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Dive into Diversity: Discovering Freshwater Fishing Species and Their Habitat

There is an abundance of freshwater fishing species across the county. Minnesota is home to a diverse set of them within its more than 10,000 bodies of water.

Some species can easily be targeted for fishing, while others seem impossible. This comprehensive list of Minnesota’s most popular freshwater fishing species will give you a better understanding of the fish that roam our waters.

From deep natural lakes to the shallowest of streams, freshwater fish species are thriving in their natural habitat. Once you have a good understanding of how they live, they become easier to catch!

Fishing rod and reel on a dock at the edge of lake ready to catch freshwater fishing species

Environment Characteristics of Freshwater Fishing Species

Types of Waterbodies Freshwater Species Inhabit

All bodies of water are not created equal. Freshwater fishing species have adapted to the various types and are thriving in many environments.

The most common waterbody type in Minnesota is natural lakes, which are formed by nature. Glaciers during the last ice age created a lot of the natural lakes you see today. There are also instances of natural springs or high water tables that make up lakes in a certain area.

Regardless of how a lake was created, humans had no involvement in the creation of natural lakes. On the flip side, reservoirs are entirely manmade, most often by blocking up a stream or river with a dam.

Reservoirs are created for many reasons, including power production, water management, and recreation. The water level fluctuates more than on a natural lake, depending on what the lake is being managed for.

The last major category of water bodies that freshwater fishing species inhabit is rivers and streams. These are free-flowing channels of water where fish have learned to live among the current. Rivers have a wide range of size and water flow, each having a unique characteristic that fish become accustomed to.

Common Habitats for Freshwater Fishing Species

As mentioned above, freshwater fishing species are completely adaptable and have a wide range of living habitats. Depending on which waterbody the fish species is in depends on the habitat type available to them.

There are three main groups of habitat structures that are almost certain to be in any waterbody you come across. The first is vegetation or anything that is green and living. Underwater grasses or shrubs, lily pads, and reeds all count as vegetation.

Children fishing by a lakeshore

When fully grown, vegetation provides the perfect shelter for many freshwater fishing species to live. It oxygenates the surrounding water and attracts insects and small baitfish for easy feeding conditions.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is hard structure. Things like large boulders, gravel, stumps, and channels. These types of habitats make for perfect ambush points and attract all sorts of life for their protection.

A much broader category of habitats is human-made, which could be a dock, bridge, dam, seawall, or any other structure in the water. Freshwater fishing species will adapt to most things that enter their environment over time.

Seasonal Movements of Freshwater Fishing Species

Four major seasonal movements throughout the year coincide with the seasons. Freshwater fishing species do have “homing areas” but will deviate based on the time of year.

The seasonal movements kick off in spring when fish move from their wintering home into the shallower depths. The freshwater species search for the warmest water to spawn and reproduce. Shallow water warms up first in the spring and will attract fish once it reaches the optimal temperature.

In late spring and into early summer, once the species of fish have completed spawning, they will transition to where they will live throughout the summer and into fall. Some fish stay shallow, and some move back out deep.

They will be located in an area where they can find cover (protection) and food. Once the days start to become noticeably shorter with cool nights, that will be an indication to fish that they need to start preparing for the long winter ahead.

They do this by moving shallow once again to find baitfish in shallow water. There has been a full season of newly born fish and an abundance of areas that have attracted insects that freshwater fishing species can feed on.

Once winter comes, fish become lethargic and spend their time-saving energy out in deeper water. Subtle movements and minor adjustments are made to keep them comfortable during the year’s coldest days.

This cycle starts over once days become longer and the sun’s energy starts heating up the shallow water areas again.

Most Common Freshwater Fishing Species

Bluegill / Panfish

Panfish are the most abundant and easily caught freshwater fishing species. Known by many different names, sunnies, bluegills, and pumpkin seeds all fall in the panfish category. They can be found in most bodies of water and require simple fishing rigs to catch them.

Not only can they be found in most bodies of water, but they are also everywhere in that habitat. If you walk up to the edge of a lake, you will usually see panfish first. They can be under a dock, next to a rock, or by a stump. They are very good at living in all types of areas.

Crappie / Perch

Crappie and Perch are a step above panfish for the easiest freshwater fishing species to catch. They are commonly targeted by anglers who are looking to have a fish fry later in the day.

They aren’t located in as many lakes as panfish, but there is usually a healthy population of them when they are present. Their seasonal movements are stronger and can be targeted with several types of gear.

Largemouth Bass

Many anglers who fish for fun enjoy catching largemouth bass. They are abundant and aggressive, and a variety of gear can be used to catch them. Understanding seasonal movements will greatly increase the odds of you catching more bass.

A hand lifting a largemouth bass out of the water

Just like panfish, the largemouth bass is a freshwater species that can live in many situations and can usually be found in all areas of the lake. Good habitat that provides shade and food will be your best bet to locate these fish.


Catfish are bottom feeders and love swimming along the bottom of lakes and rivers, searching for food with their whiskers. Areas that have good vegetation or currents that attract bait fish are good places to start if targeting this freshwater fishing species.

Northern Pike / Muskie

Pike and Muskie are some of the largest fish that inhabit Minnesota waters. Although related, the northern pike is much more abundant than the muskie, referred to as the fish of 10,000 casts.

Seasonal and weather conditions greatly influence how these fish relate to the structure and where they can be found. Both rivers and lakes provide the habitat necessary to support these big toothy fish.

Smallmouth Bass

A cousin to the largemouth bass, the smallmouth bass is, pound for pound, the hardest fighting fish. Often targeted by anglers for fun, these fish prefer rock as their main habitat.

While plenty of opportunities exist to catch this freshwater fishing species, they can only live in certain lakes and rivers. They prefer hard structures with clearer water since they are visual feeders.


Trout come in many shapes and sizes. Depending on what trout you are after, they can live in the deepest lakes or the shallowest streams. They are a popular species to target amongst fly and ice anglers.

This freshwater fishing species prefers cold water, which can be found in natural springs and deep glacial lakes. They can be an elusive fishing species, but with the right gear, they can be a fun species to go fishing for.


Salmon are also freshwater fishing species that prefer cold, clear bodies of water. The most common places to find salmon are in the great lakes of the Midwest.

Depending on the time of year, they will make seasonal runs into rivers that flow into these big bodies of water.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common type of freshwater fish?

A man's handing releasing a bluegill back into a lake

The most common type of freshwater fish is the bluegill. They can be found in almost every lake and river. Bluegills are also beginner friendly if someone is just getting started with fishing.

Discovering Freshwater Fishing Species

Whether you are stopping by the local pond or planning a trip to a new body of water, an abundance of freshwater fishing species can be caught. Each one has a uniqueness that can be explored from species to species.

There are many opportunities to see and catch freshwater fish across the land of 10,000 lakes. If you are looking to explore and learn more about fishing in Minnesota, check out our comprehensive guides to create lasting memories on the water.