America is a unified country, but it's also a collection of states. To preserve and honor each state’s unique heritage and history, those states boast their own flags, songs, and even their own soil. Most states have actually written into a law a specific state fish. Sometimes the designated swimmer is chosen because it's the most abundant in that particular state's waters. Other times, the fish served as a central component of the state's history, whether it nourished its inhabitants, served as an important commercial export, or captured the imaginations of the state's native inhabitants and earliest settlers.
Most of America's 50 states so deeply revere a particular fish that lawmakers put pen to paper to codify its status as the underwater inhabitant with which the state is associated with in the eyes of the world. Here's a look at America's state fish. In instances where a state named both a freshwater and saltwater fish, the freshwater fish is listed.
Related: Do you know your state bird?
This fish is considered to be one of the most aggressive predators in its ecosystem, even though it is the most popular game fish in the United States, particularly in the southern states. Catch it swimming in a body of freshwater nearby.
Massive beasts that can weigh more than 100 pounds, this fish's instinct-driven habits epitomize the circle of life. They hatch in freshwater, live briefly in the ocean, and then swim thousands of miles to return to the exact same stream where they were born to lay eggs of their own before dying.
This fish is found nowhere in the entire world beyond the approximately 820 miles of cold, gravel-bottomed streams of Arizona's White Mountains. Once pushed to the edge of extinction, it is rebounding, but still endangered.
Arkansas does not yet have a state fish, but legislation is pending to give this predator the nod. Large and aggressive, this fish is a favorite of sport fishermen across the country.
California is the Golden State, and the name of this fish incorporates both the state's proper name and its nickname. Once found only in a few cold streams on the Kern River, hatcheries have now dramatically expanded its range.
California golden trout
Although its name sounds intimidating, this fish faces more trouble than it creates. Listed as endangered, it was driven to the brink of extinction by pollution and the introduction of invasive species.
Greenback cutthroat trout
This fish's connection to the New England state of Connecticut is not merely symbolic. The state's inhabitants know it’s time to welcome spring when these fish begin running the Long Island Sound at the end of every winter.
This fish has many aliases, including yellow-fin trout, yellow mouth, gray trout, sea trout, tiderunner, and squeteague. Its proper name, however, comes from its weak mouth muscles, which have foiled many heavy-handed anglers whose hooks often tear free.
Known for the deep notch in its dorsal, this occasionally cannibalistic predator can grow to weigh 15 pounds. It's so revered in the region that three other Deep South states have also named it their official state fish.
Despite its name, this fish is actually an elongated sunfish. Also known as lineside bass, green trout, and black bass, they're predators that prowl the state's vegetation-rich freshwater.
Officials didn't make things easy for the linguistically challenged when they named this tongue-twister as the official state fish of Hawaii in 1985. One might have better luck pronouncing its alternative name, the Hawaiian triggerfish.
Not only was this fish a critical staple for early settlers in the state of Idaho, but its sensitivity to changes in the ecosystem make it a crucial barometer for environmental health. It's immediately identifiable by the reddish-orange slash under its chin.
Dining on everything from algae and crawfish to snails and insects, these predators aren't known for being finicky. Members of the sunfish family, they can thrive in a range of habitats, including ponds, swamps, and lakes.
One will find this member of the sunfish family swimming in fast-moving water. Females lay as many as 47,000 eggs in gravel nests, which are then ferociously guarded by males for up to four weeks after hatching.
Kentucky spotted bass
Also known as the white crappie, male members of this species dig gravel nests where females then lay their eggs. This schooling fish can grow as large as 7 pounds, although most are much smaller.
Although this fish is a close relative of an ocean-dwelling species, it never quite makes it to the Atlantic—just as its name implies. Instead, it lives its entire life in freshwater lakes in Canada and the northern reaches of the United States.
This fish is known as much for the fight it gives anglers as it is for its trademark silver and iridescent stripes. They can live as long as 30 years.
The flaky, white fish in Massachusetts’ staple dish, fish and chips, often comes from this species. A central part of the state's heritage, the Puritans used it for both food and fertilizer.
This fish can only survive in clean, cool water. Lucky for it, that's what Michigan is known for.
Thin, and usually gold and olive in color, this freshwater fish is one of the most popular among anglers. Its excellent night vision makes it a skilled hunter in dark water.
This ravenous predator will eat invertebrates and other fish—including smaller members of its own kind. Able to grow longer than 20 inches, it’s a popular fish identified with several states in the region.
This fish's trademark whiskers give it a keen sense of smell. They usually weigh in at just a few pounds, but the biggest on record are giants that have grown to more than 50 pounds.
This fish was chosen to represent the state 40 years ago in large part because it reflects the Montana way of life. The threatened species can only thrive in a pristine, natural environment that's free from pollution and other encroachment from human civilization.
Blackspotted cutthroat trout
These survivors can live in ponds, reservoirs, rivers, and lakes. This fish’s entire body is covered in taste buds, mostly in its feline-esque face, which helps it find food in the cloudy, muddy bottom water it prefers.
This fish is found in 14 of Nevada's 17 counties. As long as the water is clean, it can thrive everywhere from the state's alpine lakes to creeks high up in the mountains, all the way down to warm alkaline lakes and streams in the lowlands where other species of its kind can't survive.
Lahontan cutthroat trout
This fish is instantly recognizable by its brilliant colors and patterns. Found mostly in clean, cool mountain streams, they have yellow, elongated spots covering their bodies that can range from red to orange to olive green.
These opportunists will make a living any way they can, provided the water they inhabit is clean, cool, and clear. They prefer aquatic insects, but they'll gobble up any insect that falls into the water, and even dine on smaller fish and crayfish.
The introduction of rainbow trout has put a lot of pressure on this fish in recent years. For anglers looking to hook one, keep in mind they can only live in cold, clear moving water.
New Mexico cutthroat trout
One of the more popular fish claimed as the aquatic representative of several states, this species requires cool, clean water to thrive. Hook one in many of the Empire State's streams, lakes, and brooks.
These fish are sometimes known as specs, thanks to their unique spots. Found in the state's mountain streams, this favorite of sportfishermen is the only freshwater fish of its entire species that's native to North Carolina.
Southern Appalachian brook trout
Ohio doesn't recognize a state fish, but it does have an amphibian all its own. This one is aptly named for the bright spots that run the length of its body.
Tall, but paper thin, anglers pursue these elegant and delicious fish in Oklahoma's rivers, ponds, and lakes. A fisherman will know they caught one by the fish’s distinctive horizontal black stripes.
Also known as tyee, king, and spring, along with its common surname, this fish is the largest Pacific-dwelling kind among its species—although its life begins and ends in freshwater. Its vast range spans from Southern California to the Canadian Arctic.
Known for longevity and size, these fish can live to be 30 years old and grow to more than 4 feet in length, with females becoming much larger than males. Because of the distinct horizontal lines that adorn their bodies, they're often called stripers.
Big and aggressive, sportfishermen prize this fish for not just its size, but the fight it's known to put up once hooked. The state's Santee Cooper Lakes are this breed's original habitat, and South Carolina is still known as the premier destination to catch them.
Expect to hook one of these if fishing in one of South Dakota's many chilly, clear lakes, particularly in larger bodies of water in the state's glacial lakes and in the Missouri River system. Their sensitive eyes compel them to dive deep during the day and ascend to shallower waters after dark.
This fish has been the Volunteer State's official gamefish since 2005, when it replaced its larger-mouthed cousin, which is still the official fish for several other states. Tennessee is the only state to honor this fish as its own.
This fish is native only to the swift-moving streams in the Texas Central Hill Country, which is home to the headwaters of the Colorado, Guadalupe, and San Antonio rivers. Powerful, but small, it's actually a member of the sunfish family.
This fish was a critical food source for both Native Americans and the earliest settlers in what is now the rugged and wild state of Utah. Although it was believed to be extinct just a few decades ago, the fish is now making a rebound across the state.
Bonneville cutthroat trout
Vermont claims two fish based on habitat temperature, with brook trout being the state's official coldwater fish. The state is far more famous, however, for this warm-water dweller, which is known for its light-sensitive eyes.
One of the most legendary fish in Virginia's long angling tradition, this fish also takes top billing in several other states. They love dining on nymphs, aquatic insects that live under rocks, but they're opportunists that will eat pretty much whatever they can catch and digest.
Known for their bright, white underbellies and gray, spotted backs that include flecks of silver from head to tail, this fish also shimmers with opalescent pink. It mirrors the classic behavior of salmon by returning to freshwater rivers to spawn.
One of the country's foremost fishing destinations, West Virginia named this vibrant, feisty fish to represent it because it embodies the state's mountaineer spirit. Chosen over smallmouth bass, musky, bluegill, and largemouth bass, it's now popular in many states, but is native to West Virginia.
Long and lean, it's easy to mix up this fish with the northern pike. Commonly nicknamed the musky, it is a member of the pike family—the longest of them all, in fact—and it's relatively rare in the United States.
There are many different and widely varied kinds of this species of fish, which is native to the western United States. They can live in a variety of waters, and like salmon, they're called by instinct to return home to their birthplace to spawn.