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Fish Identification

What a Difference a Fin Makes

Detailed descriptions to help you identify fish

Identifying your fish is an important step to being a responsible angler. Here are a few species that are commonly targeted in Vermont, and some tips to identify them.

Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis

Brook Trout Illustration

Cold-water species

Vermont’s only native stream-dwelling trout. Actually a char, they have worm-like markings against a greenish back, and their flanks are covered with light yellowish spots, with small bright red spots surrounded by blue halos along the lateral midsection. They have squarish tails, hence the nickname “squaretails".

Rainbow TroutOncorhynchus mykiss

Rainbow Trout Illustration

Cold-water species

A true native to the American West, rainbow trout were introduced in Vermont in the 1800s. Their tail and flanks are heavily spotted with small, well-defined black spots, and their flank usually has a pink or reddish stripe, for which they are named. Migratory lake-run rainbow trout are silverish in color and are called steelhead.

Pumpkinseed –Lepomis gibbosus

Pumpkinseed Illustration

Warm-water species

A small, brightly colored sunfish that is representative of a group of fish called “panfish,” which in Vermont includes bluegill, redbreast sunfish, rock bass, and black crappie. Panfish rarely exceed 10 inches, but they are excellent eating, abundant, and fun to catch for anglers of all ages.

Brown Trout – Salmo trutta

Brown Trout Illustration

Cold-water species

A true trout, brown trout were first brought to Vermont from their native Europe in 1892. They have a light brown overall color, especially in streams, with dark spots intermixed with reddish-orange spots along their flanks, with each spot surrounded by a light halo.

Brown Bullhead – Ameiurus nebulosus

Brown Bullhead Illustration

Warm-water species

The “horned pout” are the most common member of the catfish family in Vermont. They have smooth, olive-brown to dark-brown flanks with a sharp, stout spine on the leading edge of their dorsal and pectoral fins. They have a broad, flat mouth surrounded by six whisker-like barbels.

Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu

Smallmouth Bass Illustration

Warm-water species

Closely related to largemouth bass, except they prefer cooler, clearer waters, and when their mouth is closed, their upper jaw extends only to just below their eye. Their flanks are golden green to brownish bronze, with eight to 15 dark, thin vertical bars.

Lake Trout – Salvelinus namaycush

Lake Trout Illustration

Cold-water species

A native to many of Vermont’s deep, cold lakes, and like brook trout, are actually a char. They have a forked tail, white leading edges on their lower fins, and irregular light spots against a background color that ranges from light olive green to gray.

Chain Pickerel – Esox niger

Chain Pickerel Illustration

Warm-water species

Chain pickerel is a member of the same family that includes northern pike. Unlike pike, pickerel have fully scaled gill covers, and their tail, dorsal, and anal fins have no conspicuous spots or blotches. Their flanks are a light, golden green, with dark, chain-like markings.

Yellow Perch – Perca flavescens

Yellow Perch Illustration

Cool-water species

One of Vermont’s favorite food fishes and common to waters throughout the state. A schooling fish, yellow perch have golden-yellow flanks with six to eight dark vertical bars. In late winter and early spring, spawning males develop bright orange lower fins.

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon Illustration

Cold-water species

Identical to seagoing Atlantic salmon. They have a forked tail, silvery flanks, and black spots on the upper half of their body. Unlike lake-dwelling brown trout, which they can closely resemble, salmon have no spots on their adipose and tail fins.

Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides

Largemouth Bass Illustration

Warm-water species

The largest member of the sunfish family in Vermont, largemouth bass have a large, round mouth when open, and when their mouth is closed, their upper jaw extends well past their eye. Their flanks are light green to golden green, with a pronounced horizontal bar.

Rainbow Smelt – Osmerus mordax

Rainbow Smelt Illustration

Cold-water species

A small, slender schooling fish found in Vermont’s deeper and colder lakes, rainbow smelt have a strongly forked tail and iridescent silver flanks. They are a favorite forage fish of trout and salmon, and are popular with ice fishermen.

Northern Pike – Esox lucius

Northern Pike Illustration

Cool-water species

A long, slender fish that has a large mouth and dorsal and anal fins placed far to the rear, northern pike have greenish-gray flanks with several rows of irregular, yellowish-white bean-shaped spots. Pike have scales only on the upper half of their gill covers, and their tail, dorsal, and anal fins have dark spots or blotches.

Walleye – Sander vitreus

Walleye Illustration

Cool-water species

The largest member of the perch family that includes yellow perch and sauger, walleye have a large, silvery eye, a milky belly, and flanks that range from olive-brown to golden-yellow. Walleye can be differentiated from sauger, which they closely resemble, by their first dorsal fin, which is dusky colored and spotless.