7 Hardest Fighting Freshwater Fish: Can You Handle Them?

Not all fishing is about putting meat on the table.  As sport fishing grows in popularity, so too does the angler’s desire to pit oneself against some of the hardest fighting fish around.  Here in the US, we have no shortage of turbo charged fish.  

Whether it’s a chunky smallmouth bass ripping drag or a goliath sturgeon bringing stout rods within a hairs breadth of breaking, these fish can really get the heart pumping.  In this article, we pay homage to some of the hardest fighting fish in a pound-for-pound comparison.  

While many fish deserve to be on this list, here are 7 hard fighting freshwater fish that are sure to leave you with big smiles and aching arms.

  1. Smallmouth Bass
  2. Common Carp
  3. Tiger Trout
  4. Peacock Bass
  5. King Salmon
  6. Muskie
  7. Sturgeon

1. Smallmouth Bass

This foul tempered cousin of the largemouth bass is nothing short of a ballistic torpedo.   Smallmouth might not have the same notoriety as largemouth bass but they make up for it as one of the hardest fighting warm water fish.  

After taking a poll among my angling buddies, they agree that a day spent yarding in brawny smallies leads to a good night’s sleep and sore muscles in the morning.  Maybe other fish would share their bad attitude if they were always called small too. 

Smallmouth bass are widely distributed across the country so just about every angler has a chance to experience energetic fights and hook-spiting head shakes for themselves.  You never know what’s on the end of your line until it’s beside the boat.  Even experienced anglers are fooled into believing that they’ve hooked up with a giant smallie only to haul in its little one pound brother. 

Whether you are a largemouth aficionado or a panfish junkie, don’t miss out on some smallmouth action this season.  Pound for pound, smallmouth bass are our pick as the hardest fighting fish in freshwater.

2. Common Carp

Carp might be considered a trash fish but they are anything but lumbering barrels when hooked with a rod and reel.  These invasive fish look docile and are tricky to catch, yet they fight with the might of a freight train and just don’t quit.

Pretty much every lake, back channel and pond harbors large schools of common carp.  Even hooking into an averaged sized 10 pounder leaves anglers unsure if they’ll get their lure back.  For those who cross paths with a true brut, hang on!

Common carp are not high on most anglers’ hit list and their boney flesh leaves something to be desired at the table.  However, for raw fighting power alone, we think everyone should test their endurance against an ill-tempered, 30 pound common carp. For an even bigger thrill, try catching one on a fly.

3. Tiger Trout

It’s more than just the tiger stripe markings that give these brown and brook trout hybrids their name.  The tiger trout’s ferocious fighting and aggressive disposition puts them at the top of many anglers’ list of hard fighting stocked trout. 

Most trout fight hard but tiger trout take it to a whole new level.  Hook into a 20 plus inch tiger and you know it’s going to be a battle.  Acrobatics, reel smoking runs and vicious head shakes make landing one of these beauties nothing short of a suspense-filled thrill.

Convincing one of these fish to take your bait is not nearly as challenging as the fight.  Tiger trout feed on a variety of forage including other fish.  Trolling or casting Rapalas, spinners, spoons and flies are successful.  

These are cold water fish so early spring and late fall draws tiger trout into shallow areas near deep water drop offs to feed.  Summer heat forces them to the depths when the sun is high but they return to the shallows during cool mornings and evenings.

Many states, from east to west, stock these sterile hybrids in local lakes.  They grow fast and in quality populations, 5 to 10 pound fish are abundant.  Catching them is a blast on light spinning gear.

4. Peacock Bass

Peacock Bass were introduced to Florida waters in the 80’s to trim down the exploding tilapia population.  After returning balance to the waters, anglers quickly realized these fish are as spunky as they are colorful.

Now, as a wildly popular game fish, peacock bass (not actually a bass) attract anglers far and wide hopeful for a battle.  Casting minnow imitations with light tackle is all an adrenaline seeker needs to get their heart racing.  

Sight fishing in clear freshwater lakes in the warm tropical heat is half the fun.  Flip minnow imitations to shaded edges and watch for a savage strike.  Anglers who have fished for both smallmouth bass and peacock bass find it difficult to pick the hardest fighting of the two.

Go soak up some Florida sun and give these colorful fish a try.

5. King Salmon

There’s a reason they’re called Kings.  King salmon are the beasts of the ocean and come spawning season, they chew through miles of raging river current every day.  Powerfully muscled bodies and giant proportions draw thousands of anglers to west coast rivers every fall. 

Reaching weights in excess of 75 pounds, giant kings are the stuff of legends.  Hook up with a 50 pound slab on a wild stretch of river and the true strength of these fish will blow your mind.  Kings run upriver just as easily as they can turn down river and spool line from the reel of an unsuspecting angler.

Get ready for a foot chase along the bank if you want any chance at landing one of these river monsters.  Boat anglers in large rivers have only a slight advantage over their shore bound compatriots. 

Alaska’s Kenai River is world famous for producing huge kings but many rivers along the British Columbia and US coast as far south as California have annual runs of salmon.  It’s not unusual for anglers to regularly engage with 20 pounders in epic fights.  Experience the hard fighting king salmon once and you’ll be back for more. 

6. Muskie

With a body built for speed, these agile hunters wreak havoc on the nerves of many anglers lucky enough to hook one.  Rows of fearsome teeth shred standard monofilament line during intense fights that are often over before they start.

Muskie are indeed the “fish of a thousand casts” but getting one to the boat takes more than persistence.  With weights exceeding 30 pounds, nothing but tough gear, skillful fighting and a competent netting partner will get this trophy in for a picture.  

Many dedicated muskie hunters spend years perfecting their fighting tactics.  For fish that sometimes require days of non-stop casting with heavy lures, there is no room for error when you finally hook up.  Keep their head below the water since powerful surface thrashing will rip out even the best hook sets.  

Muskie fights seldom last more than a minute but your trial and tribulations are not over yet.  Most bruisers are lost at the boat where there is less room for error.  Your netter needs to be ready when the opportunity arises.  Keep in mind, just because the fish is in the net, does not mean the fight is over.  More than one angler has suffered nasty hand injuries from a toothy muskie. 

7. Sturgeon

The sturgeon isn’t last on this list because it’s a wimp.  We saved it for last because the power of this prehistoric beast eclipses all other fish.  Few fish can match the raw power of a huge sturgeon.  Combine that with vigorous acrobatics that belie its bottom dwelling tendencies and any first time sturgeon angler is in for a wild ride.

White sturgeon have been known to reach over 12 feet in length and weigh an average of 150 to 1,000 pounds.  It’s not uncommon for them to jump from the water the full length of their body several times during a fight.

Fighting a sturgeon takes all the stamina anglers have.  Fights have lasted for hours with several people taking turns while this denizen of the deep barely breaks a sweat.  

Your average fishing rod and reel won’t be enough to tangle with sturgeon.  Stout rods with a solid back bone and sturdy reels spooled with 30 to 50 pound test are the bare minimum.  

Parting words

There are plenty of fish that fight with staggering power and unchecked determination.  Part of the reason we all love fishing is to experience the thrill of a hard fighting fish. 

Big fish aren’t the only hard fighters. Catch a feisty brook trout on an ultralight setup and I guarantee you’ll be grinning from ear to ear when it jumps clear of the water and tries to spit your hook!