Rough fish
Rough fish is a term used by U.S. state agencies and U.S. anglers
Angling is a method of fishing by means of an "angle" . The hook is usually attached to a fishing line and the line is often attached to a fishing rod. Fishing rods are usually fitted with a fishing reel that functions as a mechanism for storing, retrieving and paying out the line. The hook itself...

 to describe fish that are less desirable to sport anglers within a limited region. The term usually refers to larger fish species that are not commonly eaten, are too rare to be commonly encountered, or are not sought after by anglers for sporting purposes. Many of these species are very important in the commercial fishing industry, where they make up the bulk of commercial food fish catches in inland fresh waters.


There is no standard list of rough fishes. A fish that is considered a rough fish in one region may be considered a desirable game and food fish in another, often due to cultural differences or simply tradition. For example, the common carp
Common carp
The Common carp is a widespread freshwater fish of eutrophic waters in lakes and large rivers in Europe and Asia. The wild populations are considered vulnerable to extinction, but the species has also been domesticated and introduced into environments worldwide, and is often considered an invasive...

 is considered an undesirable rough fish in the United States and Australia, but is the premier game fish of Europe and the most valuable food fish across most of Asia. Likewise, the longnose gar
Longnose gar
The longnose gar, Lepisosteus osseus, is a primitive ray-finned fish of the gar family. It is also known as the needlenose gar.- Description :...

 is considered a rough fish and undesirable nuisance in Ohio. In Louisiana, though, it is considered tasty by certain ethnic groups and, due to the many small bones, is rarely filleted, but is usually rolled with seasonings into "gar balls" and fried.

Native versus exotic

Some rough fishes are exotic species that have been transplanted into North American waters from other continents either intentionally or unintentionally (for example, the common carp). Other rough fishes are native species that can be confused with carp because they look similar (bigmouth buffalo
Bigmouth buffalo
The bigmouth buffalo, Ictiobus cyprinellus, also known as the gourd head, redmouth buffalo, buffalo fish, bernard buffalo, roundhead, or brown buffalo, is a large species of the Catostomidae or "sucker" family....

, smallmouth buffalo
Ictiobus, also known as Buffalo fish, is a genus of freshwater fish common in the United States. It is sometimes mistaken for carp because of its flat face and large, silver scales running along the body, though it lacks the whisker-like mouth appendages common to carp...

, and suckers
Catostomidae is the sucker family of the order Cypriniformes. There are 80 species in this family of freshwater fishes. Catostomidae are found in North America, east central China, and eastern Siberia...

). Many of these fishes are difficult to process as food because of their many bones. Still other rough fishes are native fishes completely unlike carp, but are categorized as such because they are underused or unpopular.

Origin of the term

The first reference to the term "rough" as applied to fish is in the historical work "A History of Fish and Fishing on the Upper Mississippi River" by Carlander. To summarize: In the mid-to-late 19th century, commercial fishermen in the Central United States often netted and processed large quantities of river fish in their boats for sale, particularly in the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

. They would then travel many miles up or down river to deliver these fish to market. In hot summer weather, the slow, heavily loaded boats often had to be lightened quickly to ensure that the entire catch did not become spoiled before reaching market. The common practice of the time was to save the fully processed fish, since these commanded a higher price at market. Rough-dressed fish (or fish sold "in the rough" - which means they had the internal organs removed but were not filleted) were discarded to lighten the boat, by dumping the carcasses into the river. Thus, originally a "rough fish" was a fish of any species that had been only partly processed and which could not be sold for full price. The term subsequently evolved into a derogatory term for any fish that was undesirable or unpopular.


The term coarse fish is used in Europe to describe all fishes besides trout and salmon, but it is not a derogatory term. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has made efforts to replace the term "rough fish" with "underused fish" The slang term "trash fish" is used in some areas.


Many rough fish species are federally endangered, threatened, candidate, or species of concern. These native American fishes have limited and declining populations and are at risk of extinction. Because of this, they are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Some rough fishes listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service are:
  • Blue sucker (Cycleptus elongatus)
  • Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus)
  • Robust redhorse (Moxostoma robustum)
  • Cui-ui (Chasmistes cujus)
  • Gray redhorse (Moxostoma congestum)
  • Sicklefin redhorse (Moxostoma spp.
    Moxostoma is a genus of ray-finned fish in the Catostomidae family.- Species :* Moxostoma albidum * Moxostoma anisurum * Moxostoma ariommum C. R...

  • Shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris)
  • Flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis)
  • Greater redhorse (Moxostoma valenciennesi)
  • Colorado squawfish (pikeminnows - Ptychocheilus spp.)
  • Roundtail chub
    Roundtail chub
    The roundtail chub is a cyprinid fish of the Colorado River drainage, including the Gila River and the Rio Yaqui in western North America, part of the “robusta complex”, which includes the Gila robusta robusta, G.r. grahami, and G.r...

     (Gila robusta)
  • Humpback chub
    Humpback chub
    The humpback chub Gila cypha, is a federally protected fish that lived originally in fast waters of the Colorado River system in the United States. This species takes its name from the prominent hump between the head and dorsal fin, which is thought to direct the flow of water over the body and...

     (Gila cypha)
  • Bonytail chub
    Bonytail chub
    The bonytail chub or bonytail, Gila elegans, is a cyprinid freshwater fish native to the Colorado River of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah in the southwestern United States...

     (Gila elegans)

See also

  • Carp
    Carp are various species of oily freshwater fish of the family Cyprinidae, a very large group of fish native to Europe and Asia. The cypriniformes are traditionally grouped with the Characiformes, Siluriformes and Gymnotiformes to create the superorder Ostariophysi, since these groups have certain...

  • Bullhead catfish (Ameiurus)
  • Drum
  • Eel
    Eels are an order of fish, which consists of four suborders, 20 families, 111 genera and approximately 800 species. Most eels are predators...

  • Gar
    In American English the name gar is strictly applied to members of the Lepisosteidae, a family including seven living species of fish in two genera that inhabit fresh, brackish, and occasionally marine, waters of eastern North America, Central America, and the Caribbean islands.-Etymology:In...

  • Bowfin
    The Bowfin, Amia calva, is the last surviving member of the order Amiiformes , and of the family Amiidae...

  • Sucker
    Catostomidae is the sucker family of the order Cypriniformes. There are 80 species in this family of freshwater fishes. Catostomidae are found in North America, east central China, and eastern Siberia...

  • Sharks
  • Achirus lineatus
    Achirus lineatus
    The Lined Sole or Achirus lineatus is sometimes confused with the Hogchoker, which is distinguished by the latter's total lack of pectoral fin rays....

External links

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