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Weird Fish of Oklahoma!

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Most fishermen are aware that our state is home to one of the most diverse and productive fisheries in the nation, but few anglers can name more than a small fraction of the 180 or so fish species swimming in Oklahoma waters. Some of these species are small and relatively ordinary looking, while others have strange body shapes, bizarre appendages or dazzling coloration. Anglers who hook one of these memorable fish can keep it. Wildlife Department biologists are collecting data on the distribution of these species and would appreciate a call or e-mail whenever a “weird fish” is caught. Here’s a brief introduction to some of the lesser known fish species occasionally caught by Oklahoma anglers. Perhaps you will hook one this year!

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Blue Sucker

The blue sucker is an elegantly-streamlined fish, well-suited for life in moving water. It can be identified by its long sloping forehead, a long, sail-shaped dorsal fin and “bumply” lips. In Oklahoma the blue suckers’ range is restricted to the Grand and Red Rivers. Catches are rare, but are most likely to occur in the lower Red River, particularly near its confluence with the Blue and Kiamichi Rivers.

Fish Fact: Huge schools of blue suckers once roamed our nation’s rivers, but their numbers have declined throughout their range. In Oklahoma they are listed as a species of special concern and all catches should be reported to the nearest fisheries office.

Shovelnose Stur.psd

Shovelnose Sturgeon

Shovelnose sturgeon are among our most ancient and primitive fishes. Like sharks, sturgeon lack bones and their skeletal system consists entirely of cartilage. Shovelnose sturgeon are well-adapted for life in turbid moving water and can be identified by their spade-shaped heads, bony scutes along the body and a row of four barbels in front of their mouths. Once fairly common and widespread, they are now rarely encountered in the Arkansas and Red Rivers and their tailwaters. The shovelnose sturgeon is occasionally caught by rod and reel fishermen and on trot lines.

Fish Fact: Reaching only about four pounds, shovelnose can live up to 30 years, but don’t reach maturity until five- to seven-years-old. In Oklahoma they are listed as a species of special concern and all catches should be reported to the nearest fisheries office.

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Rock Bass

Rock bass are an Ozark stream species with an appearance similar to other sunfish, but with a large bass-like mouth, cheeks without visible barring and a black gill flap without an orange border. Rock bass are often found in dense cover and are especially fond of rootwads and undercut banks. They readily strike artificial lures, but seldom venture far from cover. Rock bass are also called goggle eye and shadow bass.

Fish Fact: Rock bass can readily change their color and pattern to match surrounding backgrounds. They are also intolerant of turbidity and poor water quality, and require cool clear water to survive.


Mooneye & Goldeye

Mooneye (above) and Goldeye (inset) are both attractive, bright, silvery fish which at first glance resemble shad, but lack a black spot behind their gill flap and have a much wider gape with their mouth situated at the end of their snout. Both species have well-defined teeth on their tongues and jaws. The two species closely resemble each other, but mooneye have a much smaller range in Oklahoma and are encountered less frequently. Both species readily take small jigs and spinners and are often caught in the spring and early summer.

Fish Fact: Goldeye and mooneye belong to the Genus Hiodon meaning “toothed tongue.” The mooneye prefers clearer water and in Oklahoma is restricted to the Little and Mountain Fork Rivers of McCurtain County.

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Banded Sculpin

The banded sculpin is a small fish with a big mouth and an even bigger attitude. Although they seldom exceed five inches in length, banded sculpin readily eat any prey that will fit in their oversized mouths. They are sometimes caught by bottom fishermen. Banded sculpins are found in cool clear Ozark streams of northeast Oklahoma.

Fish Fact: Although banded sculpins appear very hardy, they are actually one of our most fragile fish species and can only live in cool Ozark streams with high water quality. They are sometimes seen with green or gold eyes due to retractable lenses that act like sunglasses to shield their eyes from UV light.



Bowfin have a long, thick, eel-like appearance with a rounded tail and a long undulating dorsal (often folded down) that reaches nearly to its tail. The head is blunt and snake-like, with two small appendages (called nares) on its upper jaw near its nostrils. Bowfin have very strong jaws lined with sharp teeth and should be handled with caution. Bowfin are found in swampy areas with heavy vegetation. Bowfin are aggressive feeders and readily hit lures. In Oklahoma they mainly occur in southern portions of Choctaw and McCurtain counties.

Fish Fact: Bowfin are sometimes called living fossils and are the sole survivors of a family of fish dating to the Jurassic period. They literally outlived the dinosaurs and are capable of gulping air and burrowing in the mud to survive brief periods of drought. They feed mainly on fish and crayfish.



Logperch are one of Oklahoma’s most widespread, but little-known fish species. They live primarily in streams but have adapted well to reservoir life and can be found in many lakes throughout the state. Logperch are a very active fish, and live and forage among small rocks and cobble. They often use their noses to flip surprisingly large stones while looking for insects and larvae and are occasionally caught on hook and line.

Fish Fact: Logperch are true perch and the largest of Oklahoma’s 29 darter species. Most Oklahoma species commonly referred to as “perch” are actually sunfish and in the same family as largemouth bass. Disjunct populations are found in the Wichita Mountains and Fort Cobb area of southwest Oklahoma.


Skipjack Herring

Skipjack herring are fairly large (up to 18 inches) members of the herring family with large mouths and toothed jaws and tongues. They can be distinguished from mooneye and goldeye by their longer and more-slender body shapes, a protruding lower jaw and sharp saw-tooth-like scales along the keel of the belly. Skipjacks have a clear protective eyelid that covers the front and backs of their eyes. Skipjacks are found in the eastern portions of the Red and Arkansas river systems and are most common below dams where they are sometimes caught on artificial lures such as jigs and small spinners.

Fish Fact: Skipjack herring get their name from their tendency to jump when caught on hook and line. In some states they serve as the sole host for endangered mussel species.

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