Watershed Facts / Harpeth River Fish

Something's Fishy in the Harpeth River!

The Harpeth River is home to over 85 fish species!  Every fish species, no matter how big or small, plays an important role in the river ecosystem. Unfortunately, some fish are are threatened or endangered, meaning they are at risk of extinction. The list below includes all fish found thus far in the Harpeth River. Of these, 84 are native species and 2 are non-native. Next time you are out on the Harpeth, keep these critters in mind as they might be enjoying the river alongside you!


Check out TWRA's Angler's Guide to Tennessee Fish

Fish species documented in the Harpeth River Watershed


Common Name       -     Scientific Name

  1. Banded Darter – Etheostoma zonale
  2. Banded Sculpin – Cottus carolinae
  3. Bigeye Chub – Hybopsis amblops
  4. Bigeye Shiner – Notropis boops
  5. Bigmouth Buffalo – Ictiobus cyprinellus
  6. Black Bullhead – Ameiurus melas
  7. Black Crappie – Pomoxis nigromaculatus
  8. Black Redhorse – Moxostoma duquesnei
  9. Blacknose Dace – Rhinichthys atratulus
  10. Blackside Snubnose Darter – Etheostoma duryi
  11. Blackspotted Topminnow – Fundulus olivaceus
  12. Blotched Chub – Erimystax insignis
  13. Blotched Sided Logperch – Percina burtoni
  14. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  15. Bluntnose Minnow – Pimephales notatus
  16. Brindle Madtom – Noturus miurus
  17. Brook Silverside – Labidesthes sicculus
  18. Bullhead Minnow – Pimephales vigilax
  19. Carp (non-native)
  20. Central Stoneroller – Campostoma anomalum
  21. Channel Catfish – Ictalurus punctatus
  22. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  23. Dusky Darter – Percina sciera
  24. Fantail Darter – Etheostoma flabellare
  25. Flathead Catfish – Pylodictis olivaris
  26. Flathead Minnow – Pimephales promelas
  27. Freshwater Drum – Aplodinotus grunniens
  28. Fringed Darter – Etheostoma crossopterum
  29. Gizzard Shad – Dorosoma cepedianum
  30. Golden Redhorse – Moxostoma erythrurum
  31. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus
  32. Greenside Darter - Etheostoma blennioides
  33. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  34. Largescale Stoneroller – Campostoma oligolepis
  35. Logperch – Percina caprodes
  36. Longear Sunfish – Lepomis megalotis
  37. Longnose Gar – Lepisosteus osseus
  38. Mountain Madtom – Noturus eleutherus
  39. Northern Hogsucker – Hypentelium nigricans
  40. Northern Studfish – Fundulus catenatus
  41. Orangefin Chub - Nocomis effusus
  42. Orangethroat Darter – Etheostoma spectabile
  43. Quillback – Carpiodes cyprinus
  44. Rainbow Darter – Etheostoma caeruleum
  45. Redbreast Sunfish - Lepomis auritus
  46. Redear Sunfish – Lepomis microlophus
  47. Redhorse Spp. – Moxostoma
  48. Redline Darter – Etheostoma rufilineatum
  49. Redtail Chub – Nocomis effuses
  50. River Redhorse – Moxostoma carinatum
  51. Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris
  52. Rosefin Shiner – Lythrurus ardens
  53. Rosyface Shiner – Notropis rubellus
  54. Rosyside Dace – Clinostomus funduloides
  55. Saffron Darter – Etheostoma flavum
  56. Sawfin Shiner – Notropis serrulatu
  57. Scarlet Shiner – Lythrurus fasciolaris
  58. Shorthead Redhorse – Moxostoma macrolepidotum
  59. Silver Shiner – Notropis photogenis
  60. Slender Madtom – Noturus exilis
  61. Slenderhead Darter – Percina phoxocephala
  62. Smallmouth Bass - Micropterus dolomieu
  63. Smallmouth Buffalo – Ictiobus bubalus
  64. Smallscale or Finescale Darter – Etheostoma microlepidum
  65. Snubnose Darter – Etheostoma stigmaeum
  66. Southern Redbelly Dace - Phoxinus erythrogaster
  67. Speckled Darter – Etheostoma virgatum
  68. Spotfin Shiner – Cyprinella spiloptera
  69. Spotted Bass – Micropterus punctulatus
  70. Spotted Gar – Lepisosteus oculatus
  71. Spotted Sucker – Minytrema melanops
  72. Steelcolor Shiner – Cyprinella whipplei
  73. Stonecat – Noturus flavus
  74. Stone Darter – Etheostoma derivativum
  75. Steamline Chub – Erimystax dissimilis
  76. Striped Darter – Etheostoma virgatum
  77. Striped Shiner - Luxilus crysocephalus
  78. Telescope Shiner – Notropis telescopus
  79. Tennessee Shiner – Nortropis leuciodus
  80. Tippecanoe Darter – Etheostoma tippecanoe
  81. Warmouth – Lepomis gulosus
  82. Western Mosquitofish (non-native)
  83. Westrim Darter – Etheostoma occidentale
  84. White Sucker – Catostomus commersonii
  85. Whitetail Shiner – Cyprinella galactura
  86. Yellow Bullhead – Ameiurus natalis



Detailed descriptions for select fish species:

*Smallscale or Finescale Darter – Etheostoma microlepidum




Photo by: TWRA

  • State rank: Within the state of Tennessee, Smallscale darters are considered very rare and imperiled.  This means there are few remaining individuals - only about six to twenty occurrences, and/or some factors are making it vulnerable to extinction.
  • Global rank: Smallscale darters are rare to very rare and imperiled within the world.  This is because they are uncommon in their range, or found locally in a restricted range.  Some factors are making them vulnerable to extinction.
  • State protection status: Deemed in need of management by the state of Tennessee.
  • Habitat: They prefer to live in small streams, or clear, shallow gravel riffles. They will like the new cross vain at the old lowhead dam site!  Within the U.S., they can only be found in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Striped Shiner - Luxilus crysocephalus

  • State Rank: The striped shiner is very common throughout Tennessee.
  • Habitat: They prefer to live in pools of clear waters, with clean gravel and sandy bottoms.
  • Food: They often eat insects off the surface.
  • Role in the Ecosystem: They are very important for mussel reproduction.  Mussels have sacs containing glochidia, or "baby mussels".  They need to disperse the glochidia onto a fish, because the glochidia use the fish as a host for the first few weeks of their lives.  Since mussels cannot swim, they have evolved to use an easier method of transportation - fool the host fish into coming to them!  Largemouth bass love to eat striped shiners.  So, some mussels have sacs of glochidia that look just like striped shiners.  When the bass tries to eat this "fish", the baby mussels can latch onto the fish.  To learn more about this, visit our freshwater mussel page!
  • Fishing: Striped shiners are commonly caught with hook and line by stream fishermen.

*Tippecanoe Darter – Etheostoma tippecanoe

  • State rank: Within the state of Tennessee, tippecanoe darters are considered rare to extremely rare and critically imperiled in the state.  Very few individuals remain, and there may be special conditions where the species is particularly vulnerable to extinction.
  • Global rank: Around the world, they are either considered rare and uncommon in their range, or are found locally in a restricted range while widespread and abundant in other areas, but there is cause for long-term concern.
  • State protection status: Deemed in need of management by the state of Tennessee.
  • Pollution Sensitivity: Tippecanoe Darters are more sensitive than other fish to high turbidity, also known as lots of suspended particles like silt.  Land-uses that increase the amount of sediment delivered to a stream has been a dangerous threat to these small darters, and for this reason they are critically imperiled.
  • Habitat: They prefer shallow gravel riffles of small to medium-sized rivers.  Since they are so small, they usually stay in the crevices between rocks on the bottom of the river, making them difficult to spot.
  • Size: They are very small, even as adults.  They never grow larger than 2 inches long!

*Slenderhead Darter – Percina phoxocephala

  • State rank: Within the state of Tennessee, slenderhead darters are rare and uncommon, with only about 21 – 100 occurrences.
  • Global rank: They are found widespread and globally secure.
  • State protection status: Deemed in need of management by the state of Tennessee.
  • Pollution Sensitivity: These fish are sensitive to high levels of turbidity, so areas with vast agriculture see smaller numbers of slenderhead darters in streams.  For this reason, they are deemed in need of management in Tennessee.
  • Food: They mainly eat insects; their favorites are mayflies, midges, and caddisflies.

Rainbow Darter – Etheostoma caeruleum

Male                                                    Female                                                     

Photos by: Brian Zimmerman, Vice President of the North American Native Fishes Association

Found in the vicinity of downtown Franklin

Photo by: TWRA

  • Pollution Sensitivity: They are sensitive to siltation and impoundment.  They also have a low tolerance for brackish waters (very small concentrations of salt), so they are very sensitive to sewage drainage and runoff, especially in the winters when road salt is usually present in runoff.  They are a great indicator species for stream health.
  • Habitat: Adults prefer to live in deep, swift moving riffles.  Young prefer the opposite, living in shallow, quiet riffles, and small pools.
  • Appearance: Appropriately named, [male] rainbow darters are vibrantly colored.  Males have 14 bright-blue-colored vertical stripes down their back, while females have faint brown stripes.  Additionally, during breeding season, males become even more brightly colored!
  • Food: Rainbow darters feed on a variety of things, including insect larvae, snails, crayfish, and fish eggs.  Feeding habits will vary depending on time of day, and time of year.

Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris





Photo by: TWRA

  • Habitat: They prefer to live in clear, rocky, vegetated stream pools.
  • Food: They eat a carnivorous diet consisting of smaller fish, insects, mussels, and crayfish.
  • Fishing: They are usually hooked by fishermen aiming to catch smallmouth bass.  They are not picky, and will bite almost any lure that will fit in their mouth!

Smallmouth Bass - Micropterus dolomieu




Photo by: TWRA

  • Habitat: They prefer to live in fast-moving streams with good water quality.
  • Life : They can live up to 15 years!
  • Fishing:  Smallmouth bass are one of the most popular sport fish.  Then tend to be very feisty and put on a fight.  They prefer smaller lures than what would normally be used for largemouth bass, and orange and brown patterned lures resembling crayfish are most popular.  When fishing with live bait, a good strategy is to cast upstream, and let the bait drift into pools, behind boulders, or near snags that break the current.

Bigmouth Buffalo – Ictiobus cyprinellus







Photo by: TWRA

  • Habitat: They are usually found in pools and backwater areas, and they prefer slower moving waters.  They travel in schools.
  • Food: They are very big fish, but eat tiny foods like algae, zooplankton, and insect larvae.

Longnose Gar – Lepisosteus osseus





Photo by: TWRA

  • Size: The fish pictured above are juveniles found in the Harpeth River near the old lowhead dam site.  They can grow up to 5-6 feet long and weigh up to 50 pounds!
  • Habitat: They prefer to live in weedy and quiet waters, like pools.
  • Food: They are voracious predators and hunt for small fish and crustaceans by lying motionless in the water until a fish passes, then uses their long jaws to quickly snap onto pray.
  • Fishing: The eggs are poisonous to all mammals, but the flesh of the meat is actually edible, and is sometimes considered a delicacy.

Banded Sculpin – Cottus carolinae




Photo by: TWRA

  • Habitat: They live on the bottom, so they are considered benthic, and they prefer cool, upland streams.  They can also modify their color slightly to blend in with their surroundings!
  • Pollution Sensitivity: Since they are benthic, this makes them more vulnerable to stream degradation, and they can be used as an indicator species.  A high number of banded sculpin indicates good water quality.
  • Food: They can eat larger prey including crayfish, large insects, salamanders, and small benthic fish.
  • Role in the Ecosystem: They are a common host to a large variety of mussel species.  To learn why this is so important, visit our mussel page, here.

Black Crappie – Pomoxis nigromaculatus

  • Habitat: Black Crappie prefer clear waters, and they swim together in schools.
  • Food: They mainly eat smaller fish.  They will also eat plankton, small insects, larvae, and worms.  They have a very large appetite and will feed at any time of the day or night.
  • Fishing: Black crappie is a very popular sport fish.  It may be one of the most popular panfish too.  Since Black Crappie swim in schools, if one is caught, you know that there are many others nearby.  They can be caught by a variety of methods, including casting, trolling, drifting, or still fishing.  The best lures to use are those that imitate worms, small crustaceans, minnows and insects.

Greenside Darter - Etheostoma blennioides

Photo by: Brian Zimmerman, Vice President NANFA

Redline Darter – Etheostoma rufilineatum



Photos by: Brian Zimmerman, Vice President NANFA

Striped Darter – Etheostoma virgatum

Female                                                                        Male

Photos by: Brian Zimmerman, Vice President NANFA