4 Best Tasting Freshwater Fish (And How To Prepare Them)


While you can’t go wrong with just about any type of freshwater fish, except for Gar, of course.. those are nasty, everyone has their own personal preference when it comes to which type is their favorite. So here are the four types of freshwater fish that are most likely to be enjoyed by almost anyone. Try preparing them all the way that I recommend, and I’m sure you’ll settle in on a favorite too.

1. Bluegill (Bream)

Man in Blue Jacket Holding a Bluegill

Bluegill are freshwater fish distinguished by their dark blue ear flip. They are also my favorite fish to eat, although they can be a bit boring to catch. I call them the “dumbest” fish since they will bite when all other species have lockjaw, due to cold weather, time of day, or whatever. Luckily they are extremely tasty.

Like the other freshwater fish species we’ve discussed so far, bluegill fish is a healthy catch for those watching their weight thanks to their low calorie and carbohydrate content. They’re tasty, too.

Cool Fact: Blue are a member of the sunfish family is mainly found in rivers, lakes, and streams. The average bluegill weighs 2 lbs (0.91 kg), but some can weigh as much as 4 lbs (1.8 kg).

What Does Bluegill Taste Like?

Bluegill is one of the tastiest freshwater fish and has firm and flaky meat with a mild fishy flavor making it an ideal choice for individuals who dislike strong fishy odors. The lack of a strong fishy taste has a lot to do with the fact that bluegill isn’t a bottom feeder. 

So if you love eating fish but hate the strong fishy odor, bluegill might just be a perfect choice.

How To Cook Bluegill

Pan-frying gets the best flavor out of bluegill’s flaky, firm meat. This quick and easy preparation method gives off a sweet aroma and doesn’t tamper with the fish’s natural flavor. It also gives you cooking options in terms of whether to prepare the fish whole or as fillets.

How To Prepare Pan-Fried Bluegill

Serving size: 4

Preparation time: 40 minutes-1 hour

Ingredients

  • 4 medium Bluegill filets
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Cooking vegetable oil
  • Cornmeal
  • Lemon pieces for garnishing

Directions

  1. Clean the fish carefully and dry them. You can leave the fins on, especially since they are a good source of calcium.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the cornmeal, pepper, and salt. 
  3. Coat your well-cleaned fish evenly with the mixture you prepared in step 2 and shake off any excess coating. 
  4. Add the vegetable cooking oil to the frying pan and bring to heat. 
  5. Dip the coated fish into the heated oil and fry each side until golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pan for better results.
  6. Remove from oil and wipe off the oil on the surfaces using a paper towel. 
  7. Garnish with the lemon pieces and serve hot to maintain crunchiness. 

Pro Tip: Consider pairing bluegill with potatoes, vegetables, salads, or rice.

2. Crappie (Speck)

Someone Holding a Crappie or Speck

This is my dad’s personal favorite. They bite best in the “colder” times of the year in Florida, so we’d usually hunt these down in November to January and bass or other types of fish the rest of the year.

Crappie belongs to the sunfish family and can be black, white, or greenish. You can get this type of fish in most markets. But if you prefer to catch them, the best time to go fishing for crappie would be at midnight or dawn, when they’re feeding close to the surface during the less hot times of the year.

Specks (what we call them in Florida) pack lean protein, a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids, zero carbs, and a low-calorie count.

How Does Crappie Taste?

Crappie are considered one of the most delicious freshwater fish, thanks to their soft, white, somewhat flaky meat. They’re a bit blander than bluegill, but the taste primarily comes down to the seasoning. 

While crappie comes with a less fishy flavor than saltwater fish, it may have a muddier taste than some of the other fish species we’ve looked at so far. This isn’t always an issue. 

In fact, some people love crappie for this precise reason.

How To Cook Crappie

Crappie is popularly known as the ultimate panfish due to its size. While baking is always an option, pan-frying is a better cooking method, in my opinion, because it gives you more seasoning opportunities, especially if you fry the fish as fillets or whole, as my father and I prefer.

What’s more, the breading used to pan fry crappie fillets adds just enough flavor to improve the taste without overpowering the fish’s natural taste. 

How To Prepare Pan-Fried Crappie Fillets

Serving size: 2

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • Pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Yellow cornmeal
  • 3 crappie fillets
  • Vegetable oil
  • Lemon pieces for garnishing

Directions

  1. Clean the fillets, but don’t dry them completely.
  2. Sprinkle the fillets with salt and pepper. Avoid adding too much pepper because it can overpower the fish’s natural taste. 
  3. Coat the fillet well with yellow cornmeal. 
  4. Add oil to the frying pan and heat it. 
  5. Place the coated fillets in the hot oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan because that can lower the oil temperature.
  6. Cook the fillets for 2-4 minutes, or until the fish is golden brown and flakes easily off the fork.
  7. Remove the fillets from the oil and wipe off excess oil using a paper towel. 
  8. Garnish with lemon pieces and serve hot.

3. Catfish

Nothing says Sunday afternoon cookout more than some fresh-caught catfish. I’ve caught hundreds of catfish both in lakes and ponds, with a rod and reel, and a cane pole. As any fisherman knows, they fight harder than any other fish so, in my opinion, are the most fun to catch.

A little-known fact is that while catfish are usually caught in freshwater, some species can thrive in saltwater, too. They are aptly named “Hardhead” when found in saltwater. So before you buy, make a point of finding out whether you’re actually purchasing freshwater catfish.

Healthy Tip: Catfish are both delicious and packed with proteins, healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins. They’re also low in calories, making them an excellent option for those trying to shed a few pounds. 

How Does Catfish Taste?

Catfish has firm flesh with a sweet, mild, somewhat moist taste. It is also less flaky compared to the typical whitefish. With that said, there are slight variations in catfish taste depending on where they were raised. By this, I’m referring to the old wild-caught vs. Farm-raised fish debate. 

Farm-raised catfish is often preferred due to its consistent, mild taste. On the other hand, some people like the muddy taste of wild-caught fish, so it really comes down to personal preferences. The difference in taste between wild-caught and farm-raised catfish has a lot to do with the type of food each fish category eats.

Farm-raised catfish are fed pellets that usually float on the surface of the fish pond, so they feed on the water surface. 

On the other hand, wild-caught catfish are bottom feeders and spend most of their time scouring the muddy bottoms of lakes, rivers, and swamps for food. This gives them a muddy taste that some consumers don’t appreciate.

My recommendation? Go with farm-raised catfish for that consistent, mild taste.

How To Cook Catfish

The best way to cook catfish is pan-frying because it’s easy, quick, and brings out the natural taste of catfish. What’s more, this cooking method preserves the fish’s natural calorie, sodium, and fats content.

Quick Tip: If you’re working with wild-caught catfish, consider soaking it in milk for about 20 minutes before marinating and cooking to remove the muddy taste. And if you’re going for a crunchy taste, use cornmeal coating.

How To Prepare Pan-Fried Catfish

Serving size: 2

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs (0.91 kg) catfish fillet
  • 1 finely chopped medium onion
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup (118 ml) yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp (29.5 ml) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp (14.8 ml) butter or a ¼ cup (59.1 ml) cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp (14.8 ml) fresh chopped parsley
  • Lemon slices for garnishing

Directions

  1. Rinse the fillets and pat them dry in a rack to avoid soggy results.
  2. Mix cornmeal and other ingredients except lemon slices and oil in a bowl.
  3. Dip the well-dried catfish fillets in the yellow cornmeal mixture. A thin layer of coating is recommended for crunchy results. 
  4. Heat butter or vegetable cooking oil on a non-stick pan over high heat.
  5. Place the marinated fillets in the heated oil/butter and fry them for a minimum of three minutes or until they flake easily on the fork. Do not overcrowd the pan with the fillets for best results.
  6. Remove the fillets from heat and drain the excess cooking oil/butter using paper towels. 
  7. Garnish with lemon and serve hot to maintain crunchiness.

Quick Tip: Catfish pairs great with rosemary potatoes, fried rice, or cornbread.

4. Walleye

I remember catching my first Walleye. As a 9 or 10-year-old, to me it looked like some kind of alien fish. We were fishing at Lake Mary on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, and I always thought it was a Northern fish. Well, we ate it anyway and it was delicious.

The best time to catch these is at night when they are feeding close to the surface.

Cool Fact: The walleye’s name is derived from its large opaque, almost blind-looking eyes. This fish species is olive-to-gold in color, with a large mouth full of sharp teeth. An adult walleye can grow as long as 30” (76.2 cm) and weigh up to 15 lbs (6.8 kg). 

What Does Walleye Taste Like?

Walleye has a mild-meaty taste instead of the intense fishy flavor you’ll find on other fish species. So if you hate too much fishy odor, walleye is the perfect choice for you. As for the texture, it’s firm and flaky with a buttery feel.

Walleye aren’t just tasty fish. They’re also rich in omega fatty acids, healthy fat, and protein. They’re also low calories, making this an ideal source of lean protein.

Keep in mind that the taste may vary with where the fish was caught, if it’s fresh, and the cooking method. A quick way to determine whether you’re working with fresh walleye is to cut it. If it doesn’t ooze blood, it’s not fresh and might have a fishy odor.

How To Cook Walleye

The best way to cook walleye is oven baking because this type of fish is flaky and oily. The alternative would be frying, which is the preferred method of many.

How To Prepare Oven-Baked Walleye

Serving size: 2

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 walleye fillets
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Paprika
  • Finely chopped parsley
  • 3 tbsp (44.3 ml) melted butter or vegetable cooking oil
  • Two pieces of lemon for garnishing

Directions

  1. Clean your walleye fillets and pat them dry using a paper towel.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400℉ (204.4℃).
  3. Coat the fillets with melted butter or vegetable cooking oil, season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. Put the fillets in an oven-safe baking dish and set them in the oven. 
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Garnish with lemon and parsley. 
  7. Serve hot with your favorite vegetables or fries.

How To Check Freshwater Fish for Freshness

Even the best-tasting fish won’t be palate-friendly if it’s not fresh. 

So whether you’re shopping for freshwater fish at your grocery store or have caught and stored them at home, you’ll need to check it for freshness before cooking. This way, you won’t waste your time and ingredients only to end up with unsatisfactory results.

There are several ways to check fish for freshness:

  • Smell it: This may be the oldest trick in the book, but it still works. What you’re looking for is a foul smell. If you notice any, you’re probably looking at spoiled fish.
  • Look at the color of the gills: The gills of fresh fish has an appealing, bright red color. On the other hand, fish that’s been in the market for a while has dry gills covered with sticky lime and brownish color.
  • Press against the flesh: Fresh fish has shiny, firm flesh that bounces back when pressed. Don’t buy it if the skin doesn’t bounce back or is cracked with loose scales. This is a sign of fish that’s been on the market for quite some time.
  • Examine the eyes: Fresh fish have full bulging, clear eyes with black pupils. Cloudy, dry, or hollow eyes with whitish or gray pupils indicate spoiled fish.

Consider the preservation method: If the fish is not straight from the water, find out how it’s been preserved. Ideally, you want ice-preserved fish because ice not only keeps the fish fresh but also preserves its natural taste.

Final Bite

You can’t go wrong with any fish on this list. By the way, if you happen to catch a bass don’t throw it back. They taste really good as well and are probably my second favorite type to eat.

And if you are normally a saltwater fish eater, you are really missing out on some good eating. I’d take a plate of catfish with rice, gravy, and okra over tilapia with a rice pilaf any day.

I hope this article was helpful. Thanks for reading!

For more, check out The 4 Best Tasting Types of Panfish.

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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