Ranking the State Fish
Updated: May 4
Fishing never interested me growing up. I have never been patient enough to learn the ins and outs or the sport of it. Of course that makes me the perfect person to rank all of the U.S.'s state fish. All rankings are final and completely objective based on the small amount of research I did to write this post.
A couple of disclaimers: first, despite what you might expect, there are not fifty state fish. Several states have more than one, usually either freshwater or saltwater, or cold vs. warm-water. Missouri, doing its own thing, has a fish and an aquatic animal. The aquatic animal is also a fish. Ohio and Indiana don’t even have state fish, meaning that they either don't have actual fish in the states, or just don't know what a fish is. Both are valid conjecture.
Additionally, several states share state fish. This ranges from one fish being shared by two states with different names, to eight different states having the same fish because originality doesn't exist in America
The second disclaimer is somewhat off-topic, but almost all of these fish are endangered or threatened through some combination of over fishing, destruction of habitat, introduction of rival species, unclean water source, and a myriad of other stresses that humans have put on the environment. Seriously, these are the state fish and they’re endangered and threatened. Like when the Bald Eagle was endangered, the sheer irony of America's state and national animals being in danger of dying out is surely something to behold.
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brook_trout
37. Brook Trout (MI, NH, NJ, NY, PA, VT, VA, WV)
These guys are so low on the list because they are boring. Their green and brown coloring looks like mud, and they feed on insects. That’s about it. People fish for them. It is a struggle to find more information to put here.
Photo Credit: https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/spotted-bass
36. Kentucky Spotted Bass (KY)
Also known as a “spotty” or “spots”, these game fish live for six years and were a big invasive species in South Africa. They also look like a Largemouth Bass, and it’s bad enough that Largemouth Bass look like Largemouth Bass without something else mimicking them.
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_bass_fishing
35.-34. Striped Bass and Rockfish (MD, NH, NJ, NY, RI, SC, VA)
These are taking up two spots because while the Striped Bass and Rockfish are the same fish, Maryland had the cajones to list them under a different, cooler sounding name, so they get to take a higher spot. Still, these things are really lame in appearance, and often landlocked due to dam construction. Is putting them so low on this list when they are already having their lakes locked off kicking a fish while it’s down? Maybe. But what are they going to do? Come after me? They’re locked in their lakes!
Photo Credit: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=401
33. Largemouth Bass (AL, FL, GA, MS)
Alphabetically, this is the first fish listed on state fish lists and for a long time, it was the lowest ranked. Largemouth Bass are ugly with a big jutting jaw. They tend to be an invasive species all over the world, very well represented by the Animal Crossing game series. These puppies have been blamed for the extinction of the Atitlan grube – a large water bird in Guatemala – and have had major effects on the fish population in Japan. They get points for their fighting spirit, but not much else.
Photo Credit: https://igfa.org/2020/06/26/the-golden-age-of-smallmouth-bass/
32. Smallmouth Bass (TN)
This is a popular game fish, listed higher than the Largemouth because Smallmouth sounds funnier. They also live in clearer water, the fish equivalent of taking a shower, and females tend to bigger than the males, which gives them feminist points.
Photo Credit: https://tpwmagazine.com/archive/2018/mar/ed_3_bass/index.phtml
31. Guadalupe Bass (TX)
This is a super rare species that has almost no predators, which would be pretty cool if they weren't disappearing! They are hybridizing with the Smallmouth Bass! Which, as a way to go, really isn’t too bad, because at least they are making something new.
Picture: Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout
Photo Source: https://westernnativetrout.org/rio-grande-cutthroat-trout/
30.-26. The Cutthroat Trout(s) (UT, MT, CO, NM, NV)
Multiple states tote different species of Cutthroat Trout as their state fish, and here they are all listed together. Colorado has the Greenback, which has been threatened by non-native species and Montana has the Black-Spotted which has teeth under its tongue and the roof of its mouth. Try to get that image out of your head. The Rio Grande Cutthroat in New Mexico is credited to the be the first New World trout recorded by Francisco de Coronado in 1541. Sure, Native Americans had most definitely already "discovered" it, but it's a more fun story for textbooks. Finally, Utah has the Bonneville Cutthroat, noted as being vulnerable to anglers since they aren’t weary of hooks. in other words, they’re dumb. Nothing impressive here.
Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.ch/pin/347340189985348081/
25. Fighting Tarpon (AL)
The Fighting Tarpon is a little higher on the list because it has a cool sounding name, an interesting appearance and because it’s known as the “Silver King”. They can fill their swim bladders full of air, which is pretty cool, and they have a real fighting spirit when hooked, true to their name. They are held back due to their flesh being considered “undesirable and bony” and reminding me too much of myself.
Photo Credit: https://www.vims.edu/research//departments/fisheries/programs/juvenile_surveys/data_products/indices/weakfish/index.php
24. Weakfish (DE)
Honestly, I felt sorry for this one. Weakfish are essentially the kid at school who didn’t get bullied because there’s no fun in it. They’re already pretty bland looking, but they also have very weak mouth muscles. Their mouths are so weak that they are hard to target by fishers because hooks just tear free. Which is gross, while also being an interesting way to avoid being caught.
Photo Credit: https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/channel-catfish
23. Channel Catfish (IA, KS, MO, NE, TN)
This one is also share by a few states, but fares better because of how bizarre they are. They can make sounds using special sonic muscles and will eat just about anything. They are fiercely territorial and use their body order to mark their swimming grounds. But the weirdest thing is that in addition to having a strong sense of smell and taste, they have taste buds all over their body, earning them the nickname “The Swimming Tongue”, which is either the worst or best nickname depending on how far along you are in a relationship.
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/SouthernAppalachianBrookTrout/
22. Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (GA, NC)
This fish is a dark green and brown, and native to the Appalachians, the South, and Canada. It holds the point on the list because…I like the word Appalachians. Sue me, judging fish is hard.
Photo Credit: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/fish/fishing-opportunities/sportfish-of-vermont/landlocked-atlantic-salmon
21. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon (ME)
Landlocked Atlantic Salmon grow big, up to a meter long (metric system for life!). They change color throughout their lives, which is pretty cool, and go between streams and seas. Also, they’re blocked off from the ocean, and I feel for them.
Photo Credit: https://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-could-spell-the-end-for-the-cutthroat-trout-17501
20. Cutthroat Trout (ID, WY)
Surprise, there’s another Cutthroat Trout! These are the originals, the namesakes, the cream of the crop. They have red coloration on the underside of their jaw, a dope look. They are opportunistic feeders, and when they crossbreed with the Rainbow Trout, their offspring are called “Cutbows”, which is just an awesome name.
Photo Credit: https://m.startribune.com/to-catch-a-walleye-10-tips-for-the-fishing-opener/258521681/
19. Walleye (MN, SD, VT)
Walleyes are distinctive because their eyes point outwards instead of forwards, giving them a nice view of what's beside them. This actually causes them to have a good deal of eye shine, making them major targets for anglers. So they are chumps. But they have a cool, descriptive name, so points for that.
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_shad
18. American Shad (CT)
The American Shad, unlike most Shads, actually comes from a European branch of the fish, which is actually pretty typical of America. They are known as “The Fish That Fed The Nation’s Founders”, and have entire festivals devoted to them, with several in Connecticut, along with some in New Jersey and Virginia. Any fish that has more festivals than me is a fish that I have to respect.
Photo Credit: https://www.chesapeakebay.net/S=0/fieldguide/critter/spotted_seatrout
17. Spotted Sea Trout (LA)
The Spotted Sea Trout is pretty, with a nice red and white coloration. They sport canine-like teeth, and have a diet that starts with shrimp and crustaceans, before expanding into larger fish, providing fantastic representation of Louisiana’s cuisine which is honestly one of the best cuisines in the U.S.
Photo Credit: http://niceville.com/share-your-red-drum-fishing-experiences-with-the-fwc/
16.-15. Channel Bass/Red Drum (NC, GA, TX)
Channel Bass and Red Drums are another case of one fish having two different names. For clarification, the Channel Bass is the state fish of North Carolina, while the Red Drum is one of the state fish of both Texas and Georgia. This saltwater fish has a cool eye spot near the tail and they can grow quite large, the largest recorded at 94 pounds. But the real reason they are so high on the list is because they are popular in Cajun cuisine, and anything popular for that delicious cuisine is okay in my book.
Photo Credit: http://niceville.com/share-your-red-drum-fishing-experiences-with-the-fwc/
14. Steelhead Trout (WA)
There’s not much that separates the Steelhead from other Trout, but they have pretty coloration and a cool name, so they get a good spot.
Photo Credit: https://news.orvis.com/fly-fishing/fish-facts-apache-trout-oncorhynchus-gilae-apache
13. Apache Trout (AZ)
These dope little critters have cool coloration around their eyes and are one of the two species of Trout native to Arizona. That, plus the cool name earns them some points.
Photo Credit: https://www.visitmalone.com/blog/2019/01/where-pikes-are-peak
12. Northern Pike (ND)
Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. Pikes received their name because they resemble the medieval weapon, which makes me want to name my children Claymore and Halberd. They are quite long-lived for fish, normally living for 10-15 years but have been known to reach 25. They are very territorial and can even be cannibalistic in low-food situations. That’s brutal, but also kind of awesome, especially if you imagine it as a swimming medieval pike eating other pikes.
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muskellunge
11. Muskellunge (WI)
What a name. This fish is relatively uncommon. It is the largest in the Pike family, putting it above the Northern Pike. This apex predator is known to bite prey and swallow it headfirst, with the prey being as large as two-thirds of its body length, which is just awesomely ridiculous.
Photo Credit: https://www.nps.gov/chis/learn/nature/garibaldi.htm
10. Garibaldi (CA)
This bright orange fish is named after the famous Italian military and political figure, Giuseppe Garibaldi. I know absolutely nothing about him, but he has a cool name – hopefully he wasn’t a despot or something. The other cool thing about the Garibaldi is that the males are extremely aggressive in defending their eggs, like a good father should be.
Photo Credit: https://www.nps.gov/chis/learn/nature/garibaldi.htm
9. White Crappie (LA)
I have to admit, the name is one of the main reasons the White Crappie is so high, because it’s just funny. It derives from the French “crapet”, which makes sense for one of Louisiana’s state fish. Also, they are considered some of the best-tasting freshwater fish, something I have to commend them for.
Photo Credit: https://www.gameandfishmag.com/editorial/backcountry-trek-for-golden-trout/361575
8. Golden Trout (CA)
This Trout, which is rainbow-colored and not actually Golden, is not only native to California, but has a creek named after it: Golden Trout Creek. To be so awesome to have a body of water named after them really gets across how cool these fish are.
Photo Credit: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/group/sailfish/
7. Atlantic Sailfish (FL)
This cool-looking fish has a long bill-like snout. Scientists… don’t actually know what it’s for. I think it’s a fashion statement and marks the Atlantic Sailfish as a trendsetter. Atlantic Sailfish are cool because they use stealth on their prey, surprising them. And if that doesn’t work, they will slash and beat their prey into submission because they can. This is the hitman of the ocean.
6. Cod (MA)
Cod are the apex predators of the Baltic Sea. They sometimes are cannibalistic and tend to have parasites… but they’re also the main fish used in fish n’ chips. I like fish n’ chips, so I like Cod. I’m biased.
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alligator_gar
5. Alligator Gar (AS)
Alligator Gar have had a bad rap. For half a century they were known as trash fish, a perfect example of bullying. But these fish have been around for over 100 million years, and are one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. They act slow and sluggish, but this is all a ruse, because Alligator Gar are ambush predators. Even more cool, they’re scales are so sturdy that they were used by tools for Native Americans, because Native Americans knew how cool Alligator Gar are, and so do I.
Photo Credit: https://www.peninsulaclarion.com/news/warmer-water-rainfall-tied-to-king-salmon-decline-study-suggests/
4.-3. Chinook/King Salmon (OR, AK)
Yet another example of one fish with multiple names, the Chinook (Oregon) or King Salmon (Alaska) was named after the Chinookian peoples in the northwest areas of North America. Chinook are very nutritious and prized among First-Nations peoples. Many groups will hold ceremonies for the first Chinook of the year that is caught, a cultural significance that has to be honored.
Photo Credit: https://cdn.britannica.com/20/3320-050-878EBA1B/American-paddlefish.jpg
2. Paddlefish (MO)
The Paddlefish is even older than the Alligator Gar at 125 million years old. The Paddlefish, the only living species of Paddlefish, is native to the Mississippi River and has some pretty cool adaptations to its shark-like body. Specifically, Paddlefish don’t really use their eyes. They don’t need to, because they are able to detect plankton using built in electroreceptors, basically making them a prehistoric robot fish.
Photo Credit: https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/hawaii/articles/the-story-behind-hawaiis-state-fish/
1. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (HI)
The Humuhumu was always number one. It was the only state fish I knew ahead of researching this list, and there was no way that any of the others could top it. The Reef Triggerfish (as it also known) is a Triggerfish with a snout-like pig nose. They are incredibly small with a striking yellow coloration. Not only can they shoot water streaks from their mouths, but they can also lock their upper spines into place, unless their lower spine is pressed – hence “Triggerfish”. And of course, they have the greatest name of all time. Yet despite the coolness of this little fish, Hawaii had the audacity to retire it as state fish from 1990-2006, in what I assume was an exercise in lack of taste. But better minds prevailed and the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a returned as Hawaii’s state fish and the best state fish in the country.