What Is A Buffalo Fish? The Ultimate Guide to the Strong Genus Ictiobus



What Is A Buffalo Fish

A Buffalo fish (Ictiobus) is a North American species. Also known as the bull fish, or black buffalo, a popular game fish that can grow up to 80 pounds (36 kg). Known to live for over 100 years. Buffalo fish can be found in lakes and rivers across North America, including the Milk River in Montana and the Northern Pike in Canada.

Belonging to the Catostomidae family (suckers). Buffalo fish are known for their elusive nature and challenging catch. If you would like to learn how to catch Buffalo fish. Know that you need specialized equipment like bow fishing or carp fishing tackle. But before that, let’s see why these fish are so impressive.

What is a Buffalo Fish? Characteristics and habitat

Buffalo fish is a species of freshwater fish found in river basins and lakes across North America. The buffalo fish belongs to the Catostomidae family, which includes over 70 species. And are commonly referred to as “suckers” due to bottom-feeding.

The buffalo fish has a distinctive long dorsal fin that runs along its back, starting from the head and ending near the tail. The body colouration of buffalo fish varies from dark brown to olive green with a white underbelly, making them easy to distinguish from species.

Buffalo fish can grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 80 pounds, although most individuals are much smaller. They have large scales covering their bodies and small eyes on the sides of their heads.

Buffalo Fish
The Buffalo Fish

Habitat of Buffalo Fish Species

Buffalo fish can tolerate high turbidity and a wide range of water temperatures, making them adaptable to different environments. They prefer habitats with abundant aquatic vegetation, which provides food and shelter. Buffalo fish are commonly found in slow-moving rivers, streams, and lakes with muddy or sandy bottoms.

During the spawning season (late spring/early summer), buffalo fish migrate upstream into shallow waters to lay their eggs among submerged vegetation or gravel beds. After hatching, young buffalo fish remain in these shallow waters until they are large enough to move downstream into deeper waters.

Types of Buffalo Fish

There are several different species of buffalo fish, including bigmouth, smallmouth, and black. Bigmouth buffalo is the largest species and can reach up to 80 pounds in weight. Small mouth buffalo is smaller in size and typically weighs around 20 pounds. Black buffalo fish is the smallest species and usually weighs less than 10 pounds.

Buffalo Fish vs. Common Carp

Buffalo fish are often compared to common carp due to their similar appearance and habitat. However, buffalo fish have a more streamlined body shape and lack barbels, which are the whisker-like projections near the mouth that common carp possess.

Desirability for Consumption

While both carp and buffalo fish are often considered “trash fish,” buffalo fish are generally less desirable for consumption due to their strong taste and bony texture. However, some people enjoy eating them because they have a unique sweet flavour.

Smallmouth vs Bigmouth Buffalo Fish?

Bigmouth buffalo fish (Ictiobus Cyprinellus) and smallmouth buffalo fish (Ictiobus Bubalus) are two different species of the buffalo family. While both species share some similarities, they also have notable differences that you might want to consider.

Size and Mouth Differences

One of the most significant differences between bigmouth and small mouth buffalo fish is their size. Bigmouth buffalo can grow up to 4 feet in length and weigh over 80 pounds, while small mouth buffalo typically reach a maximum length of 2 feet and weigh around 30 pounds.

Another difference is in their mouths. As their names suggest, bigmouth buffalo have larger mouths than smallmouth buffalo. The mouth of a bigmouth buffalo extends beyond its eye, while the mouth of a smallmouth buffalo does not.

Their Habitat Differences

Both species can be found in rivers and shallow water throughout the Mississippi and Missouri River basins. They prefer slow-moving water with sandy or muddy bottoms but can also be found in creeks or other shallow bodies of water.

Other Buffalo Fish Varieties

In addition to bigmouth and smallmouth buffalo fish, there are other varieties that belong to the same genus Ictiobus. Each variety has its own distinct characteristics and can be found in different regions throughout North America. These include:

Interesting Facts about Buffalo Fish

Buffalo fish are Omnivorous

Buffalo fish are known for their omnivorous diet, which includes a variety of food sources. These include plankton, small crustaceans, insect larvae, and algae. They also feed on other aquatic plants and animals that they come across in their habitat.

The Two Most Common Species of Buffalo Fish

There are two species of buffalo fish that are commonly found in North America: the Ictiobus Cyprinellus and the Ictiobus Bubalus. The Ictiobus Cyprinellus is also known as the bigmouth buffalo or Gourdhead buffalo, while the Ictiobus Bubalus is commonly referred to as the smallmouth buffalo.

Unique Life History of Buffalo Fish

Buffalo fish have a unique life history compared to other freshwater fishes. Some individuals can live up to 127 years old, making them one of the longest-living freshwater fish species in North America. During their lifespan, they grow slowly but steadily.

Role in Ecosystems

Buffalo fish play an important role in their ecosystem by controlling the populations of their prey species. As omnivores, they feed on both plants and animals, which helps keep populations balanced.

Strong Feeding Behaviour

Buffalo fish are known for their strong feeding behaviour and can consume up to 20% of their body weight in food per day. This makes these fish species an important part of the food chain in freshwater habitats where they reside.

Habitat Conservation Status of Buffalo Fish: Threats and Conservation Efforts

Buffalo fish are an important species in North America, both ecologically and economically. However, their populations have been declining due to habitat loss and invasive species.

Threats to Buffalo Fish Populations

The decline in buffalo fish populations can be attributed to several factors. One major factor is habitat loss due to dam construction, channelization of rivers, and water pollution. These activities have significantly reduced the availability of suitable habitats for buffalo fish.

Another threat to buffalo fish populations is invasive species such as Asian carp that compete with them for food and space. The presence of these invasive species has also led to a decrease in the quality of waters where buffalo fish thrive.

Conservation Status of Buffalo Fish

The conservation status of buffalo fish varies across regions in the United States and Canada. In some areas such as the Mississippi River drainage, they are considered a gamefish while in others they are classified as threatened or endangered.

In Canada, there are two subspecies of buffalo fish; Bigmouth buffalo which is not at risk but Smallmouth buffalo which is listed as at risk under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Preferred Habitat for Spawning and Movements

Buffalo fish prefer sluggish areas with vegetation for spawning and movements. During spawning season from May through July when water temperatures reach 68-75°F (20-24°C), they migrate upstream into shallow waters with dense vegetation where females lay eggs. After hatching, juvenile buffalos remain near shallow waters until fall when they move back to deeper waters.

What Do Buffalo Fish Eat?

Buffalo fish are known to be omnivores, which means they consume both plants and animals. Their diet consists of a variety of food sources such as insects, crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, and plant matter. They have a diverse palate and can eat almost anything they encounter.

Bottom Feeders

Buffalo fish are bottom feeders that use their specialized mouth to sift through the sediment in search of food. Their downward-facing mouth is positioned towards the bottom of their head and has two protruding bones that act like a strainer when feeding. This allows them to filter out unwanted debris while keeping their desired food items.

Tiger Nuts For Buffalo Fishing
Use Tiger Nuts For Buffalo Fish

What Bait Should Be Used to Catch Buffalo Fish?

Buffalo fish, being bottom feeders, respond well to baits that mimic their natural food sources. Effective baits for catching buffalo fish include boilies, tiger nuts, pellets, and worms. These baits can be presented on the bottom, enticing the buffalo fish to feed.

With that said, it is wise to experiment with different baits. Also, using scent attractants or incorporating natural scents into your bait can further enhance its effectiveness in attracting buffalo fish to your hook. Remember to be patient and persistent, as buffalo fish can sometimes be selective in their feeding habits.

Common Carp Vs Buffalo Species? Differences

Buffalo species and common carp are different fish species often mistaken for each other. Buffalo are native to the US, while common carp are found worldwide. Bigmouth Buffalo can grow as big as common carp but have a more rounded head and distinct body shape.

Moreover, buffalo fish have darker coloration, ranging from brown to black, with darker dorsal and tail fins. Common carp display a variety of body colors, including brown, gold, and silver.

Buffalo fish are bottom feeders, consuming insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish. Common carp are opportunistic feeders, consuming vegetation, insects, and small fish. Buffalo fish prefer lakes and rivers, while common carp thrive in many freshwater environments.

Big Common Carp Caught At Bake Lakes Fishery

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Bigmouth Buffalo Fish?

A Bigmouth Buffalo is a North American species of fish, belonging to the sucker family. It is characterized by its large mouth and round body shape. These fish have a dark coloration, ranging from gray to black, and can grow to impressive sizes. Bigmouth Buffalo fish are known for their bottom-feeding habits and are often found in lakes and rivers with slow currents, where they feed on aquatic plants and invertebrates.

What Is A Small mouth Buffalo Fish?

A Smallmouth Buffalo is a North American species of fish, belonging to the sucker family. Unlike its bigmouth brother, it has a smaller mouth and a more slender body. It has a dark coloration, ranging from brown to black, and can be found in rivers and smaller bodies of water. Smallmouth buffalo fish are bottom feeders, consuming aquatic plants and small invertebrates. These elusive fish are known for their strength and ability to put up a fight.

Can You Eat Buffalo Fish?

Yes, you can eat buffalo fish. They are edible and can be enjoyed as a food source. However, it is important to note that buffalo fish may have a muddy taste, which can be reduced through proper cleaning and cooking techniques. Removing the skin, soaking the fish in milk or buttermilk, and using seasonings can help enhance the taste and make the fish more enjoyable for consumption.

What Does Buffalo Fish Taste Like?

Buffalo fish has a distinct flavor that can be described as sweet or nutty. It offers a unique taste experience that varies from person to person. However, it is important to note that if the fish is not cleaned properly, it may retain a muddy taste. To ensure the best flavor, proper cleaning and cooking methods are recommended to minimize any potential muddy taste and enhance the natural flavours of the fish.

How Do You Clean A Buffalo Fish?

To clean a buffalo fish, begin by scaling the fish using a scaler or fish knife to remove its scales. Then, proceed to remove the head and tail. Carefully gut the fish by removing its internal organs. Once done, ensure to thoroughly rinse the body cavity with cold water to remove any remaining debris.

Where Can I Catch Buffalo Fish?

Buffalo fish can be found in various rivers and lakes across North America, making them accessible to anglers in different locations. Besides the Mississippi River and Great Lakes region, other popular spots to catch buffalo fish include the Missouri River, Ohio River, and Lake Oahe in South Dakota. These diverse water bodies offer opportunities for anglers to target and reel in this exciting species.

Is There a Size Limit for Catching Buffalo Fish?

Size limits for catching buffalo fish vary by state and location. Check your local fishing regulations for more information on size limits and bag limits.


This guide aims to provide you with an understanding of what is a buffalo fish, including where they can be found and their distinctive appearance and behaviour that distinguishes them from other fish, such as various types of carp species.

Both the smallmouth and bigmouth buffalo fish have their own unique characteristics and similarities. Additionally, buffalo fish can be enjoyed as a food source, but it is essential to employ proper cleaning and cooking techniques to enhance its taste.

However, the conservation status of buffalo fish is threatened due to overfishing and habitat destruction. To protect this species, it is crucial to support sustainable fishing practices and efforts to restore their natural habitats. By doing so, we can ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to appreciate and catch these remarkable freshwater fish.

Thanks for Reading, Tight Lines!

Next, why not learn how to catch buffalo fish with this in-depth s guide. Or, see the differences between carp vs buffalo fish species, as there are many.

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