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Kentucky Fish ID Guide

Kentucky is home to a total of 244 native fish species with an additional 19 that have been introduced either intentionally (i.e., for sport) or accidentally. Within the United States, Kentucky’s native freshwater fish diversity is exceeded only by Alabama and Tennessee. This high diversity of native fishes corresponds to an abundance of water bodies and wide variety of aquatic habitats across the state – from swift upland streams to large sluggish rivers, oxbow lakes, and wetlands. Approximately 25 species are most frequently caught by anglers either for sport or food. Many of these species occur in streams and rivers statewide, while several are routinely stocked in public and private water bodies across the state, especially ponds and reservoirs. The largest proportion of Kentucky’s fish fauna (80%) includes darters, minnows, suckers, madtoms, smaller sunfishes, and other groups (e.g., lampreys) that are rarely seen by most people. Nevertheless, these nongame species have important roles in stream and river ecosystems. The loss of these species and their habitats is a sign of poor stream health and an imbalanced ecosystem, which in turn can negatively affect the sport fishery. With a few exceptions, this booklet is intended to serve as a reference to the most common fishes occurring in Kentucky. It includes larger species often encountered by anglers as well as other common nongame species that are less known due to their small size or cryptic habits. These species are grouped by family (scientific name in parentheses) and organized alphabetically by scientific name within each family. To aid in identification, a photograph (or two) is included for each species accompanied by a short description of distinguishing features, maximum total length, distribution, and habitat. Labeled diagrams illustrating basic fish anatomy and terms used in the text are available on the back cover. Please enjoy using this booklet to learn more about Kentucky’s rich fish fauna!

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