Fish Species Identification Guide - An interactive guide to the identification of Saskatchewan gamefish species by their anatomical features.
Northern Pike Esox lucius
pike, or jackfish as it is commonly called, is characterized by a
long and slender body. This body form is accentuated by the
position of the dorsal fin near the tail. The large duck-like
mouth containing numerous sharp teeth gives the pike a fierce
appearance. The colour on the upper surface is generally dark
green, changing to lighter greens on the flanks and pale yellow
to creamy white on the undersurface. On the sides, whitish spots
are arranged into seven to nine irregular rows. The heavy,
protective mucus layer covering the skin gives pike its
characteristic slimy feel.
Spawning takes place in the spring shortly after the ice melts when water temperatures are 4-100C (39-500F). Mature adults move into streams or marshy shorelines to spawn, where they seek out flooded vegetation which is often covered by no more than a few centimetres of water. Soon after hatching, fry begin to grow at a fairly rapid rate. By the end of the first summer, some pike have attained lengths greater than 150 mm (6 in). Pike grow rapidly in length for the first three years, then growth in length decreases while weight increases.
Pike are found throughout Saskatchewan and they can adapt to a wide range of habitats. Their preferred habitat is the shallow water area of lakes and slow rivers. During the warm summer months, pike may move into deeper water; however, they will seldom be found in depths greater than 6 m (20 ft).
Pike are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever is available. The diet of adult pike consists primarily of forage fish, such as perch, ciscoes and minnows, but other organisms such as aquatic insects, mice and ducklings may occasionally be eaten.
Pike is the most commonly angled gamefish in Saskatchewan. This species is readily caught even when other species are not biting. Large spoons, plugs or spinners trolled or cast in summer, or hooks jigged with preserved minnows in winter, will all take pike. The usual size of pike taken by anglers is 0.9-1.8 kg (2-4 lb), but larger fish (over 9 kg) are not uncommon.
The flesh of pike when caught in cold water is white, firm and flaky, whereas pike caught in warmer waters may sometimes be soft and muddy tasting. This unwanted taste is often avoided when the fish is skinned before cooking. Though quite bony, the pike makes excellent eating and can be prepared in a number of ways, including smoking.
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Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush
The lake trout is the only trout native to Saskatchewan. This
fish has a fairly long, rounded body with a large head. The tail
fin is deeply forked. Its body is usually dark green grey to
black in colour with numerous light coloured spots; this
background colour may be silvery in some lakes. There are no
bright colours on the body but the fins may have an orange tint.
Lake trout spawn in the fall when water temperatures are between 7-140C (44-580F). Spawning occurs over large boulders or rubble bottoms in lakes in depths between 1-3 m (3-10 ft). In some lakes, lake trout return to the same area year after year to spawn. The eggs incubate over the winter and hatch in the early spring.
The growth of lake trout is slow and quite variable among fish. In Lac Ia Ronge, for example, a two year old may vary in length from 18-33 cm (7-1 3 in). As with most fish there is a general trend towards increased growth in more southern areas The average size of lake trout caught by anglers is 1.4-2.3 kg (3-5 lb) but fish over 9 kg (20 lb) are not uncommon.
Lake trout occur naturally in lakes located on the shield. They have also been stocked successfully in some of our southern and northern waters where they previously did not exist. This species requires a deep lake with a large volume of cool, oxygen-rich water. The preferred water temperature of lake trout is 100C (500F), hence their seasonal movements follow a predictable pattern. In the spring and fall when the water is cool, lake trout inhabit shallow areas and in the summer, they descend into the deeper and cooler waters.
The diet of lake trout varies depending on the season and the availability of prey In the summer, they feed mostly on cisco and whitefish and in the spring and fall, aquatic insects, minnows and young fish are eaten.
In some of our lakes the lake trout is the most sought after species, attracting anglers both from in and out of the province. Lake trout can be caught by fly or spin-fishing in the spring and fall when they are in shallow water, and by deep jigging or trolling with a metal line in the summer. Lake trout flesh may be white to orange-red, depending on their diet. Regardless of colour, however, the flesh is usually excellent tasting, though quite fatty, and can be prepared in many ways.
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Walleye Stizostedion vitreum
Walleye, commonly referred to as pickerel, are characterized by large milky coloured eyes from which the name walleye is derived. The fish has a fairly robust body and moderately large jaws containing many sharp teeth; its canines are especially prominent. Like all members of the perch family, walleye have two dorsal fins. The first is spiny, while the second is soft rayed. The colour of walleye is highly variable. Fish from turbid water are much paler than those from clear water. Their background colour varies from dark brown to yellow, with the upper surfaces darker, sides paler and undersurface a yellow or milky white.
Walleye spawn in the spring shortly after ice breakup when water temperatures reach 7-90C (44-480F). Adults will often move into ice-free rivers to spawn while lakes are still frozen. Spawning usually takes place over gravel or rock bottoms in both streams or lakes.
Within two weeks of hatching, walleye fry have dispersed themselves into the open water of lakes. By the fall of their first year the young fish grow to about 12 cm (5-6 in) in length. After three years of growth in some southern waters walleye may reach more than 0.4 kg (1 lb), whereas in northern waters such as Lac Ia Ronge, walleye take up to five or more years to reach that weight. Most walleye caught by fishermen are 0.4-1.4 kg (1-3 lb) in weight; however, some may weigh more than 4.5 kg (10 lb).
Walleye are found throughout the province, except for the very saline lakes in the south. This species will tolerate a wide range of environments but they are most productive in shallow turbid lakes. In turbid water they will remain actively feeding throughout the day, whereas in clear water their light-sensitive eyes restrict their feeding activity to twilight or nighttime.
Like pike, vlalleye will utilize whatever species of fish is readily available; their usual prey are perch, ciscoes and minnows. At certain times, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects may also be important in their diet. Unlike pike, walleye will often range further out from shore into deeper water, swimming in loose schools.
Walleye is the most sought after gamefish in the province. Their flesh is firm, white and of excellent flavour. They are usually angled by still fishing with preserved minnows or other baits, or by casting or trolling, using artificial lures such as plugs and jigs. When casting or trolling one should let the lure drop to the bottom, then retrieve it, or troll it very slowly.
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Sauger Stizostedion canadense
Sauger is a
smaller relative of walleye. These species are very similar and
most anglers are unaware of any differences; both being
considered '~pickerel~'. Two easily observed features can help to
distinguish them - sauger, unlike walleye, has distinct rows of
spots on its spiny dorsal fin and its tail fin does not exhibit a
white lower lobe. Sauger also have three or four dark brown
markings across their back, but these are not always apparent.
Their average weight is just over 1/2 kg (1 lb), with few fish
exceeding 1 kg (2 lb).
The spawning of sauger takes place in early May, often immediately after walleye have spawned. Both of these species may utilize the same gravel shoals in lakes and rivers, and some interbreeding can occur. Interbreeding may account for the large sauger, up to 2.7 kg (6 lb), which have been taken from Tobin Lake.
After the adults spawn, young sauger hatch in about three weeks. Their growth is rapid within the first year, but usually slower than that of walleye. Sauger in Tobin Lake reach their average weight in four or five years.
In Saskatchewan, sauger are only found in the Saskatchewan and Churchill River systems, and in Cumberland Lake. This species prefers large shallow lakes and slow-flowing rivers which are turbid or cloudy. Sauger usually succeed over walleye in very turbid waters, but their north-ward range is restricted by cold water temperatures. Consequently, sauger are less adaptable to different habitats than walleye.
Sauger prey on small fish and other aquatic animals such as crayfish and insects, often gathering on the same feeding grounds as do walleye. Both sauger and walleye are sight feeders; they are adapted to feed in their turbid habitat by their special light-gathering eyes.
Like walleye, sauger are angled by still fishing with preserved minnows, or by casting or trolling with brightly coloured lures. Their flesh, which most people cannot differentiate from that of walleye, is firm, white and of good flavour.
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Yellow Perch Perca flavescens
Yellow perch are one of the most common fish in Saskatchewan.
They are found throughout the province, except in the far
northeastern corner. As a gamefish, however, they are only
important in southern lakes and reservoirs, where they may grow
to 0.2-0.9 kg (½-2 lb) in size.
Adult perch are an attractive fish with body colours varying from bright greens and golden browns, to orange and yellows. Spawning fish have even more intense colours and have fins coloured orange to bright red. Perch are equipped with strong spines on most fins, as well as shorter spines on their gill covers. When handling these spiny fish, smooth back their fins and grasp them firmly behind the head.
In the spring, perch spawn when water temperatures reach 7-120C (44-540F) by laying gelatinous strings of eggs on aquatic vegetation. They reproduce prolifically and, when predators are few or absent, overpopulate and become stunted, with adults seldom exceeding 15 cm (6 in) in length. They are a hardy fish which can withstand adverse environmental conditions and are among the last of our species to winterkill.
Perch utilize a wide range of habitats from large lakes to ponds and quiet rivers. They are most abundant in lakes with moderate vegetation, clear water and sandy bottoms. In summer they are a shallow water fish and are seldom found below 10 m (33 ft). In winter they are active below the ice in shallow and deep water. Perch move about in loose schools which are segregated by size. Adults remain close together in summer, but are more separated in winter.
Their main food is aquatic insects, crustaceans and small fish, which are taken in open water or on the bottom. Most feeding activity occurs in the morning or evening. In turn, perch are one of the most important forage fishes, being preyed upon by almost all predatory fish, e.g., pike and walleye.
Summer and winter angling for perch is by still fishing with preserved minnows or worms as bait. They take hooks lightly and are not known for fighting. The possibility of large catches and the high quality of their flesh, however, makes them highly attractive for anglers. They are an enjoyable fish for family angling; youngsters especially like the rate at which this species can be caught.
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Arctic Grayling Thymallus arcticus
Arctic grayling is one of the most beautiful gamefish in Saskatchewan. Its body is coloured with shades of dark blue or black to purple, and is tinted with a pink irridescence. The head is an olive-green with a mauve irridescence and the eye is dark green and gold. The fins are generally gray, but the magnificent dorsal fin, which serves to distinguish this fish from all others, is unusually striking. It is blackish gray with numerous purple to green spots; the upper edge has a narrow reddish band.
Grayling spawn in the early spring when the ice is first breaking up in the smaller streams. Spawning sites are usually over gravel or rocky bottoms in a swift current. Males will defend these sites from other males, using lateral displays involving a raised dorsal fin. No nest is built and the female spawns her eggs in the current. Despite cold water temperatures, the eggs hatch quite quickly.
Growth is rapid in the first year, with the young fish attaining a length of 64 mm (2.5 in) by late August. In later years, growth is generally slow. The average weight of fish caught by anglers is 0.4-0.9 kg (1-2 lb).
Grayling occur naturally in streams tributary to large lakes on the Precambrian Shield. Their favoured habitat is the clear water of cold rivers and rocky creeks; they also occur in the inshore area of large lakes. Grayling have been stocked successfully in waters south of their natural range. A population has been established in the Bow River, a tributary stream of Lac Ia Ronge. Other populations in waters near La Ronge, Estevan and the Hanson Lake Road (Ridge Lake - number 51 on North Map) are maintained by stocking.
The diet of grayling consists mainly of aquatic and terrestrial insects; the latter includes bees, grasshoppers and a variety of beetles.
Grayling can be considered the most exclusive gamefish since they are the least abundant and one of the few northern species which can be fly fished. The preponderance of surface insects in their food, their habit of testing almost everything on the water surface, their schooling habit and tendency to leap when hooked, make them a highly attractive sport fish.
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Goldeye Hiodon aiosoides
are a deep and slender-bodied fish. Their colouration is mostly
silver changing to a darkish blue along the back. Their eyes are
prominent and a bright yellow; hence, the name goldeye. The
commercially smoked goldeye, familiar to many people as
"Winnipeg Goldeye" is orange to bright red. This colour
was achieved by smoking with willow wood but now is produced by
harmless aniline dyes.
In the early spring, goldeye migrate upstream in rivers to their spawning grounds and downstream again in the autumn to overwinter in the deeper area of lakes. Spawning takes place in pool areas of rivers from ice breakup until late June. Since water conditions are always turbid at this time, the spawning act has never been observed.
Goldeye grow to be about 100 mm (4 in) in length by the end of their first summer. In Tobin Lake, goldeye have one of the fastest growth rates in North America. By 4 years of age these fish have attained a length of more than 300 mm (12 in). Goldeye taken by anglers average about 0.35 kg (13 oz) but 0.7 kg (24 oz) is not uncommon in Tobin Lake.
In Saskatchewan, goldeye are found throughout the Saskatchewan River system and in the western end of Lake Athabasca. In the summer, goldeye are known to frequent the quiet areas of the Saskatchewan River as well as the shallow areas of Tobin and Diefenbaker Lakes.
Goldeye eat a variety of organisms which consists of whatever is most readily available. Food items range from insects, crustaceans, small fishes and even frogs and mice. During the summer a large part of their food is taken at the water surface.
Goldeye are a sport fish in the Saskatchewan River and its tributaries. They will take wet or dry flies and small spinners. The usual angling method is a hook baited with insects or small fish and held by a float about one foot below the surface. Since the flesh of goldeye is somewhat soft and oily, they are best frozen fresh, and then thawed and prepared by smoking.
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Lake Whitefish Coregonus
Lake whitefish have a somewhat elongate and slender body with a small head. Large fish may develop a distinct hump on the back behind the head. The overall colouration is silvery with the upper surface appearing brown or greenish.
Spawning occurs in the fall when water temperatures have dropped to about 80C (460F). Adults move into shallow areas of lakes and rivers to spawn on stony or sand bottoms. Incubation of the eggs takes place over the winter and hatching commences shortly after ice breakup in the spring. By early summer, the young fish migrate from the shallows to deeper water.
The growth of whitefish varies greatly from north to south in the province. In more southern lakes, a weight of 0.9 kg (2 lb) can be attained by a three (or four) year old fish, while in Lac La Ronge this size will not be attained until the tenth year.
Whitefish are considered a cool water species and are widely distributed in our cool, deep northern lakes. They are also found as far south in the province as the Ou'Appelle Lakes; however, many of our southern lakes are not suitable for whitefish because of their high alkalinity, shallow depth and warm water.
Whitefish are mainly bottom feeders consuming a wide variety of bottom-living organisms including insects and small fishes. In the early summer, they will also feed extensively at the surface when insects are emerging from the lakes.
Whitefish are best known as a commercial fish but now they are also becoming well known as a sport fish. They can be fly fished in early June or more commonly, angled through the ice. In recent years, winter angling for whitefish has become popular on some southern lakes such as Lac Eauclaire. Small preserved minnows or pieces of minnows are the usual bait and a small hook must be used. The flesh of whitefish has long been known for its excellent quality and for the variety of ways it can be prepared.
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Lake Sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens
sturgeon is the giant of freshwater fishes and the most
primitive. It has a heavy torpedo-shaped body, rows of bony
plates embedded in the skin and a shark-like upturned tail.
Underneath the pointed snout are four barbels and an extendable
mouth. The body and fins are coloured brown and grey.
Spawning occurs in the late spring-early summer when water temperatures are 13-180C (56-640F). Adults migrate up rivers seeking out areas in swift water or eddies to spawn. These areas are often below obstructions that prevent further migration. The ripe eggs are black in colour and when shed adhere to rocks and logs.
At the end of their first summer, young sturgeon are about 12 cm (5 in) in length. Growth is slower in subsequent years and maturity is not reached until about the 20th year, sturgeon being one of the slowest-maturing fish. At this age, they are about 100 cm (40 in) in length and 4.5 kg (10 lb) in weight. Most sturgeon caught in Saskatchewan are between 4.5-36 kg (10-80 lb) but they have exceeded 68 kg (150 lb).
In Saskatchewan, sturgeon are found in the Saskatchewan River system and in the Churchill River near the Manitoba border. Their usual habitat is the shallow areas of large rivers and lakes. They are most often caught at depths between 4 and 9 m(1 5-30 ft).
With their underslung mouth, sturgeon are well adapted as a bottom feeder. Almost everything that is edible is sucked up and consumed; nonedible materials are ejected from the mouth.
Sturgeon is not an important sport fish but its large size always attracts some attempts to catch it by hook and line. The usual method is to use a baited hook which rests on the bottom. The flesh of sturgeon is firm white and flaky. It is delicious whether smoked, or cut and fried as steak.
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Rainbow TroutSalmo gairdneri
trout colouration is highly variable. Stream fish and spawners
are darker with more intense colour while lake fish are more
silvery. Rainbows have numerous, small black spots on body and
fins and their sides have a vague red blush. Their principal
foods are insects and amphipods (fresh-water shrimp). The average
size of rainbows is 0.9-1.8 kg (2-4 lb) but 5.4-6.3 kg (12-14 lb)
fish are not uncommon from Piprell Lake.
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Brook TroutSalvelinus fontinalis
trout are greenish brown to almost black in colour. Their sides
have whitish spots as well as small red spots surrounded by blue
haloes. The leading edge of their lower fins is distinctly white,
followed by a black line. Their diet is mostly insects and small
fish. Brookies average 0.4-0.9 kg (1-2 lb) in streams while 1.4
(3 lb) fish are quite common in lakes.
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SplakeSalvelinus namaycush X S. fontinalis
bred by crossing the eggs of lake trout with the milt of brook
trout. The offspring are intermediate in appearance between both
parents. Notably, splake have a (slightly) forked tail remindful
of lake trout and halo-like spots common to brook trout. Their
food is basically insects, amphipods and small fishes. Anglers
take splake in the 0.9-1.8 (2-4 lb) size range with some up to
3.2 kg (7 lb).
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Brown TroutSalmo trutta
trout are mostly light brown in colour with pronounced black
spots. Rusty red, irregular-shaped spots are also present on the
sides. A variety of organisms are consumed but larger trout feed
prominently on fishes and crayfish. Brown trout average 0.9-2.3
(2-5 lb) with some in the 4.5 kg (10 lb) range.
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Kokanee SalmonOncorhynchus nerka
salmon are greenish blue in colour changing to bright silver on
their sides. At about 3 years of age breeding males become a
reddish colour, and develop a hump and a hooked jaw. These
changes are less evident for females. Kokanee feed on algae and
other small organisms in the water. This species can be angled at
shallow depths using flashy spoons with small baited hooks. Baits
are usually fish eggs or pieces of worms. The average size of
kokanee is 0.4-0.9 kg (1-2 lb).
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