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Land of lakes is home to many fish species

Minnesota has probably more than 150 different species of fishes swimming in its waters. Of the 26 or so families of fishes in Minnesota, the minnow family, Cyprinidae, is the largest, with 44 species. Our state fish, the walleye, along with saugers and yellow perch, make up the second largest family, Percidae, with 18 native species. Several species of small minnow-like fishes, darters, also belong to this family.

Minnesota has many interesting kinds of fishes. Some are ubiquitous, like the toothy and predatory northern pike. And some are less abundant, such as the primitive looking paddlefish. Some are exceedingly popular with anglers, like walleye, sunfish and bass, while other species, such as eel pout, which is a freshwater codfish, not nearly so.

And some can get big. The lake sturgeon, the largest fish in the state, can grow to more than 200 pounds. Found primarily in Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior, but also found in larger rivers, the lake sturgeon is the focus of special regulations to help the population become healthier and more abundant.

Lake sturgeons need a long time to get large. They can reach more than 100 years of age and don't become sexually mature until they are 15 to 20 years old. Other Minnesota fishes that can grow big are muskellunge, northern pike, channel catfish, paddlefish, lake trout, chinook salmon and carp. All of these fishes can exceed 30 or more pounds.

Other fishes are just plain weird. Minnesota is home to the American eel and the sea lamprey. Lampreys are eel-like, parasitic fishes that have no jaws. These fishes and their relatives are the most primitive fishes in the world. There are four species of lamprey known to exist in Minnesota and all of them use their unusual open, disc-like mouths to attach themselves to the bodies of other fishes. Once attached, lampreys suck fluids through the skin of their prey for their own nourishment.

American eels apparently find their way to Minnesota from the Atlantic Ocean as adults. These fishes have the body design of lampreys, but have jaws. Their diet is typical of other predatory fishes, capturing small fishes and other organisms to eat. Female eels can reach up to 4 feet in length.

Minnesota's state fish, the walleye, is highly sought by anglers. Without question the fish is the most sought after game fish in the state. The Minnesota record walleye was caught in Seagull River and weighed 17 pounds, 8 ounces. The world record hook-and-line walleye was caught almost 50 years ago in Tennessee and weighed 25 pounds.

Another favorite fish, especially among children, are fishes belonging to the sunfish family; most notably, the several species of "panfish" such as bluegills, pumpkinseeds and others. Two species of the ever-popular crappie, the black and the white crappie, are prized by many anglers year around.

The popular largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, which are also members of the sunfish family, are fishes full of fight and excitement for anglers. It has often been said that pound-for-pound, no other fish in Minnesota fights harder than the smallmouth bass.

Northern pike, also called northerns, are the most widely distributed freshwater species of fish in the world. It is common throughout most lakes and major rivers in Minnesota, across northern North America, as well as in Europe and Asia. A carnivorous fish that is typically the top predator in most Minnesota waters, northerns rarely disappoint anglers seeking a good fight at the end of a line, not to mention providing top-notch table fare. The Minnesota record northern pike weighed in at 45 pounds, 12 ounces.

While not hailed as one of North America's premiere trout fishing destinations, Minnesota is nonetheless home to several species of trout and salmon. Lake trout, the largest North American species of trout, can grow large. The record Minnesota "laker" was 43 pounds, 8 ounces. These trout, which are commonly sought after in the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior, are also caught in many lakes throughout the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Some species of trout are traditionally thought of as occurring only in streams and rivers, yet many of them can be found in lakes too. Brook trout, a beautiful native trout, are inhabitants of cold water streams, most notably along the North Shore, in addition to some northern lakes. Some of Minnesota's other trout and salmon include rainbow trout, which are actually native to western United States, brown trout, an introduced species from Europe, and a few species of salmon, including chinook, coho and pink salmon.

Many of the small species of fishes that thrive in Minnesota are not necessarily all minnows. The interesting stickleback, a scaleless small fish with tiny spines as part of its dorsal fin, rarely reaches 3 inches in length. Another fish, albeit strange looking, is the sculpin. Some 300 species occur worldwide, most are marine, but four live in Minnesota. These small odd fishes, about 5 inches long, have broad flat heads, tapered bodies and large pectoral fins.

Indeed, Minnesota, with its more than 10,000 lakes, thousands of miles of streams and rivers, and the enormous Lake Superior, is home to a fascinating and diverse group of fishes. From dogfish to catfish, mooneye to mudminnow, shad to shiner and pike to perch, there are abundant ways to appreciate all that is wet and wild as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.


Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at