The 4 Most Overrated Freshwater Fish in North America

The 4 Most Overrated Freshwater Fish in North America

I’m just going to say it—Michael Jordan was a bit of a ball hog, Muhammed Ali had some padded victories, and Tom Brady wouldn’t have been Tom Brady without the Patriots’ offensive line. The fact is, no matter how great, legendary, or perfect we think an athlete is, there is always a reason to call them overrated. Of course, that doesn’t stop the masses from dedicating their fandom to them and considering them to be completely flawless. The same goes for fish.

Everyone has their favorite fish, the one they devote the majority of their angling lives to pursuing. Many fish inspire an almost cult-like dedication while others become a nationwide obsession with anglers investing millions of dollars into tournaments, boats, and other equipment into their pursuit. Yet, just like those star athletes, even the most popular and infamous fish have their flaws.

Largemouth Bass

America is dedicated to the largemouth. Our country has more than 30 million bass anglers influencing a nearly $60 billion dollar industry. Largemouth are native to the eastern and central US but thanks to their popularity, the fish have been introduced to nearly all 50 states along with Canada and Mexico. This means that no matter where you live, there’s an opportunity to land a few bucketmouths.

Bass anglers are fanatical in their dedication to the largemouth with massive tournaments and entire libraries written on the topic, all in hope of inspiring the next generation of wacky-worm-rigging, glitter-boat-driving, lip-gripping, bass-fishing heroes. The question is why? Truth be told, largemouth are kind of lame as a gamefish.

Largemouth are members of the Centrarchidae or sunfish family, making them a close cousin of the diminutive bluegill, and are similarly easy to catch. Their eponymous mouths can fit almost any size lure or bait, and their aggressive nature means that they’ll strike at almost anything that moves. Bass anglers will rant for days about the challenge presented by largemouth, yammering incessantly about how hard they fight and highlighting the need for finesse techniques in cold weather and when fishing for pressured bass. However, the truth is that most of the time, no matter how pressured the fish are or how cold the weather is, the fish will almost always inhale a well-placed soft-plastic lure danced just off the end of their nose. And while the fish do fight pretty hard by turning sideways to create more water resistance and leaping laboriously into the air as they try to shake the lure, when compared with the freight train like runs of a steelhead or the catapulting leaps of a salmon, the bass simply falls short.


I absolutely love fishing for and catching walleye. These massive members of the perch family are easily one of the best-eating fish in freshwater and the fish’s popularity as table fare has made walleye fishing into its own religion. Every year, thousands of anglers flock to lakes and rivers around the country looking to fill a cooler with a limit of walleye. They’re especially popular in the Midwest, with more than 3.5 million being brought home for the dinner table in Minnesota alone. Yet despite their popularity at fish fry’s, walleye have a lot of bad qualities that anglers tend to overlook when pursuing the fish.

First and foremost, walleye can’t fight. I don’t care what you say about some 30-inch-plus behemoth doubling your rod over and pulling out drag like some sort of leviathan. It probably felt that way because you were using light gear or hooked the fish by its tail. In reality, most walleye fight like a bad-tempered Chihuahua. They shake and try to act tough, but once you’ve got a hold of one, you can pretty much do whatever you want with it. The fight with a walleye is like going from reeling through water to reeling through syrup.

Another thing many walleye anglers rant about is how challenging they are to find, which is true at times. The fish are constantly moving from shallow water to deep water in search of different forage, making them a challenge to key in on. However, walleye also tend to travel in massive schools. Once you do get dialed in on them, you can stack them up all day and even all night long. Walleye are tasty and fun to catch, but the real challenge is trying not to go over your limit when you find them.


There is no other angler more obsessive than a crappie angler. They’ll spend thousands of dollars on boats, rods, lures, and electronics, all in pursuit of what many consider to be the King of Panfish. Crappie are available in almost every state in the US and have created an enthusiastic community of anglers. These folks use dozens of different angling methods, multiple baited rods and jigging to the old hook and bobber off the dock. Though they’re not known as a great sportfish like bass or incredible table fare like walleye, they have enough of both qualities to have garnered their place in fishing.

But, let’s be honest, crappie are kind of stupid. Like most panfish, they are aggressive and incredibly opportunistic feeders. Though they can be fickle, when the fish are hungry, there’s very little they won’t eat—from small jerkbaits to jigs to a wide variety of live baits.

Crappies are so voracious that they often end up as bycatch. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been ice fishing for pike and walleye, only to have my tip-ups constantly set off by crappie. Also, crappie are especially dull combatants when hooked. When compared with the fighting abilities of other panfish like bluegill or white bass, the crappie falls well short in the scrappy department.

Brook Trout

Trout have been given a bit of an aristocratic reputation by the fishing industry. They are thought of as the most intelligent and wily of fish, able to discern and refuse flies and lures that aren’t of the exact size and color to suit their palates. This perceived intelligence has elevated the fish to the upper echelons of fishing lore and made the trout’s pursuit an obsessive challenge for anglers.

In Montana, trout fishing accounts for more than $350 million in tourism every single year. This elite reputation and perceived intelligence given to trout has been massively inflated as the fish aren’t actually smart. They are simply more selective in their feeding habits, choosing to only feed on specific hatches and certain prey items throughout the season. However, if trout actually were some sort of Ivy League educated fish, then the brook trout would be the hard-partying dropout.

Brookies are a beautiful, unique, and delicious fish that live in some of the most pristine and gorgeous places on earth. However, unlike other trout species, brook trout are a bit too simple. Catching them is generally as easy as dropping any bait or lure into the water and then yanking one of the small wriggling fish back out. They’ll eat flies, spoons, worms, or even bare hooks. This doesn’t mean brook trout are less intelligent than other trout species, but rather because of the small creeks, streams, and ponds where brookies tend to live, they’re overpopulated.

These fish breed like rabbits on Viagra, and brook trout populations will often exceed available food sources meaning that the fish will strike at almost anything they perceive to be edible. This means that despite many of us pursuing them with high-end fly rods and intricately tied flies, we can catch just as many brookies with a length of monofilament tied to a stick and baited with a gum wrapper.

Jumping Off The Pedestal

We all tend to put the things we love on a pedestal. Our first crush, our pets, and even our parents and children often become these infallible entities that can do no wrong. We don’t necessarily ignore their flaws because we are simply incapable of even perceiving them. However, most of the time those little imperfections make us love a thing even more. Flaws become characteristics that define our relationships by becoming something we subconsciously depend on—our partner’s snoring, our dog’s chewing, our grandparents' bad cooking. We notice when they aren’t there and miss when they’re gone.

It’s the same with fish. When we’re out there in pursuit of our favorite species, we depend on those unperceived flaws all the more because they’re part of what makes a fish our favorite. And, when those flaws aren’t present, it makes our days on the water stand out all the more. Those days when we catch a big largemouth on a tiny lure, hook into a particularly hard-fighting walleye, or have a day when crappie or brook trout are being picky about feeding, are the days and the fish that we remember most.

It almost makes me feel like perhaps nothing is overrated and that the entire concept is something we’ve simply manifested as an excuse for why we just don’t like certain things. That is except for Tom Brady—he was as overrated as they come.

Feature image via Tosh Brown.

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