Fishing in Maryland-Outdoor Recreation Maryland Dept of Natural Resources
  DNR Home

My First Fishing Trip: Where do Fish Live?

Each species of fish prefers a certain habitat. Habitat is where a fish lives and must contain: adequate oxygen, tolerable temperature, adequate food and hiding places (cover). Suitable spawning habitat must be available for fish to reproduce.

Freshwater Lakes And Ponds
Many lakes were formed thousands of years ago by glaciers, massive "rivers" of ice, which carved valleys and holes into the earth. These valleys and holes were filled with melting water from the glaciers and became lakes. Dams built to block the flow of rivers have also formed lakes, often called reservoirs or impoundments.

Ponds are tiny lakes and many are shaped like a bowl. Many farm ponds are used to store rainwater for crops or livestock. They are often great places to fish!

The Water's Surface
Many tiny creatures live right on the water's surface in lakes and ponds. If you look very closely, you may be able to see these dust-size creatures.

For some fish, the surface is a good place to feed. Bass, bluegill, and trout often eat insects that fall on the water. Anything that makes a disturbance on the water's surface attracts the attention of fish. Small fish swimming near the surface can be an easy meal for larger fish.

Open Water
"Plankton" are tiny plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton) in the water. Most are smaller than the head of a pin! Small fish like to roam open areas of a lake and feed on zooplankton. Larger fish often follow these small fish and feed on them. Then anglers try to catch the larger fish. This is called a "food chain."

Larger fish usually lurk below the small fish, forcing them toward the surface. Whenever you see small fish on the surface in open water, it usually means that larger fish are feeding. While feeding on these fish, they may make splashes you can see.

Other signs that larger fish are nearby are the frantic movements of the small fish. The small fish may even jump out of the water while trying to escape!

An estuary is the wide lower course of a river where the river's current meets the tides. In most estuaries this is where salty water mixes with the fresh water of rivers or streams. An ocean tide brings in saltwater and carries out some freshwater. As the waters mix, the water with the most salt is near the bottom. The water with less salt, called "brackish" water, is near the surface because it is lighter.

The Shoreline Shallows
The shallow water along the shore (littoral zone) is important. This is where many rooted plants, such as cattails, rushes, lilies, pondweed, and marsh grasses, grow.

Some lakes also have areas covered by rootless floating plants that make it difficult to fish. All of these plants are important because they produce the oxygen that fish need to live. They also provide a place for fish to find food and shelter from other hungry fish.

Shallow water attracts both small and large fish. Small fish, like bluegill, spawn, feed and hide in the plants, brush-piles, and logs in the shoreline shallows. Larger fish come to the shallows to feed on the smaller fish and also to spawn. Northern pike and bass often hide in the weeds and ambush smaller fish as they swim by. Larger fish often come to the shallows when there isn't much light. That's why early morning and evening are some of the best times to fish shallow areas.

Deep Water
Deep water is a home for many types of aquatic life. There is little light, no current, and the water temperature changes less than at the surface. Deep water is a good place for aquatic animals to hide, but there may be too little oxygen to sustain life, especially in late summer.

Freshwater Rivers And Streams
Flowing rivers and streams are always changing. Water currents constantly carry sediment (sand, rock and soil) downstream. The shape of a riverbed controls the amount of water and sediment the river can carry.

During or after a heavy rainfall, the water level and the speed of a water current increases. This enables the river to carry suspended sediments and results in the "murky" or muddy water you often see.

The water level in a river can drop quickly in very dry weather. During a drought a river can be reduced to a series of pools. This forces fish and other creatures to adjust to the new conditions if they are to live.

The River Banks
In a straight stretch of river, the main force of the current is in the middle. The deepest water is also in the middle and the area near the shore is the shallowest. When there's a sharp bend in the river, however, the strongest current and deepest water is at the outside edge of the bend.

Deep Water
In flowing water, there is less current near the bottom. Because of this, most fish stay with their bellies almost touching the bottom. They like to take advantage of low spots and other structure that have even less current than the surrounding water. They do this to save their energy and to avoid being pushed downstream.
Most fish in a river face the flow of water and wait for food to come to them. Trout and salmon like cold, moving water. Usually, they'll stay near the edge of the current and eat whatever food comes along. At night or when light levels are low, the fish often move to shallow water to feed.

Content on this page was provided by For more information about fishing and boating, please copy and paste the above link into your web browser, and visit their web site.

Email us with questions, comments, and suggestions
   Copyright 1995-2010 Maryland Department of Natural Resources 1-877-620-8DNR (8367)
DNR Privacy Policy

This page Updated on April 21, 2005