Freshwater Fish Species

Table of Contents

An Overview

Welcome! This post is to help provide some basic information around many of the freshwater fish species that you will encounter in Canadian lakes, rivers, and streams.


Northern Pike

Northern pike (Esox lucius) is a species of carnivorous freshwater fish native to the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in North America and Eurasia.

Lifespan: Northern pike have an average lifespan of 7-10 years in the wild, although they can live up to 25 years in some cases.

Size: Northern pike are known for their elongated, torpedo-like bodies. Adult pike typically measure between 60-76 cm (24-30 inches) in length, but they can grow up to 150 cm (59 inches) in exceptional cases.

Weight: Adult Northern pike usually weigh between 1.4-3.2 kg (3-7 lbs). However, larger specimens can reach up to 25 kg (55 lbs).

Habitat: Northern pike inhabit a wide range of freshwater environments, including lakes, rivers, ponds, and reservoirs. They prefer cool, shallow, and vegetated waters, as these areas offer cover for ambushing prey and protection for their offspring.

Spawning: Northern pike spawn in the early spring, shortly after ice-out. The female pike scatters her eggs in shallow, vegetated areas, where they adhere to aquatic plants. Males fertilize the eggs externally. The eggs hatch in 12-14 days, depending on water temperature.

Diet: Northern pike are voracious predators, feeding primarily on other fish such as perch, walleye, and smaller pike. They also consume frogs, crayfish, small mammals, and waterfowl. They use their sharp teeth and strong jaws to capture and tear apart their prey.

Seasonal behaviour: Northern pike exhibit different behaviours depending on the season:

  • Spring: During the spawning season, pike move to shallow, vegetated waters. After spawning, they remain in these areas to recuperate and feed.
  • Summer: As water temperatures rise, Northern pike move to deeper, cooler waters during the day but may venture into shallower areas to hunt during early morning and late afternoon.
  • Fall: Pike become more aggressive and active as they prepare for the upcoming winter, increasing their feeding to build up fat reserves.
  • Winter: In colder regions, pike may become less active under the ice cover but still continue to feed, albeit at a slower pace. They can be found in deeper, stable water temperatures.

Northern pike are popular sport fish, known for their aggressive strikes and strong fights when hooked. Anglers target them using a variety of techniques, including casting, trolling, and ice fishing.



The muskie, short for muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), is a large freshwater fish native to North America, particularly Canada. Muskellunge are highly sought after by anglers for their size, strength, and elusive nature, making them a prized catch in Canadian freshwater fishing.

Appearance: Muskellunge have elongated bodies with a duck-like snout and sharp teeth. They are typically olive green to grey in colour, with vertical bars or spots along their flanks. They have a forked caudal (tail) fin and a single dorsal fin located near the end of their back.

Lifespan: Muskellunge can live for up to 20 years or more, although their average lifespan is around 10-15 years.

Size: They are one of the largest freshwater fish species in Canada. Adult muskellunge typically measure between 28-48 inches (71-122 cm) in length, with some individuals reaching over 60 inches (152 cm).

Weight: Muskellunge typically weigh between 15-36 pounds (6.8-16.3 kg), although some specimens have been known to reach over 60 pounds (27.2 kg).

Habitat: These fish inhabit clear, vegetated, and slow-moving freshwater lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. They prefer areas with abundant aquatic vegetation, submerged logs, and other underwater structures that offer cover and ambush opportunities.

Spawning: Muskellunge spawn in spring when water temperatures reach 9-15°C (48-59°F). They lay their eggs in shallow, vegetated areas, often near the shoreline. Males fertilize the eggs, which hatch in about two weeks. There is no parental care for the eggs or the young.

Diet: They are apex predators and primarily feed on fish, such as perch, sunfish, and other smaller fish species. They will also eat small mammals, birds, and frogs if the opportunity arises. Muskellunge are ambush predators, relying on their camouflage and stealth to catch their prey.

Seasonal Behaviour:

  • Summer: During the warm summer months, muskellunge are most active and can be found in deeper, cooler waters during the day and closer to the shorelines in the early morning and evening.
  • Fall: As water temperatures begin to cool, muskellunge move into shallower waters in search of prey, making them more accessible to anglers. They may also exhibit increased feeding activity in preparation for winter.
  • Winter: In colder regions, muskellunge become less active as lakes and rivers freeze. They retreat to deeper waters and enter a state of reduced activity, conserving energy for the warmer months.
  • Spring: As ice melts and water temperatures rise, muskellunge begin to migrate to shallow, vegetated areas for spawning. After spawning, they may remain in these areas for a short period before moving to deeper waters for the summer.


Smallmouth Bass 

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) are a popular sport fish, often targeted by anglers for their feisty nature and strong fight.

Lifespan: Smallmouth bass can live up to 15 years, although they commonly live for around 10 years in the wild.

Size: Adult smallmouth bass typically measure between 30 to 50 centimetres (12 to 20 inches) in length. However, some individuals can grow larger, reaching up to 70 centimetres (27 inches).

Weight: The average weight for a smallmouth bass ranges between 0.5 to 2.5 kilograms (1 to 5 pounds), with larger specimens weighing more than 4 kilograms (9 pounds).

Habitat: Smallmouth bass prefer clear, cool, and moderately flowing water found in rivers, streams, and lakes. They are typically found in rocky or gravelly areas with some aquatic vegetation. These fish are sensitive to water temperature and thrive in water between 15 and 24 degrees Celsius (59 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit).

Spawning: Smallmouth bass spawn in the spring, typically when water temperatures reach 13 to 18 degrees Celsius (55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit). Males create and guard nests in shallow waters with gravel or rocky bottoms. Females lay between 2,000 to 7,000 eggs, which hatch in 3 to 5 days, depending on water temperature.

Diet: Smallmouth bass are opportunistic predators with a varied diet. They primarily feed on crayfish, but also consume insects, smaller fish, and even small amphibians. As they grow, their diet shifts to include larger prey items.

Seasonal Behaviour:
  • Summer: In the summer, Smallmouth Bass are more active, frequently found in deeper waters during the day and moving closer to the shore in the early morning and late evening to feed. They may also be found near underwater structures and vegetation, where they ambush their prey.
  • Fall: As temperatures drop in the fall, Smallmouth Bass start to move into deeper waters in search of food. They may form schools and follow schools of baitfish, actively feeding to prepare for the winter months.
  • Winter: In the winter, Smallmouth Bass become less active and move to even deeper waters, often near the bottom of lakes and rivers. Their metabolism slows down, and they feed less frequently.
  • Spring: With rising water temperatures in the spring, Smallmouth Bass become more active and move to shallower waters to feed and spawn. Males begin to create nests and engage in spawning behaviours, while females move into the area to lay their eggs. After spawning, both males and females return to their normal feeding patterns.


Largemouth Bass 

Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) are a popular sport fish in Canada and are well-known for their aggressive feeding behaviour and impressive fighting abilities.

Lifespan: Largemouth bass typically live for about 10 to 16 years, though some may live even longer under favourable conditions.

Size: Adult largemouth bass usually range from 30 to 60 centimetres (12 to 24 inches) in length. However, some larger specimens have been recorded at lengths of up to 97 centimetres (38 inches).

Weight: The average weight of a largemouth bass is between 0.5 and 4.5 kilograms (1 to 10 pounds), with the largest specimens weighing up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds).

Habitat: Largemouth bass are freshwater fish that prefer slow-moving or still waters with abundant aquatic vegetation. They can be found in lakes, ponds, rivers, and reservoirs across Canada, particularly in the southern regions of Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia.

Spawning: Spawning typically occurs in the spring when water temperatures reach about 15°C (59°F). Males create nests in shallow water by fanning their tails over the substrate, and then they guard the eggs and fry after the female deposits them. The eggs hatch within 5 to 10 days, depending on water temperature.

Diet: Largemouth bass are opportunistic predators with a varied diet. They primarily consume smaller fish, such as shiners and sunfish, as well as invertebrates like crayfish and insects. They also occasionally eat frogs, small mammals, and even small birds if the opportunity arises.

Seasonal Behaviour:

  • Summer: In the summer months, Largemouth Bass are most active during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning and evening. They often seek out deeper water or shaded areas during the hottest part of the day.
  • Fall: As water temperatures begin to cool in the fall, bass become more active, feeding heavily to prepare for the winter months. They can be found in shallow water and around structures, such as fallen trees or docks, as they hunt for prey.
  • Winter: Largemouth Bass are less active in the winter due to the colder water temperatures. They often move to deeper water and become more lethargic. They will still feed, but at a much slower rate.
  • Spring: In the spring, as water temperatures rise, bass become more active and move into shallower waters to spawn. This is a prime time for anglers to target them, as they are more aggressive and focused on defending their nests.



Walleye (Sander vitreus), also known as pickerel, is a popular game fish found in Canada.

Appearance: Walleye have an elongated, torpedo-shaped body, with a dark green to olive-brown colouration on their back and sides, fading to a pale, yellowish-white on their belly. Their large, glassy eyes are adapted for low-light conditions, allowing them to see well in murky water. They have a large mouth with sharp teeth, and their lower jaw extends slightly beyond the upper jaw. Walleye also have a distinctive white spot on the lower edge of their caudal fin.

Lifespan: Walleye typically live for about 10-20 years, with females generally living longer than males. Their lifespan can vary depending on factors like habitat, food availability, and fishing pressure.

Size: Adult walleye usually range from 30 to 50 centimetres (12 to 20 inches) in length, but they can grow larger, with the Canadian record being a 107 cm (42 inch) walleye caught in 1984.

Weight: Walleye typically weigh between 0.5 and 4.5 kilograms (1 to 10 pounds). However, larger individuals weighing over 9 kilograms (20 pounds) have been reported.

Habitat: Walleye are native to freshwater lakes and rivers throughout Canada and the northern United States. They prefer cool, moderately deep water with rocky or sandy bottoms, and can often be found near underwater structures like reefs, drop-offs, and submerged vegetation.

Spawning: Walleye spawn in the spring, typically in April or May, when water temperatures reach 4-10°C (39-50°F). They migrate to shallow, rocky or gravelly areas near shorelines, where they release their eggs. Males fertilize the eggs as they are released, and the adhesive eggs attach to rocks and other substrates. The eggs hatch after about 10-20 days, depending on water temperature.

Diet: Walleye are carnivorous, feeding primarily on smaller fish such as yellow perch, minnows, and other small species. They are also known to eat aquatic insects, crayfish, and other invertebrates. Walleye are most active during low-light conditions, such as dawn, dusk, and cloudy days, which is when they do most of their hunting.

Seasonal Behaviour:

  • Summer: In the warmer months, walleye tend to seek cooler, deeper water during the day, and move to shallower water to feed at night. They may also be found near underwater structures that provide shade.
  • Fall: As water temperatures cool, walleye become more active and can be found at various depths. They often move into shallower water to feed, making them more accessible to anglers.
  • Winter: During the winter months, walleye become less active and are often found in deeper water. They may still feed occasionally, but their metabolism slows down, and they are generally more difficult to catch.
  • Spring: Walleye are most active in the spring, as they prepare for spawning. They migrate to spawning grounds in shallow, rocky areas and can often be found in rivers and streams as well. After spawning, they return to their preferred deeper water habitats to recover and feed.


Lake Trout 

Lake Trout

Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), are a species of fish native to Canada and other parts of North America. They are primarily found in cold, deep freshwater lakes and are known for their size and delicious taste.

Lifespan: Lake trout have a relatively long lifespan, with some individuals living up to 25 years or more. However, most lake trout typically live between 10 and 20 years.

Size: Adult lake trout can reach sizes of 50 to 91 centimetres (20 to 36 inches) in length, although some larger individuals have been reported.

Weight: The weight of a lake trout varies depending on age and location but can range from 1.4 to 32 kilograms (3 to 70 pounds). The average weight is around 6.8 kilograms (15 pounds).

Habitat: Lake trout prefer deep, cold, well-oxygenated freshwater lakes. They are found throughout most of Canada, particularly in the Great Lakes, as well as in parts of Alaska and the northern United States.

Spawning: Lake trout spawn in the fall, typically between September and November, when water temperatures are between 4 and 11 degrees Celsius (39 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit). They usually spawn over rocky or gravelly substrates in relatively shallow water, often returning to the same area year after year. Female lake trout release between 400 and 1,200 eggs per kilogram of body weight, which are then fertilized by the males. The eggs hatch in the spring.

Diet: Lake trout are predatory fish that primarily consume other fish, such as ciscoes, whitefish, and smaller trout. They also eat invertebrates like zooplankton, insects, and crustaceans, particularly when fish prey is scarce.

Seasonal Behaviour:

  • Summer: During the warm summer months, lake trout tend to reside in deeper, cooler waters, typically at depths of 30 to 60 metres (100 to 200 feet). They often feed on fish that inhabit similar depths, including ciscoes and whitefish.
  • Fall: As the water temperature drops in the fall, lake trout move to shallower waters to spawn. This is also when they become more aggressive and active in their feeding, making it an ideal time for anglers to target them.
  • Winter: In winter, lake trout are found in a variety of depths, depending on the availability of prey and oxygen levels in the water. They often continue to feed actively throughout the season, although at a slower rate than in warmer months.
  • Spring: After the eggs hatch in the spring, lake trout begin moving to shallower waters as the ice recedes and the water temperature increases. They feed heavily during this time to replenish their energy reserves after the long winter.


Rainbow Trout 

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are a popular freshwater fish species native to North America. They are known for their distinctive appearance, behaviours, and lifecycle.

Appearance: Rainbow Trout are characterized by their elongated, streamlined bodies with a greenish-blue to silver colouration on their backs, fading to a silvery-white on their bellies. They are adorned with black spots on their backs, dorsal fins, and tails. The most distinctive feature is the pinkish-red lateral stripe that runs along their bodies, from gills to tails.

Lifespan: Rainbow Trout have a lifespan of about 4 to 6 years, though some individuals may live longer.

Size: Adult Rainbow Trout typically range in size from 30 to 61 centimetres (12 to 24 inches).

Weight: The weight of a Rainbow Trout varies depending on age and habitat but generally falls between 1 to 2.3 kilograms (2 to 5 pounds). Some larger individuals can reach up to 9 kilograms (20 pounds) or more.

Habitat: Rainbow Trout prefer cool, clear water environments. They can be found in various habitats, including mountain streams, rivers, and lakes. They are also known to adapt well to hatchery environments and have been introduced to many locations outside of their native range.

Spawning: Spawning occurs in the spring, when water temperatures reach around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). Rainbow Trout return to the tributaries or headwaters of their native habitats to spawn, where they create nests called redds. Females release eggs into these redds, and males fertilize them externally. The eggs incubate for about 4 to 7 weeks before hatching.

Diet: Rainbow Trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, which may include insects, small fish, crustaceans, and zooplankton. As they grow, their diet typically shifts towards larger prey.

Seasonal Behaviour:

  • Summer: During the warm summer months, Rainbow Trout often seek out cooler water temperatures and higher oxygen levels. They may migrate to deeper water in lakes or to faster-moving water in streams and rivers. Their feeding activity often increases during this time.
  • Fall: As temperatures start to cool, Rainbow Trout become more active, feeding heavily in preparation for the winter months. They may also begin their migration to spawning sites during this time.
  • Winter: In the colder months, Rainbow Trout tend to be less active and may seek out slower-moving water, where they can conserve energy. Their feeding behaviour may decrease during this period.
  • Spring: With the arrival of spring, Rainbow Trout become more active as water temperatures rise, triggering their spawning behaviour. After spawning, adult fish will typically return to their feeding areas.
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