For those new to the fishing community, you may notice we use all sorts of jargon to describe different things. For instance, you may be perusing your state’s regulations and spotted two crucial words we use to categorize fish: “game” and “non-game.” Understanding what those two terms mean will keep you out of trouble with game wardens. This post will go over this basic terminology and point out the differences between game fish vs non-game fish.

What Classifies a Species as a Game Fish vs Non-Game Fish?

Now, let’s get down to the details of how states distinguish whether or not a species is considered “game.”

Game fish provide sport for anglers, and they’re typically species that people target most. For example, one widespread sport fish is the largemouth bass.

Non-game fish, on the other hand, is any other species not identified as sport fish. Seems simple to understand, right? Don’t worry if you’re still confused; we will go further in detail on these terms in later sections.

Lastly, it’s vital to remember that whatever species a state assigns as game or non-game may not be the case in others. Therefore, you need to read through the regulations of your local waters carefully.

Gabbing About Game Fish

Generally, game fish are those that provide value to anglers. However, there’s always room for interpretation when it comes to defining a species’ value. Here are some characteristics that make a species a sport fish:

  • Most people consider them palatable, like trout or salmon.
  • The fish provides a challenge to anglers. For example, the angling community commonly refers to the muskellunge as the fish of 1000 casts.
  • They’re sought-after by many anglers.
  • The geographical location of the species gives anglers more of an opportunity to catch them. Typically, an increase in opportunity brings in more non-residents. Thus, more non-resident permits then translate to increased revenue to that state’s conservation department.

Additionally, game fish will also have more restrictions than non-game that you must abide by to harvest them. For example, you may only be allowed to harvest them during certain seasons. Or, there’s a minimum size requirement that fish must meet. Also, there may be a limit to how many you can bag within a day or season.

Common Game Fish Species

If you would like a more concrete example, here is a list of popular fresh and saltwater sport fish:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Rainbow trout
  • Brown trout
  • Cutthroat trout
  • Channel catfish
  • Blue catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Northern pike
  • Kokanee salmon
  • Crappie
  • Walleye
  • Muskellunge
  • Tarpon
  • Tuna
  • Marlin
  • Sailfish
  • Roosterfish

Know More About Non-Game Fish

As we mentioned above, non-game fish are those the state doesn’t classify as sport fish. Although a state doesn’t label certain species as “game,” it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re off-limits. Of course, this excludes endangered or protected species specified under your regulations.

Typically, non-game fish don’t hold any commercial value. Also, they’re regularly used as live or cut bait to attract game fish. In addition, rules regarding non-sport fish tend to be on the more lenient side. Additionally, you can usually take these fish using other methods outside of pole and line fishing. For example, in certain areas, you can catch non-game fish by:

  • Trapping
  • Dip net
  • Seine net
  • Cast net
  • Bowfishing
  • Gigging
  • Snagging
  • Underwater Spear

Furthermore, some states don’t even have minimum length limits on many non-sport species. Lastly, the bag limit for these fish is much greater, with some having no limitations whatsoever.

Common Non-Game Fish Species

To give you a visual, here is a list of common non-game fish species:

  • Carp
  • Bluegill
  • Green sunfish
  • Shad
  • Bullhead catfish
  • Freshwater drum
  • Suckers
  • Gar
  • Minnows

Frequently Asked Questions About Game and Non-Game Fish

Question #1: What Fishing Methods Can You Use To Catch Game Fish?

Each sport fish has their own set of regulations from state to state. So, it depends on what you’re targeting and where. Most of the time, you can only catch game using your everyday rod and reel. However, in some states, like Missouri, they allow anglers to catch catfish using alternative methods. For example, you can target catfish with trotlines, limblines, juglines, and bank poles in certain Missouri waters.

Question #2: Do You Still Need a Fishing License To Catch Non-Game Fish?

Yes, to participate in any fishing activity, you need a permit, regardless of the fish. Check out our sitemap if you would like to learn more about obtaining a fishing license for your state.

Question #3: Can You Eat Non-Game Fish?

Although many people may not see non-sport fish as tasty, they’re still edible. So, if you’re curious about how one tastes, you won’t know until you try it. I’ve eaten fried bluegill, carp, and the backstraps of a longnose gar and enjoyed it.

Question #4: Are There Records for Catching Non-Game Fish?

Yes, there are still state and international records held for non-game species. For example, according to the IGFA, in 2009, Stoian Iliev caught the largest grass carp, which weighed 87-pounds 10-ounces, in Bulgaria.

Did You Learn Something New?

To reiterate, the main difference between game fish and non-game fish is if the species provides recreation for anglers. However, if you’re unsure of the fishing regulations in your local waters, it is always best to check your state’s handbook. Did you learn something new from this article? Please, let us know in the comments below. Did this post benefit you in any way? Then, please give it a share on social media.