along with possessing the same “Y” bones as the Northern Pike, Gar have additional armor, making it difficult to reach the meat. However, by carefully cleaning them, you can open their armor, where tasty morsels are revealed.

Smallmouth Buffalo

Wide Open Spaces Writer Craig Phillips displays a Smallmouth Buffalo
Wide Open Spaces Writer Craig Phillips displays a Smallmouth Buffalo

Similar in appearance to carp, Wide Open Spaces writer Craig Phillips chose this species for his “Trash Fish or Treasure: 4 Fish You Should Stop Hating” list, because it’s actually one of the most common commercial fish sold in the United States.

Freshwater Drum

Photo via Empty Creel Fly Fishing
Photo via Empty Creel Fly Fishing

A freshwater version of the revered red drum or redfish, this close cousin is much smaller, but often overlooked as table fare.

Common Carp

Russell Wright holds a Common Carp for the camera
Russell Wright holds a Common Carp for the camera

Carp are not exactly the creme de la creme, but they are edible, and one of the most widely consumed fish worldwide. Once you’ve removed the mud vein and scored out the tastiest bits, it will hold it’s own when battered and fried.

NEXT: 5 TRENDS THAT WILL SHAPE FISHING IN 2017

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20 Freshwater Fish to Put on Your Catch and Eat Bucket List