Fishing is an excellent opportunity for relaxing in nature and stimulating your brain with a rewarding challenge. But anyone can cast their line into a lake and catch bass or walleye—these are among the most common freshwater fish found throughout this country. Instead, learn more about the rarest North American fish you can catch and add some new targets to your trophy list!
Lake sturgeon are among the rarest freshwater fish in North America, thanks in part to their critically endangered status. We only know certain subspecies, such as Alabama sturgeon, are alive due to trace amounts of their DNA found in likely habitats. However, certain subspecies of lake sturgeon are completely legal and ethical to catch and release. Many fisheries across the Great Lakes allow lake sturgeon fishing and even offer chartering services for big game angling. In the Great Lakes, lake sturgeon reach lengths between three and five feet and weights between 10 and 80 pounds—the largest lake sturgeons can grow well past 300 pounds.
American paddlefish look like fish born in the wrong era, better suited for early Cretaceous waters rather than our 21st century, Cenozoic world. American paddlefish found in rivers today are practically the same as they were nearly 125 million years ago! Despite their incredible longevity as a species, American paddlefish populations are vulnerable throughout many parts of this country. As such, only 13 states allow paddlefish angling—the most popular destinations for eager fishing enthusiasts are Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, and parts of Montana. Ensure you bring heavy-duty gear for securing this fish, as adult American paddlefish often span seven feet long and weigh nearly 200 pounds.
Alligator gars are real-life river monsters, at least according to their large stature and terrifying appearance. Shaped like a prehistoric torpedo, these natural predators often reach lengths of eight feet long and weights well past 300 pounds, cementing them as the largest gar species. Alligator gar live mostly in rivers, bays, and coastal marine waters from the Gulf of Veracruz to the western Florida panhandle. These gars also call the Mississippi River their home, with some even venturing into parts of the Ohio and Missouri rivers. However, the ultimate state for alligator gar fishing is undoubtedly Texas in the Red River, Lake Texoma, and the lower Rio Grande.
These three species are among the rarest North American freshwater fish you can catch, but it’s important to always practice ethical catching habits to avoid damaging vulnerable ecosystems and populations. Always learn about the endangered status of the fish you plan on hunting before venturing out for a day on the water.