Freshwater Fish Identification and the water bodies that they live in

Freshwater Fish Identification and the water bodies that they live in are the main topic for this webpage.

There are many common types of game fish in the province of Alberta. All of which are great to fish for in there own unique ways. There are roughly 62 different types of fish that live in Alberta. 19 of them are considered game fish. Even though only a few of our provinces fish are considered game fish, most all of these fish can be caught one way or another. Suckers are a common fish that anglers catch, ussually by accident, but never the less they can be caught.

In Alberta there are either cold water fish which include:
Brown Trout
Brook Trout
Bull Trout
Cutthroat Trout
Lake Trout
Golden Trout
Rainbow Trout
Whitefish (lake and mountain)
Arctic Grayling

Or there are cool water fish which include:
Walleye
Yellow Perch
Goldeye
Sauger
Northern Pike
Burbot
Lake Sturgeon

Freshwater fish identification of the above species is very important if you are going to angle in Alberta.

The game fish of Alberta are as follows:

Northern Pike;

Freshwater Fish Identification
There are many names for Northern Pike; some people call them Jackfish, Gators, Slough sharks, Hammer Handles, Pike, Canadian Sharks amongst the many others that people use all over the place.

Northern Pike can be found throughout all of Canada and most of the Northern United States. It is one Fish that is found in most every place across Canada, and Alaska. Pike are a fresh water fish that will if they must survive in salt water rivers.The Northern pike is usually caught in the 20 -25 inch range in Alberta, Most of these fish weight in the 3-5 pound range. Pike grow to an impressive 40 lb range if the lake is right and the food is there.

Northern Pike do not live in Mountain Rivers and streams until they warm up and slow down in the foothills of Alberta. The average pike lives in anywhere from 2 to 20 feet of water depending on the time of year. In the spring they stay in the shallow bays near shore where they spawn, as the water gets warmer they slowly move into deeper water with structure. Pike are predators and do not sit and wait for there food they hunt for it, but they are not on the move. Pike often sit and wait in a weed bed patiently looking for the next fish to swim by. The Pike then uses its impressive speed to dart out and grab the food.

Pike prefer slow or still water to live in. They spawn in shallow bays in the spring once the water reaches about 40 degrees, they remain in these shallow bays until the water starts to warm up. Once the water warms they move into deeper cooler water. Water temperature and the food supply are the most important part of locating hungry pike. Find a nice moderate temp, as close to 40 Degrees as possible and throw a large bucktail into it a few times. If nothing move on and start again.

Pike often die because of there ferocious and insatiable appetite. They will try and swallow a pike of nearly identical size and often suffocate themselves.

Walleye;

walleye, pickeral, fishing tackle
Walleye don’t have too many other names; people often mistakenly refer to them as pickerel. Pickerel are a completely different fish in the pike family. A walleye is from the perch family. People from some places call them glass eyes or midnight pike.

Walleye are the largest fish in the perch family which includes; Perch, Sauger and the hybrid of a walleye and Sauger – the Saugeye. Fish of the Perch family can be easily identified by the spines on the dorsal fin. Many fishermen have had a wound or two from those spikes, I know I have.

Walleye are the most sought after game fish in all of Alberta, and one of the most popular game fish in North America. Walleye do not inhabit mountain streams, rivers and lakes or the Maritime Provinces but are found throughout the rest of Canada. They are found all the way to the gulf Coast in the U.S.A. Angling pressure in the past forced the government to reduce limits or stop the harvest of Walleye all together in the province. Until recently most of the major walleye lakes and rivers in Alberta had zero harvest limits. In 2006 you could apply for a walleye tag to make it legal to keep them in 3 bodies of water in Alberta. Walleye inhabit most of the same lakes and rivers that Northern Pike inhabit. They tend to thrive in slightly deeper water than the average Northern Pike, but in much of the same structure.

In Southern Alberta there are many irrigation reservoirs that contain walleye. These reservoirs are often built by building dams in the low spots in coulees; the coulee is then filled with water via an irrigation canal. Once the reservoir is filled the water is directed to farmer’s lands via canals. The water levels in the reservoirs are dependant on the weather, precipitation, and the amount of water that farmers need throughout the summer. Because of these factors the water levels in the canals can fluctuate lots and rapidly. This forces walleye to live in the structure that they prefer some of the time, but for the most part reservoir walleye are constantly on the move. They are trying to find the best spot, until the water level changes again. Typically the easiest place to fish for reservoir walleye is on the dams that are built to hold the water. There is usually a road on them and you can have very easy access and a great success rate.

The canals that run throughout Southern Alberta are a great place to fish for Walleye; the walleye can travel through hundred and hundred of miles or irrigation canals. There are checks that regulate the flow of water and diverters and recently a lot of the water in the Eastern Irrigation District or County of Newell has been pipelined to reduce the amount of evaporation that occurs. Wherever there is a change of direction in the canals, a dam, check or any other change in the regular flow of water is a good place to fish.

People often refer to walleye as windy walleye. This is because on windy days you will typically have better luck. When fishing or walleye on windy days go to whatever shore has the waves blowing toward it. This wave action stirs up silt, mud, baitfish, and makes the water darker. Due to the sensitive eyes the fish has it makes it easier for them to feed in this murky water. I have caught some of the best walleye ever on these days.

Walleye spawn in shallow water, around rock shoals, steep drop offs in the lake and near inlets of flowing water. Walleye try to spawn in the same spot year after year whenever possible. The average Alberta walleye is in the 2 to 3 pound range but are caught weighing up to 15 pounds. In other provinces such as Ontario and Quebec they are found up to 17 pounds.

Walleye eat mostly small fish and shrimp, Walleye are hunters and generally cruise a specific area of the water body, they do laps around a weed bed or rock pile looking for whatever is going to swim by. They prefer slightly cloudy water to live in because of there extremely sensitive vision. Walleye are often caught at night more than the day, walleye feed at night as they have excellent vision in the dark. In cloudy water walleye are found in shallower depths and in clear water where the light can penetrate deep the walleye stay deeper.

Lake Sturgeon;

This ancient fish's limits have also been reduced to zero limits since 2006. You have always had to buy a $5 license to keep a Sturgeon but now they prefer it if people simply choose another type of fish to go after because there are signs that the sturgeon population is also declining quite rapidly. Sturgeons live in two of the large river systems in Alberta. The North Saskatchewan River and the South Saskatchewan River. I have heard they also live in the larger lakes in the province, but I have never heard of or seen one caught. So could be true, could be a myth, but I think there are sturgeon there, people just tend not to fish for them in lakes.

The South Saskatchewan River from Medicine Hat to the Saskatchewan border is the only place I have caught sturgeon, also the only place I have fished for sturgeon. Sturgeon Populations in the South Saskatchewan River are presumed to be stable with an estimated figure that the system contains 5000 sturgeon. The North Saskatchewan Rivers system however is not stable. Environmentalists guess the system contains less than 1000 of the fish.



Lake Sturgeon can live to be 80 to 150 years old and weigh in excess of 100 lbs. They grow very slowly and don’t reach maturity for 25 to 30 years of age. Even at that age they only spawn every 5 to 7 years on average. This is the reason that the fish population is so low in these river systems. There was a complete sturgeon fishery closure for almost 30 years, from 1940 to 1968 in Alberta due to the fishery almost being wiped out from over fishing in the 20’s and 30’s

Sturgeon seem to cruise the river bottoms looking for food, they tend to be scavengers eating dead fish on the bottom of the river, I am not aware of any particular structure that they like to spend there time in other than that they like deeper warmer water.

Goldeye and Mooneye;

Goldeye are sometimes referred to as mooneye but are indeed a different fish within the same species. They do look very similar to each other but the Goldeye is usually the larger of the two fish.

These fish live in almost every large river in Alberta and in most of the provinces in Canada.

This game fish’s average size is about ¾ lbs, they do get up to the 1.5 lb range.

These fish often fall victim to other game fish such as the Northern Pike and the Walleye.

They don’t school together but where you catch one you can typically catch some more. The Goldeye species are migratory by nature. These fish can travel hundreds of miles a day when they are spawning.

They can be caught with simply a worm and bobber, or any other smaller presentation. Goldeye are a very fun fish to catch, they put up a good fight almost every time. Great fish for kids to learn to fish with. Goldeye and Mooneye are constantly on the move, they never seem to hangout in a particular area or any certain structure. You may fish for hours and catch nothing, then the fish moves in and you can catch 30 in what seems like minutes. If you can fish for them by a dam or under a bridge where there is a water break and the river doesn’t flow fast, or wherever there is a current break. These fish sit in the break and watch for food to float by.

Trout;

trout, rainbow trout, coleman alberta
Trout are one of my favorite game fish to angle for. They live in the rivers near where I live and in a number of annually stocked trout ponds. Trout eat small fish, insects, and shrimp amongst other edible sources of food. The most popular places to fish for trout in Alberta are in the streams that flow out of the Rocky Mountains and into the foothills eventually forming the large rivers that flow through Alberta and into Saskatchewan.



The forestry trunk road or Highway 40 that starts in Coleman Alberta and goes north through Kananaskis Country is the main access to the best trout fishing in Canada and probably the world. The streams that flow east out of the mountains hold fish from the very start of them to where the flow out of Alberta into Saskatchewan and beyond.

Trout live in pools in these streams when they are just two feet wide and inches deep. The pools of deep water are found in random spots throughout the streams, trout live in them eating whatever insects are hatching and landing on the water. As the stream flow down the mountains and more streams join them they get bigger and faster but the fish habitat stays the same. The rivers are mostly shallow, and the trout continue to spend the majority of their lives in the deeper pools scattered throughout them.

Trout are a very skittish fish by nature, in streams where the water is very clear you may have to literally stalk the fish and crawl to the waters edge on your hands and knees as not to scare the fish.

Most of the freshwater fishing for Trout done in the mountains is fly fishing. The Crowsnest Pass area rivers and the Blue Ribbon Bow River in Alberta are both considered world class Trout fisheries by fly fisherman.

Burbot;

These fish are often called Ling Cod, Freshwater Cod, Eels, and WHAT THE @$&# IS THAT!!!

The Burbot is indeed the only freshwater member of the cod family. Most of these fish weigh in the 4-8 lb range depending on where they are caught.

These fish are usually caught when fish near bottom or on the bottom. Many fishermen don’t know what these are when they catch them. They think they are eels or some other strange fish. In warmer lakes they are found as deep as they can get. If there is 200 feet of water in a warm lake, this fish will be at the bottom. In Alberta however these fish are found at the bottom in most lakes, in shallow lakes they can survive well in the 15 to 30 foot range, and in winter they are caught in 3 to 15 feet of water.

Burbot will eat almost anything and everything. Or at least taste it first. Dead fish are great for catching Burbot on. Cast it and let it sit on the bottom.

Burbot venture into shallow water at night and on cool days. They can be caught more easily with conventional tackle when they do.

They are supposed to be a very good eating fish, I have never tried on but I have friends that swear that It will be the best fish I have ever eaten.

They have a long fin that runs from the middle of there back to there tail. They feel very smooth like an eel or catfish. It does look more like an eel than s fish.

Burbot eggs are very sought after in some European places for there superb caviar.

Crawling Valley Reservoir, Lake Newell and Eagle Lake are some of my favorite Alberta Burbot lakes.

Whitefish;

These fish live in lakes, rivers and streams throughout Alberta. These fish live in every province in Canada.

Whitefish are a member of the salmonoid family, like trout, and char. These fish have very large scales and are easily identifiable from other salmonoid species Whitefish can live anywhere in a body or water and are often found suspended at random points in a water body. In very deep lakes the fish are found very deep.

Sometimes they are feeding on the surface other times right on the bottom. Near Structure or far away. They eat very small things such as shrimp, maggots and Insect larvae.

They can grow fairly large in most of the lakes in Alberta. They definatly prefer cold water and in the hot summers in southern Alberta they are often seen floating dead sometimes dozens at a time on the reservoirs from the water getting to warm and the fish not having a place to cool down.

White fish in mountain streams are fished for and live in the same places as the trout that live in them.

Freshwater Fish Identification is an easy thing in Alberta. The only type of fish that you may not be able to identify easily would be trout types and the two types of whitefish. Trout beacuse there are several types that look very similiar to each other, well, most look similiar to each other, there are subtle diferences.

Freshwater Fish Identification is extremely important, if you don't have the information for proper freshwater fish identification you could land yourself in trouble with the law.

Fishing regulations state that you must not keep any unidentifiable fish. Sure you may get lucky and keep the right size and species of fish, or you might not. I dont even want to know what some of the posible fines for that might be.

FRESHWATER FISH IDENTIFICATION IS IMPORTANT!!

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