The mighty Mississippi River runs from its source in northern Minnesota to its delta in the Gulf of Mexico just under 4,000 miles away. The river has long been the source of legends involving giant fish first mentioned by native Americans and supported by the large fish that have been sighted and caught in its waters over the centuries. Several species of normal-sized fish also inhabit the river, which is typically categorized by its northern and southern sections.
In the state of Ohio, the Mississippi River is dammed in several places. This creates large lake-like areas where there is a slow flow downstream. With a slower flow come the species who prefer such conditions, including carp, drum, walleye, bluegill and crappie. On the opposite side of the dams, water that is diverted from the bottleneck gains speed and flows into a tailrace. The tailrace is home to certain types of fish who prefer the faster flow, including sauger and paddlefish.
The crayfish is a type of freshwater lobster found in the Mississippi River from end to end. Mussels are another omnipresent shellfish that are not only found throughout the river system, but have played a large role in the sustenance of the people who settled and developed the towns and cities along the waterway. Two types of shrimp, the river shrimp and the grass shrimp, live in the river as well. River shrimp tend to stay near the current where the water moves more quickly, while grass shrimp settle into runoff areas where thick vegetation provides shelter.
The fish that populate the northern reaches of the Missisippi River include carp, a species brought to the Americas by European immigrants who were shocked to find that none existed naturally. Carp has become the most successful of all fish in the river and dominate other species in number. Also found in the north are the sauger, the red drum, the spotted sea trout and common shiner. Many of the same fish that occupy the dammed parts of the river continue their range into the open water. These fish include the paddlefish, bluegill, largemouth bass and gizzard shad.
The southern end of the Mississippi has many of the same inhabitants as the dammed areas up north. The slow-flowing giant is without rapids or bottlenecks for many miles, so pond and lake fish are able to make a home rather comfortably. The black crappie and white crappie are common to these waters, as are the bluegill or bream and a variety of bottom feeders like the channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish. The common carp is found here, as is the freshwater drum and the largemouth bass. As the river moves closer to its Gulf outlet, you will begin to find white bass, striped bass, skipjack herring and several forms of shad.
The southernmost leg of the Mississippi River is home to more than 150 species of fish, some more common than others. A few standouts on the list include the bigmouth buffalo, silver carp, long and shortnose gar, grass and redfin pickerel sunfish, bowfin and the American eel. In the delta region where the river finally meets the sea are found the alligator gar and the shovelnose sturgeon, two of the most ancient species of fish on the planet.
- Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources: Mississippi River
- Mississippi Outdoor Digest: Freshwater Fishing
- Naitonal Parks Service: History of Common Carp in North America
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Fish of the Mississippi River
- Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee: Fishing the Lower Mississippi River
- National Parks Service: Mississippi River Mussels
- National Parks Service: Common Carp in the Upper Mississippi
Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.