What Are the Best-Tasting Freshwater Fish?

What are the best tasting freshwater fish? It's a question, and topic, that anglers discuss often. Opinions about this often vary geographically, because different species are available depending on where you live.

In Georgia, where I live, it is very hard to find walleye, but crappie and catfish are common. I can buy frozen walleye, but frozen fish are never as good as fresh, so for me to compare these would be a little unfair.

Remember that how well you care for the fish that you catch s very important to how well they'll taste when you cook them. What you do with the fish after you catch them matters a great deal. With that in mind, here's an overview of the freshwater fish that are generally acknowledged to be good table fare:

Bluegill (bream). Bluegills are found in most North American waters and are often the first fish that youths catch. They don't get large. A 1-pounder is very big, so smaller ones are often cooked whole, after being scaled, beheaded, and gutted, but they are sometimes filleted. The meat is white and flaky and can be sweet if the fish comes from clean, cool water. There are many ways to cook bluegill, with pan frying probably most popular. Incidentally, bluegills are part of the sunfish clan, and many of the other sunfish species are equally good table fare and prepared in similar ways.

Catfish. Catfish can be caught in most North American waters, and a variety of species grow to different sizes. They are also grown commercially in many Southern states, and sold throughout the country in fish markets and served in many restaurants. Some consider catfish a delicacy. Their meat is not as flaky or white as some other species but has very little "fishy" taste, depending on the waters where they are caught and if they are handled properly.

Crappie.  A very popular food fish in the South, and a species widely found in the U.S., crappie have sweet white meat. Like bluegills, smaller ones are cooked whole, and larger ones can be filleted, and frying is most common.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass. Most bass anglers insist on releasing all of their catch and never eat a bass. That is a matter of choice, and certainly larger ones should be released. But all states allow for keeping some bass of a certain minimum size, and these fish have a white, sweet meat that is not unlike bluegills (to which they are actually related). As with most fish, the kind of habitat they come from will influence the way that they taste. Those from clean, clear, and cold water are best. Bass are large enough to be filleted but can be cooked in many ways.

Freshwater drum. Some folks consider freshwater drum (also called sheepshead) to be inedible, while others say that they are good to eat, and there is a significant commercial fishing market for this species. Freshwater drum grow large and live in cooler waters, from Tennessee north. They are easy to fillet but need to be put on ice as soon as caught and cleaned quickly afterward. Their meat can be prepared in many ways.

Trout. A shore dinner of trout caught just minutes before eating them is often said to be the best fish meal you will ever have. The fresher the fish the better. This is generally true, however, of native fish as opposed to stocked fish. Native fish with an orange or pink color to their flesh are the best tasting, whether these are brown, brook, or rainbow trout. Many preparations are suitable for trout, though size may be a factor. Pan frying is preferred for smaller specimens, while large ones can be filleted. Trout can be baked or broiled, as well as smoked.

Walleye. Many people call walleye the best tasting fish in freshwater, although yellow perch should also get the same accolade, as they are a smaller cousin. Most walleye are filleted, but they can be cooked in a variety of ways, including frying, baking, and broiling.

White bass. White bass can be found in many North American lakes and rivers. They do not grow big. A 3-pounder is trophy size, but a 1-pounder is more common and can be filleted. The meat of white bass has a dark red stripe or bloodline in it, which should be removed. White bass are often pan-fried but they can also be baked and broiled.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.