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Buffalo Fish – Native To North America

February 19, 2020

Buffalo Fish Or Carp

The Buffalo fish (Ictiobus) is a freshwater fish common to the United States. The largest of the North American suckers reaching up to 4 feet. Meanwhile, there are various subspecies of buffalo.

Description of the Buffalo Fish

Generally, have broad, muscular bodies with blunt heads and flat faces and silvery grey or brown scales. Generally, mistaken for carp but lack the whiskers. While, their mouths are set on the lower portion of their faces. Therefore, enabling them to feed along the bottoms. Generally, reach around 80 pounds.


Generally, a schooling fish living in deep regions of fast flowing rivers or slower moving regions and drift in the middle of the water column. While, foraging along the bottom, flushing gravel and snatching up edible bits.


Meanwhile, capable of living in most freshwater environments from ponds, creeks, reservoirs, rivers, streams or lakes. Habitats are species specific with some inhabiting slow-moving currents, while, others inhabit faster waters.

Buffalo Fish Diet

Buffalo fish eat almost anything that flushes into their mouths including sand while filtering through for edible bits. Generally, omnivores eating both plant and animals. While, some food items include insects, insect larvae, clams, algae, plants and plankton.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Species travel in schools in breeding grounds and reproduce by spawning. Females release their eggs and males their sperm. Generally, a female can produce thousands of eggs in a single spawning season which take a day to two to hatch.

However, there is no parental care for the eggs or the fry. While, the oldest living teleost species living up to 112 years in age.


All five species are unique in their distribution and range. While, some live across large areas, other utilize smaller regions. However, found in the United States and range north into Canada and south in Mexico and Guatemala.

Bigmouth Buffalo Fish

Bigmouth Buffalo

The Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus) is the largest member of the freshwater Castostomidae or Sucker fish family. Native to North America. Other names including Gourd Head, Redmouth Buffalo, Buffalofish, Bernard Buffalo, Roundhead or Brown Buffalo.

Generally, has a dull brown or olive color with dusky fins. While, having a long dorsal fin and a terminal mouth which faces forward. The largest of the buffalo fish species, reaching more than 4 feet.

Inhabits sluggish areas of the large rivers and shallow lakes and streams. As well as, shallow swells, large slow-moving rivers or swamps. However, they spawn in rock and gravel substrates.

A hardy fish tolerating high turbidity and low oxygen levels. Meanwhile, in spring and summer they seek pools with backwaters, marsh areas, littoral areas and protected embankments for spawning.

Benthic and pelagic feeders, feeding mostly on limnetic plankton feeders feeding on Cladocera, Copepods, Algae, Chironomidae, Ostracods, Insect Larvae and invertebrates.

Vulnerable in shallow waters. Often caught by spearing or bow and arrow. However, also caught on trotlines, setlines, hoop, trammel nets and seine fishing.

Good flavor with numerous small bones. Therefore, a popular food fish throughout the United States. While, neither threatened nor endangered. Therefore, not given any Special Concern status. However, populations are dwindling.

However, feel free to click and read more on our site about the Bigmouth Buffalo.

Black Buffalo Fish

The Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger) is a freshwater fish in the Catostomidae family. Native to the Mississippi Basin and southern Great Lakes, Canada and Lake Erie. As well as, Boston Creek, Tennessee rivers and streams. Other names include Mongrel Buffalo or Current Buffalo.

Have a black dorsal side with dark green or gold on the sides of the body. While, the dark coloration fades into white on the belly. Further, the fish has a long dorsal fin, round body and head and compact snout. However, has a more streamlined body that distinguishes them from the other buffalo fish species.

Resembles the Bigmouth Buffalo but has a smaller, nearly horizontal mouth and thick lips on the snout. While, the upper lip’s front lies well below the lower margin of the eye.

Meanwhile, the upper jaw is longer than the eye’s diameter. Has a ventrally positioned mouth. Generally, grow to lengths of 20 – 30 inches. Inhabit deep and fast-moving water.

Generally, move into flooded water areas with high levels to spawn in spring. Further, return to deeper water with faster currents after spawning where they remain for the rest of the year.

However, are generalist and benthic feeders, eating detritus, insect larvae, plankton, vegetation, fish eggs, aquatic crustaceans, bryophytes, leaves and small molluscs.

Found in small and large rivers in eastern North America from the Mississippi Basin to Canada. Meanwhile, also found in Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Texas and Oklahoma.

The all tackle world record is currently 63 pounds 6 ounces. Has a coarse but sweet, lean flesh. Which can be baked, poached, sautéed, grilled or even smoked. Sometimes take dough baits made with cottonseed meal and provide exceptional sport when hooked. However, catches in Texas are rare.

However, feel free to click and read more on our site about the Black Buffalo.

Black Buffalo

Smallmouth Buffalo Fish

Smallmouth Buffalo Fish

The Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus) is a freshwater Cypriniformes fish. Native to major tributaries and surrounding waters of the Mississippi River in the United States.

Generally, ranges in color, from shades of grey to brown and coppery green with pale yellow to white bellies. While, the fin color darkens towards the tip.

A stocky fish with a hump that rises from the operculum. Further, the dorsal fin protrudes from the top of the hump and tapers to a blunt point, shortening and running the length of the body to the base of the tail.

They have subterminal small mouths that are slightly oblique. While, the upper jaw is distinctly shorter than the snout and the upper lip is well below the lower margin of orbit.

Meanwhile, the lips are thick and coarsely striate. Inhabits clear, moderate to fast-moving streams and some lakes and ponds. Generally, prefers dense aquatic vegetation and a silty substrate.

Primarily detritivores, feeding on zooplankton, dipteran larvae, mollusc larvae and small crustaceans, chironomidae, baetidae, trichoptera, copepods, cladocerans, bryozoans, detritus and algae.

Generally, spawn in spring and summer in shallow sections of streams. The native range includes tributaries of the Mississippi River from Montana east to Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Meanwhile, also found in Gulf slope drainages from Alabama to the Rio Grande River drainage. Furthermore, in Texas the Smallmouth is found in most large streams, rivers and reservoirs exclusive of the Panhandle.

However, anglers seeking to catch Smallmouth Buffalo have success with doughballs, cottonseed meal and corn on hooks. An exceptional sport when hooked.

However, feel free to click and read more on our site about the Smallmouth Buffalo.

Other Buffalo fish Outside of the United States

The Fleshylip Buffalo (Ictiobus labiosus) is a freshwater fish in the Catostomidae or Sucker family. Native to Mexico areas of Veracruz, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro and Hidalgo. Further, a demersal fish native to tropical waters.

The Usumacinta buffalo (Ictiobus meridionalis) is a freshwater fish in the Catostomidae or Sucker family. Native to Central America including southern Mexico and Guatemala.

A demersal fish inhabiting tropical and benthic habitats. However, as both these fish species do not occur in the United States, we will not pay much attention to them.

Buffalo Fish

Fishing for Buffalo Fish

Though they put up a good fight, they are not a popular game fish as they are difficult to catch by hook and line. However, they are easy targets for night bowfishing due to them swimming in shallow waters. Therefore, have become a game fish that urgently need protective measures to be put in place.

Conservation and Management

Most Buffalo populations are over 80 years old. Therefore, successful breeding does not seem to occur. Therefore, overfishing could pose a problem when the populations are not replenishing themselves. Further, problems that may arise is habitat destruction which causes a decrease in Buffalo fish numbers. Therefore, to retain our native species we need to enhance the environment.

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