North American Fish Species for Anglers [2020 Edition]

The United States is abundant with species of fish that anglers love, but it can be difficult to get the right gear if you want to target multiple species. To help with this we have put together a guide to show common North Amercian Fish Species for Anglers, how to catch them, recommended gear, and popular bait so you can select the right equipment for your local area.

Most fish species can be split up into a few categories - freshwater, saltwater, and big gamefish.

Generally freshwater fish are smaller and require lighter gear than saltwater fish. Gamefish are in a world of their own and requires dedicated, specialist equipment that can be very heavy and expensive.

Have a read through our guide below, find the fish that live in your local areas and you should be able to get a clear idea of what equipment you will need.

Let's go.

Topwater Bass Fishing Lures

Where to Find:

  • Bass are found throughout North America in many lakes and rivers.
  • Adjust your depth and position based on the season. 

How to Catch:

  • Look for bass around structure or weed beds. Cast your crankbait to the edge of the sea weed to entice the bass out from their hiding spot.

Recommended Gear:

  • Reel - Spinning or Baitcasting reel with around a 6.4:1 gear ratio
  • Rod - Spinning or Baitcasting rod around 6-7" long with a fast action and medium power
  • Fishing Line - 6 - 10 pound mono

Best Bait:

  • 3/8 to 6/8 oz crankbait
Trout Lures

Where to Find:

  • Trout are found in many places throughout North America. Look for them in fast moving rivers with gravel bottoms

How to Catch:

  • Trout are prized among fly fisherman but can be caught with a normal spinning rod and reel

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - Ultralight 7 foot rod with a fast action
  • Reel - Ultralight spinning reel or fly fishing reel
  • Fishing Line - 6-10 lb mono

Best Bait:

  • Popular natural bait for trout are worms, minnows, maggots, yabbies, crickets, and grasshoppers
Salmon

Where to Find:

  • Salmon are found in the North of the United States in particular around the Pacific States

How to Catch:

  • Salmon are popular amongst fly fisherman but can be caught with a spinning reel as well

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 8-9 foot lightweight fly rod
  • Reel - 8/9 or 9/10 sized fly reel
  • Fishing Line - 10-15 lb mono line

Best Bait:

  • Salmon eggs, herring and sand shrimp are popular natural baits for salmon
Redfish Fishing Tips

Where to Find:

  • Redfish or Red Drum are widespread from Texas to Florida.
  • Redfish are popular among anglers because they habitat so many different environments and you can find them just about anywhere.

How to Catch:

  • Keep your eyes open for redfish tailing - this occurs when a redfish is bottom feeding in shallow water and their tails come out of the water.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 6 to 7 foot medium action spinning rod like an Ugly Stik GX2
  • Reel - Light to medium weight 2000-3000 size spinning reel
  • Fishing Line - 12-15 lb mono line

Best Bait:

  • The most popular bait for redfish is fresh mullet as well as artificial crankbaits
Pike

Where to Find:

  • There are plenty of locations in the northern United States if you want to go for pike fishing. All you need is a keen eye, and know which places to visit and before you know it, you will be hooking this trophy fish
  • Some popular locations are the Madison Chain, Green Bay, and Lake Onalaska

How to Catch:

  • Until you find the ideal location, start off with a mix of trolling and casting.
  • Always try opting for a natural food source for the fish such as dead baits.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 8-12 foot long Spinning Reel
  • Reel - Medium to Heavy 5000-8000 sized Spinning Reel
  • Fishing Line - 12-15 lb mono line with a wire trace

Best Bait:

  • The best bait for pike are minnows for small pike and live perch for large pike as well as spinnerbaits and spoons
Catfish Fishing Tips

Where to Find:

  • Catfish can be found throughout the United States but some key locations include Mississippi River, Lake Texoma, and The Red River, Minnesota.
  • Catfish can be caught all year round but are most active in late spring and summer.
  • Large catfish often stay in deep holes next to underwater ledges.

How to Catch:

  • Set three lines with livebait at different depths to identify the depth that catfish are travelling and then focus when you narrow it down.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 7 foot medium to medium-heavy power with moderate-fast action spinning or baitcasting rod
  • Reel - spinning or baitcasting reel with high maximum drag.
  • Line - 10-12 lb mono with a 20-30 lb fluoro leaders

Best Bait:

  • Match the hatch with natural baits like nightcrawlers, frogs, and crawfish or use a powerbait that gives off a pungent smell that attracts catfish.
Carp Fishing Tips

Where to Find:

  • Carp are often found hiding in the deeper water near drop offs or shelves
  • Carp are extremely hardy and can live in all kinds of environments. Although the most common is large lakes, slow moving rivers, and reservoirs - they are also found in ditches, canals, and small ponds.

How to Catch:

  • Look for carp breaching the surface to identify their position and then fish in that area

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 9 to 12 feet spinning rods
  • Reel - Heavy 8000 sized spinning reel
  • Fishing Line - 50 lb braid line

Best Bait:

  • The most common baits for carp are corn, bread, boilies, and doughball - these can be homemade or bought
Tarpon Fishing Tips

Where to Find:

  • Tarpon is one of the most popular fishing species in Florida.
  • When you see a school of tarpon with a good pair of polarized sunglasses, drift with your boat, and cast to the other side of the school, slowly retrieving your lure or live bait through them - and hold on!

How to Catch:

  • Put out 3-4 different types of bait at the start to figure out what the tarpon are hungry for.
  • Be prepared for the fish to break free - fisherman often talk about how many tarpon they jumped rather than landed as it is very difficult to bring them all the way to the boat.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 8 foot spinning rod
  • Reel - A spinning reel with 250-300 lbs of line capacity
  • Fishing Line - 50-80 lb braid line with 60-80 lb mono leader

Best Bait:

  • The most popular bait for tarpon is live baitfish including pilchards, pinfish, minnows, and herring
Tuna Fishing Tips

Where to Find:

  • Look for birds - this often highlights a bait ball that tuna feeding under the water have created.

How to Catch:

  • Tuna schools are very mobile and can often disappear at a moments notice, so be ready to move as soon as they vanish
  • Retrieve your lure as fast as possible - you won't be able to retrieve faster than a tuna can swim!

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - A heavy conventional boating rod on the stiff side
  • Reel - A serious conventional offshore reel with 35-60 pounds of drag
  • Fishing Line - 30 lb braid line with fluorocarbon leader

Best Bait:

  • Some of the most popular baits for tuna are herring, mullet, squid, mackerel, or skipjack

Snook

Common Snook

Where to Find:

  • Snook can be found in fresh and saltwater generally around mangroves, docks, bridges, and other structure.

How to Catch:

  • If you are fishing around mangroves then chum the water with pilchards before casting towards the structure.
  • Because they hang around structure there is a risk of breaking line so you will want to use slightly heavier gear than you would expect.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - Medium action 8 foot long spinning rod
  • Reel - 4000 size spinning reel
  • Fishing Line - 20-30 lb braid line with 20-30 lb mono leader

Best Bait:

  • The best bait for snook are shrimp and sardines
Walleye Fishing Tips

Where to Find:

  • Walleye often hide around rocky points and sand bars as well as weed banks and reefs.

How to Catch:

  • Fish at dawn or dusk as Walleye hunt in low light conditions, as well as overcast days.
  • Cast with crankbaits or bait

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 6'6" to 7' medium action spinning reel
  • Reel - Light freshwater spinning reel
  • Line - 8-10 lb mono line
  • Leader - 2-3 feet of 12-20 lb fluoro

Best Bait:

  • The most popular bait for walleye fishing is minnows, leaches, and night-crawlers.
Crappie Fishing Tips

Where to Find:

  • Crappie are found in hundreds of lakes throughout the United States
  • Look for crappie around deep timber in winter
  • As spring increases the water temperature crappie move to shallow coves to spawn

How to Catch:

  • Put a smelly bait in a likely place and wait

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 7 foot ultralight spinning rod
  • Reel - Ultralight weight spinning reel
  • Fishing Line - 4-10 lb mono line
  • Fishing Hooks - 2/0 or 4/0 bait hooks

Best Bait:

  • Look for local bugs and match them like crickets or fresh minnows.
  • Synthetic bait like Leland Lures Crappie Magnet work well

Perch

Yellow Perch

Where to Find:

  • Perch are often found in warmer, shallow waters in spring, but head deeper to 20-25 feet in summer.

How to Catch:

  • Look for Perch on your fish finder towards the bottom of the lake. When you identify a prime location then drop bait down to the target depth.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - Ultralight fast action spinning rod
  • Reel - 500 to 2500 size spinning reel
  • Fishing Line - 4-8 lb mono line

Best Bait:

  • Perch are not picky eaters and some popular baits are minnows, maggots, night crawlers, wax worms and cut bait

Bluegill

Bluegill

Where to Find:

  • Bluegill can be found throughout the USA, but are very common in the Great Lakes and Mississippi.

How to Catch:

  • Blue gill feed by sight and are most often caught at dawn or dusk.
  • They stay close to shore and hide around structure like bridges, banks, and weed beds.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - Light fast action spinning rod
  • Reel - 500 to 2500 size spinning reel
  • Fishing Line - 2-6 lb mono line

Best Bait:

  • Worms and nightcrawlers are popular bait for bluegill as well as crickets and grasshoppers

Mackerel

Mackerel

Where to Find:

  • Mackerel are found from Northern Mexico to Cape Cod.
  • They are a pelagic species which means they are found in the top water column around schools of bait fish.

How to Catch:

  • Mackerel can be caught by throwing bait on the outside of bait fish schools where the mackerel are feeding. They can also be caught with hard body lures or soft plastic lures.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 6-7 foot spinning or conventional medium action rod
  • Reel - 6000 size spinning reel or a light offshore conventional reel
  • Fishing Line - 15 lb braid or 15 lb mono line

Best Bait:

  • One of the best baits for mackerel is actually other mackerel strips as well as garfish, scad, sand eels, and squid.

Barracuda

Barracuda

Where to Find:

  • Barracuda are found in tropical offshore waters from Florida to Massachusetts.
  • They are predatory fish who are also territorial. Look for thin, silver fish on sand banks, drop offs, and weed beds.

How to Catch:

  • Barracuda are very territorial and aggressive, so if you put a tempting or threatening bait or lure near them they are very likely to strike.
  • You can also try a topwater lure to see the fish strike with scary power.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 6-7 foot spinning medium action rod
  • Reel - 6000 size spinning reel 
  • Fishing Line - 8-12 lb mono line with wire leader

Best Bait:

  • Use fast moving lures, stickbaits or cut mackerel. Bring plenty of extra lures as the barracuda's teeth can do some damage to your lures

Sturgeon

Sturgeon

Where to Find:

  • Lake sturgeon are found in the Mississippi River, Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes, usually in depths of 15 to 30 feet.

How to Catch:

  • Look for Sturgeon on your fish finder in deep holes - they are a BIG marker on your screen.
  • Sturgeon are most active at night.
  • Don't set the hook, let the fish take the bait themselves. 

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 5 foot heavy conventional boat rod
  • Reel - Heavy conventional offshore reel with 40 lb of drag
  • Fishing Line - 60 - 80 lb braid line with 130 lb mono leader
  • Fishing Hook - 7/0 octopus hooks

Best Bait:

  • Lamprey, smelt, squid, and nightcrawlers are popular natural bait for Sturgeon

Cobia

Cobia

Where to Find:

  • Cobia can be found at offshore reefs, around deep water structure like wrecks, and near navigation beacons.

How to Catch:

  • Cobia are capable of long strong runs, and often have a second fight in them just when you think you have landed them.
  • Large Cobia are often caught at night but can be caught throughout the day as well.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 7-9ft medium-heavy spinning rod
  • Reel - A medium-heavy 5000-8000 size spinning reel
  • Fishing Line - 30-50 lb braid with 30-50 lb mono leader
  • Fishing Hooks - 7/0 circle hook

Best Bait:

  • Popular natural bait for Cobia are plastic swimming eel, plastic crabs, fish, and livebait

Wahoo

Wahoo

Where to Find:

  • Wahoo are a pelagic species which means they live in the top of the water column.  They are found in tropical waters from Mexico to Hawaii.

How to Catch:

  • Wahoo can swim up to 60 miles per hour, so be prepared for a fight and make sure you have plenty of fishing line on your spool.
  • Wahoo are often caught when anglers are chasing other gamefish like marlin and are attracted to similar styles and sizes of trolling lures.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 7-9 foot spinning rod
  • Reel - 5000-8000 size heavy spinning reel with 30 lbs of drag
  • Fishing Line - 80 lb mono line with wire leader
  • Fishing Hooks - 6/0 circle hook

Best Bait:

  • Wahoo are normally caught using a trolling lure

Roosterfish

Roosterfish

Where to Find:

  • Roosterfish are found from Baja to Ecuador on sandy bottoms near baitfish. Look out for their distinctive dorsal fin.

How to Catch:

  • Roosterfish put up a big fish for their weight and can fight for 30-45 minutes until their are landed.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 7-9 foot spinning rod with medium action
  • Reel - 5000-8000 size spinning reels
  • Fishing Line - 30 lb braid line with a 60 lb mono leader

Best Bait:

  • The most popular bait for Roosterfish are livebait like mullet and bonito
  • 6-7 inch poppers and stickbait are also effective 

Sailfish

Sailfish

Where to Find:

  • Sailfish are one of the worlds most popular gamefish and can be found in tropical offshore locations like Mexico, Florida, and Costa Rica.

How to Catch:

  • Identify the position of a potential target by observing their noticeable sail movement around a school of bait fish.
  • Troll past the hot zone with a skirted trolling lure and reflective teasers.

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 5' heavy boat rod
  • Reel - Large conventional reel with hundreds of yards of spool capacity to fight a speeding sailfish
  • Fishing Line - 30 lb mono with 80 lb mono leader
  • Fishing Hooks - 6/0 circle hooks

Best Bait:

  • Use a smaller trolling lure that can move fast through the water behind your boat.

Marlin

Best 10 Overhead Reels

Where to Find:

  • This is an artform that many charter captains have mastered. Look for the marlin surfaced in the distance or driving up baitfish then head in that direction.

How to Catch:

  •  Trolling with a heavy line, fighting belt, fishing chair, and deck hands is highly recommended. 

Recommended Gear:

  • Reel - Large conventional reel with over 500 yards of 80 lb mono line capacity and high maximum drag with a low gear ratio
  • Rod - 5 foot heavy boat rod
  • Fishing Line - 80 - 100 lb braid line with heavy leader

Best Bait:

  • Use a skirted trolling lure with several teasers to lure the marlin to the surface.

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi

Where to Find:

  • Mahi Mahi are found in tropical and subtropical oceans in the Gulf of California and from New Jersey to Florida
  • They are surface dwellers and are often caught close to the surface

How to Catch:

  • Mahi Mahi can be caught trolling, spinning, using live bait, and dead bait

Recommended Gear:

  • Rod - 7 foot long conventional boat fishing rod
  • Reel - Conventional boat fishing reel with 20 lb of drag
  • Fishing Line - 30 lb braid line with 50 lb fluoro leader
  • Fishing Hook - 4/0 to 7/0 circle hook

Best Bait:

  • Popular baits for Mahi Mahi are sardines, mackerel, shrimp, and ballyhoo
  • They can also be caught with skirted troll lures

Conclusion

Phew - that brings us to the end of this overview on North America Fish Species. Hopefully you have gained some knowledge about the most common angling species. We couldn't include every possible fish species in this list but will be updating it in the future.

If there is a species missing that you think deserves to be in this list then please let us know in a comment below.

Obviously this only shows a brief summary of each fish - have a look at our individual fish tips for more detailed information.

This article on freshwater fish by the US Fish and Wildlife Service is also very helpful if you are looking for more information.

Happy fishing!

Russ Egan
 

Russ is an avid angler. He has fished all over the world, primarily for Saltwater game fish but also for local prize fish. Russ writes reviews for all of his fishing gear to help others achieve their own fishing goals. His favorite reel is a Shimano Tyrnos for an overhead reel or a Shimano Curado for a baitcaster. His dream is to catch a Black Marlin.

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