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Robyn's North American Native Fish Page

Last Updated: 10/10/18

Additional Pond and/or Aquarium Fish:
The following fish are native North American fish. Many of the native US fishes are also great aquarium fish. These are fish that I have never had with the exception of those listed with their own web pages. Most I have never seen, but I would like to try some of them in my pond. The problem is that most of these fish are hard to come by unless you collect them from a local stream or pond. There are hundreds of species that I could discuss on this page but I will only mention a few. Consult the books and links at the bottom of the page for expert advise on North American native fish.

Two albino channel catfish belonging to Jane and Larry on the left, sent to me on 7/6/04. Later, on the right is one of them coming to eat floating fish food.

North American fish on this page:

The following North American fish have their own web pages:

Where to Buy US Native Fish

Native Fish Books

Native Fish Links


Most North American catfish grow very large and eat whatever they can fit in their mouths. So, they are only suitable for huge ponds or ones without populations of smaller fish that you want to all survive. They require small fish like minnows and goldfish for food and other small animals to survive. Bullheads (Ictalurus species) and channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are two groups of catfish that are most often encountered. Channel catfish are sold as pets in many colors even though they grow to about 50 pounds and four feet in length and have voracious appetites for live fish. The yellow bullhead catfish, Ictalurus natalis grows to only 1.5 feet so it is smaller than the channel catfish. It is nocturnal.

Kim sent this photo on 7/20/06 of a channel catfish in a lake in Ontario, Canada.
Albino channel catfish

Madtoms are smaller catfish of the genus Noturus from North American streams that do well in aquariums and ponds. They grow to under 6" and pose little threat to other fish with them. Like most catfish, they are primarily nocturnal and have sharp spines on their dorsal fins. Most madtoms are plain brown but some have more fancy coloration. Madtoms like clay pots and rocks to hide around. An increase in temperature after a cold winter seems to be necessary for breeding many species. Madtoms are North America's version of the South American corydoras species. For more information, read this article.

The tadpole madtom grows to 4.5 inches and looks like a tadpole. The pectoral fin contains poison. They hide in slow moving waters around mud and plants.


There are many species of dace including the blacknose, longnose, redbelly, pearl, redside, rosyside, and Tennessee dace.

The redbelly dace comes in Northern (Chrosomus eos), Southern (Phoxinus erythrogaster), and Mountain species. All can be adapted to aquarium or pond life.

Information on the Southern redbelly dace can be found on my Southern redbelly dace page.

The Northern redbelly dace grows to 3 inches and feeds on algae and plant debris as do the other two species.


Darters are small fish that are becoming increasingly rare. The 100 or so North American species tend to live in streams and grow to about an inch, with some growing up to 5 inches. Males often build and guard nests. One species is the Johnny Darter, or Etheostoma nigrum, which likes to live in pools. Most other species of darter should have a stream in which to swim. The first book mentioned under books below contains 48 species of darter. Another book that one of the readers of this web page has contains over 160 species of darter. That is too many even to list their names here!

For information on the orangethroat darter, Etheostoma spectabile, go to the orangethroat darter page.


I have not written anything about killifish as most live in warmer climates than where I live in Maryland but I will add more here later. In the mean time, Jill sent these photos on 10/7/06 and 10/12/06 of a fish she pulled out of her pond in Utah for identification. We figured out that it is a male bluefin killifish. Because they are not native to Utah, the fish most likely came with plants she ordered which were traced to a Florida origin. This is a gorgeous fish.
Male bluefin killifish in bright lighting soon after being caught
Male bluefin killifish in darker lighting after settling in more, left side
Male bluefin killifish in darker lighting after settling in more, right side


There are many species of minnow. The terms shiner, dace, and minnow are often used to describe the same fish. Most minnows grow to only a few inches, live near the surface of streams, eat insects, and pose no threat to other fish.

I have a lot of info on the fathead and rosy red minnows at my rosy red minnow page.

There are also smaller pages on the Ozark minnow and the bluntnose minnow.


While there are species of perch found in Europe, Asia, and other countries, I will be referring here to the US species of perch which include the yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and walleye.

Charles sent these photos on 5/5/12 of eggs for identification. They are perch eggs, probably yellow perch.
Perch eggs
Perch eggs
Perch eggs


Here is a school of yellowfin shiners, Notropis lutipinnis sent to me by John on 7/3/06. The school of shiners was spawning in a stream in Augusta, Georgia. Here is a close-up of the gorgeous fish with red bodies and yellow heads and fins. They are like little brilliant koi. The yellowfin shiner deposits its eggs in the gravel masses formed for the same purpose by the blueheaded grub (Necomis leptocephalus).

Shiners are similar to minnows. There are hundreds of species of shiner. The Freshwater Fish book mentioned at the bottom of this page contains information on 47 species of shiners. That is way too many species to cover here!

The terms shiner, dace, and minnow are often used interchangeably. Most species are compatible with goldfish and koi and make interesting additions to ponds. They are hard to find to buy. If it is legal in your area, you can capture some native fish but a two week (or longer) quarantine is a must.

Two North American species are the yellow shiner, or Notemigonus crysoleucas, and the redfin shiner or Notropis umbratilis. The yellow shiner, also called the golden shiner, grows to a foot long but the redfin shiner grows to 3 inches long, like most shiners and minnows. The golden shiner is a common bait fish. They school near the shore.

Another species of shiner is the flagfin shiner, Pteronotropis signippinnis. Because they need a constant temperature in the 60's and 70's, they are not suited for ponds where there are winters. They do, however, make great aquarium fish. Colors on their body include gold, yellow, red, blue, black, orange, and more. They are very colorful (one reader likens them to large white cloud mountain minnows). They scatter eggs in gravel depressions. Flagfin shiners eat mostly insects and crustaceans.

The common shiner is Notropis cornutus. To me it looks like a mix of the red shiner and the fathead minnow. It grows to six inches. This stream fish is often used for bait.

For information on the red shiner, Cyprinella lutrensis, go to the red shiner page.

On 4/20/13, Karen sent this photo of a few yellowfin shiners (like the ones above) in Georgia:
Yellowfin shiners


Sticklebacks are small, interesting fish with little spikes. The three-spined stickleback is Gasterosteus aculeatus, and the brook sticklebacks is Culaea inconstans. They are the two most commonly found. Males of all sticklebacks. may harm each other or other fish. They are good for small native ponds. I only added a section after someone asked me to identify some bait fish they thought were minnows but they were sticklebacks. Someone else said they make great pond fish. Since males can be nippy, I would not keep them with goldfish or koi but other native fish. One day perhaps I will get some. They are sold as bait. They make nests to breed which sounds interesting. Here are some sites for photos and a tiny bit of information that I found through a quick search (since I know little about these fish.)

Three-spined stickleback
Threespined stickleback
Three spined stickleback
Brook stickleback
Brook stickleback
Brook stickleback
Brook stickleback
Brook stickleback
Garden Web Europe - forum with a section on sticklebacks and their breeding.


Sunfish or bream can be added to larger ponds but can grow to a foot or so, depending on the species. They are fat bodied so a foot is pretty big. They also will eat smaller fish in the pond but feed mostly on insects and crustaceans. They may harass fish smaller than themselves who are too large to eat. Some species include the green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus, 4 to 6 inches), the bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus, 8 to 12 inches), the pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus, up to 10 inches), the warmouth (Chaenobryttus gulosus, 8 to 10 inches), and the orangespotted sunfish (Lepomis humilis, 4 to 5 inches). At least the first three species can hybridize (breed). Males dig gravel pits and defend their nests aggressively during breeding season. The males also darken-up and gain more coloration during breeding.

To see a photo of a water snake eating a bluegill, go to my snake page.

Kim sent this photo on 7/20/06 for identification. The fish is in a lake in Ontario, Canada. I thought at first it was a longear sunfish but someone corrected me, and I think I agree that it is probably a large pumpkinseed sunfish.
Pumpkinseed sunfish


Due to their large size and need for cold water, trout are not usually kept in ornamental ponds although a few people have e-mailed me that they have done so. Trout are sometimes kept in larger ponds.

Adam sent these photos of new pond on 12/17/07.
Golden rainbow trout in the pond
Pond surface with golden rainbow trout and goldfish

Where to Buy US Native Fish

There are a number of ways to obtain native fish.

I will start of list of places on the internet that sell native or game fish below. If you have one to add, please contact me.

Willow Pond Aqua Farms - largemouth bass, sunfish (pumpkinseed and bluegill), channel catfish, yellow perch, rainbow trout, and fathead minnows.

Jonah's Aquarium - Jonah sells all sorts of small native fish, over 100 species of shiners, minnows, dace, darters, sunfish, catfish, and more.

For more places that sell fathead and rosy red minnows, see my page on them.

Native Fish Books

Freshwater Fishes of the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, & Delaware by Fred Rohde, et. al., The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

This book lists a ton of fish native to my area in Maryland. Way too many to write about on my web pages! I found the amazon link below but I did NOT pay even half that much money. Maybe it is out of print.

North American Native Fishes for the Home Aquarium by David. M. Schleser, Barron's, 1998. A must-have for those interested in fish native to North America.

According to the above book, the following fish in that book are native to my region in Maryland, USA. If you know if any of these fish (not the trout, pickerel, or perch) might be suitable for my ponds and/or where I could obtain some, please let me know. I would love to obtain some dace or darters for my pond especially.
American eel, brook trout, Eastern mudminnow, grass pickerel, fathead minnow (I have these), central stoneroller, blacknose dace, longnose dace, common shiner, Northern hogsucker, mosquito fish (I have these), red breast sunfish, pumpkinseed, blue spotted sunfish, yellow perch, and tessellated darter.

Native Fish Links

For more information on the native fish of North America, visit these sites:

North American Native Fishes Association

Native Fish Conservancy - I was a member starting in 10/99 but a few years later, they stopped contacting me; this is an archived version as the site no longer exists which is a shame.

North American Freshwater Fishes - this is an archived version as the forum site no longer exists

The Native Fish Webring is on my fishy page.. Apparently it is no longer in operation.

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