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Inland Fish of New York

Parts of a fishFish are aquatic vertebrates (meaning they have a backbone), are cold-blooded, usually have scales and gills, and are equipped with two sets of paired fins and several unpaired fins. Their fins help them move, steer, stop, and in some species, communicate visually.

It’s important to know the external parts of fish in order to properly identify them. The diagram to the right illustrates the general external features of a regular-looking fish, but it’s important to understand that other species may vary with body and fin position and shape (for example, the eel). The adipose fin, a small flap of fat may not be present in other species. Proper fish identification is not always easy. It often requires careful inspection of body, snout, tail and fin shape, as well as patterning and color. One also has to consider the location where the specimen was found; not all species can be found in all bodies of water.

Accurately identifying a fish species is important to properly follow state fishing regulations. Anglers tend to mismatch names for common species and may take fish out of class or season. Regulations help keep species’ populations sustainable. Taking a fish out of season or from a regulated body of water may not only impact that particular species of fish, but may negatively impact that species’ prey and predators.

A Guide to New York State Fish


Family includes: Salmon, Trout and Steelhead (whitefish are covered in a different section).
What to look for: Streamlined shape; soft-rayed fins; adipose fin present; dorsal fin located mid-way along the back; tail is softly forked or squared; large mouth (except whitefish). 


Whitefish are technically members of the Salmonid family. They include Whitefish and Lake herring.
What to look for: Streamlined shape; soft-rayed fins; adipose fin present; dorsal fin located mid-way along the back; tail is forked; small mouth and teeth. 


Family includes: Herring, Alewife, Shad.
What to look for: Silvery scales; single (soft) dorsal fin, lack a lateral line; protruding lower jaw; V-shaped tail; pointed row of spines along the ventral surface that form a serrated keel. 


Family includes: Lampreys
What to look for: Snake-like body; jawless with a toothed, funnel-like sucking mouth; lack scales; no paired-fins; soft-rayed fins start from the mid-section of the back and run to the tail. 

Freshwater EelFreshwater Eel

Family includes: Freshwater eels
What to look for: Snake-like body; small pointed head; lack pelvic fins; the dorsal, tail and anal fins are conjoined and surround nearly half the body; protruding lower jaw. 


Family includes: Mudminnows
What to look for: Small, stout body (somewhat compressed posteriorly), 3-5 inches in length; soft, rounded fins; single-lobed tail; small mouth; blunt snout; Black bar at the tail base.  


Family includes: Pike, Pickerel and Muskellunge
What to look for: Long, streamlined shape; soft-rayed fins, adipose fin not present, dorsal fin located opposite the anal fin; tail is softly forked; large mouth. 


Family includes: Gars
What to look for: Long, streamlined shape; long jaws with long, sharp teeth; dorsal fin located back near the tail-above the anal fin; pelvic fins located mid-way down the body. 


Family includes: Sturgeons
What to look for: Long, streamlined shape; lack scales; rows of boney plates on their sides; dorsal fin located back near the tail-above the anal fin; barbel sensory organs below the flattened snout. 


Family includes: Bowfins
What to look for: Boney-plated skull; olive-colored body; long dorsal fin that extends from the mid-back to the tail; single lobe tail; black “eye-spot” located near the tail. 


Family includes: Catfish, Bullhead, Madtom, Stonecat
What to look for: Silvery scales; single (soft) dorsal fin, lack a lateral line; protruding lower jaw; V-shaped tail; pointed row of spines along the ventral surface that form a serrated keel. 


Family includes: Suckers, Redhorse, Quillback
What to look for: Small heads with jaws located underneath the head. Thick fleshy lips surround the mouth, forming a sucker-like mouth. Come in a variety of colors and fin shapes. 


Family includes: Minnows, Shiners, Carp, Chubs, Fallfish, Stoneroller, Dace, Goldfish
What to look for: Various shapes, colors and sizes; Small adult body size (with the exception of Carp); silvery scales; lack adipose fins; V-shaped tail fin. 


Family includes: Only the Rainbow Smelt is found in NY
What to look for: Small, slender body; 6-8 inches in length; silvery scales; complete lateral line, large mouth, adipose fin, cucumber-like odor; forked tail. 

Pirate PerchPirate Perch

Family includes: Pirate Perch
What to look for: Stout body; 3-5 inches in length; dark olive-colored with a yellowish belly; 3 dorsal and 2 anal-fin spines; black bar at the tail base; tail slightly notched; anal opening is located close to the head, anterior to the pelvic fins. 

Trout PerchTrout Perch

Family includes: Trout Perch
What to look for: Salmonid-like body-shape (although smaller); almost transparent in color; adipose fin present (like trout); dorsal and anal fins have weak spines (like perch); full lateral line; rows of black spots. 


Family includes: only the Burbot (aka: Lawyer) is found in NY
What to look for: Long body; barbel sensory organs above each nostril and one on the chin; small dorsal fin about mid-way along the back and a longer dorsal fin running from there to the tail; single-lobed tail; anal fin almost as long as the long dorsal fin; long head; large mouth. 

Kill fishKillifish

Family includes: Killifish, Mummichog
What to look for: Small (2-4 inches) and slender; vertical banding; single-lobed tail; somewhat flattened top of head; mouth somewhat pointed upwards, level with the eye; small pelvic fin; dorsal fin and anal fins across from each other. 


Family includes: Silversides
What to look for: Long, streamlined shape; large eyes, nearly transparent with slight greenish/yellow color and silvery stripe on the sides; jaws point upward for surface feeding, two dorsal fins with one smaller than the other and located half-way down the back; long anal fin. 


Family includes: Sticklebacks
What to look for: Small fish with large eyes and a row of spine-like dorsal fins (3-5 of them) along its back leading to a larger dorsal fin across from the anal fin; scales are absent; single-lobed tail; anal spine may be present. 

True BassTemperate Bass (True Bass)

Family includes: Striped Bass, White Bass, White Perch
What to look for: Laterally thin and deep-bodied; silvery in color; large, rough scales; two dorsal fins-the first with roughly 9 spines and second with one spine and multiple soft rays; three anal spines with soft rays; dark horizontal stripes on their sides; large mouth; mildly forked tail; 7-12 inches in length; sharp spine near the back of the gill covers. 

SunfishSunfish (panfish)

Family includes: Sunfish, Rock Bass, Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass, Pumpkinseed, Bluegill, Crappie
What to look for: Laterally thin and deep-bodied; various shapes and colors, often beautifully colored and patterned; long dorsal fin with spiny half (14 spines) towards the front and soft rays towards the tail; Anal fin also has spiny front (3 spines) and soft-rayed back; tail is slightly forked in most species; large eyes; no sharp spine near the back of the gill covers; pectoral fins located just below the gill cover; pelvic fins are located just below the pectoral fins; rough scales. 


Family includes: Perch, Darters, Pike, Sauger, Walleye
What to look for: Streamlined shape; segmented dorsal fin with the front one spiny and the back one soft; lack adipose fin; anal fins located across from back pectoral fin segment; anal fin has a few spines in the font; rough scales; Darters tend to be colorful; Walleyes, Saugers and pike tend to be dull in color; tail may be mildly forked or single-lobed; large eyes. 

DrumDrum (sheepshead)

Family includes: Drum
What to look for: Humpback shape; blunt snout, dorsal fin in spiny and soft-rayed segments; single-lobed tail; pelvic fins just below pectoral fins; anal fin has two spines; roughly 15 inches long; light olive-brown to silver color; molar-like teeth. 


Family includes: Sculpins
What to look for: small fish (4-5 inches in length); with muddy, camouflaged colors and patterns; broad head; large mouth with fleshy lips; flattened top-down; eyes pointed upward; large, fan-like pectoral fins; small, spiny pelvic fins; dorsal fin has spiny and soft-rayed segments; lacks scales; single-lobed tail.

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