What are Freshwater Predator Fish?

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If you are planning your predator fishing journey, the question is: What predator fish species are out there to target?

For most European waters, the answer is straightforward: pike, perch, zander, and catfish.

Although these are not the only predatory species available, they possess the abundance, size, strength, cunningness, and beauty that make them an ultimate goal of an avid predator angler!

I have spent my life in eternal pursuit of these mysterious monsters from murky depths from both lakes and rivers. I have had some noteworthy results in my angling history. In this article, I will share some of my knowledge related to freshwater predatory fish species.

Lets Learn More!

We will start with the smaller, abundant, and beginner-friendly predators. Then we will advance to those bigger, more scarce, and demanding predators you have always dreamt about!

Perch

A Fantastic Conditioned river Perch I caught recently

Perch is a predator that can grow up to 60 cm, with a record weight of 3.75 kg fish which was caught in the Netherlands. Perch size varies a lot depending on the body of water you are fishing.

Huge fish you can often see in fishing magazines, blogs, etc. usually come from the Baltic sea. Which has very low salinity and offers a diet of Baltic herrings that enables perch to grow rapidly and a large size.

In most continental waters, the average perch is somewhere around 15 cm long. Fish over 30 cm are considered big, while fish of 40cm + is considered a trophy!

Although they are not big, they make it up with abundance – a good body of water can give you a whole day of fun with little effort or knowledge needed! You will find perch in all types of lakes, from deep gravel pits to shallow and marshy ponds. They also inhabit slow-running rivers, no matter the size and depth! On the other hand, they hate cold, fast-flowing water (although they still might venture there).

Perch are bottom-dwelling fish, and they love ambush areas. Water grass, sunken trees, big rocks, drop-offs, or any kind of underwater construction that provides cover and shade will most likely hold some perch!

Perch do not love the sun. Their big eyes are adapted to hunting in low light conditions, and they are most active at dusk or dawn when you can find them scattered all over the water column. If the day is cloudy, they will remain active near the bottom or suspended under drop-offs. But if there is sun, perch will seek the cover of shade or depth, and you will have to find where they are.

This stripy little predator lives in schools, numbers in the school grow less as the average perch size increases. This means that there is always a competition for food when the school is hunting, which is a great for you as an angler!

When you find a school of perch, fishing can escalate into a frenzy in no time – they will just keep hitting your lures/baits! And when bites start getting scarce, you can always search for another school.

When starting your predator fishing journey, it is important that your efforts are quickly rewarded. This is why perch is a great fish to explore your predator fishing skills!

Pike

A beautifully conditioned pike caught on a river

Pike is the most notorious freshwater predator! It can grow up to stunning 150 cm with a weight up to 28.4 kg, and carries a killing instinct unmatched to any of European predator species!

It shares the same fate as perch, reaching larger size in the abundance of low salinity waters of Baltic, but also getting quite big on most inland Euro-Asian waters. Average fish is in the 50 cm range, 80 cm+ fish are considered to be of good size, while 100 cm+ is the size of a trophy fish!

Pike inhabit almost all water bodies imaginable! They do prefer shallow, warm, and grassy waters, but will also dwell in deep, cold lakes and all kinds of rivers. They even go to the trout territory if they somehow end up there. But generally, they prefer slow-running rivers and lakes to faster streams.

Being an ambush hunter, the pike is closely connected to available hiding spots. They have incredible acceleration when attacking, and can spend a prolonged amount of time hidden in the grass, or under a sunken tree, waiting for the opportunity to strike. When the prey enters their sight, the attack will be lightning-fast and savage – their toothy jaws will make an instant mess of anything unfortunate enough to end up in there!

That is why you always need to search pike near potential hiding spots – tree structures are the best option, but big rocks, lily pads, drop-offs, peers, and similar structures will also hold pike!

What makes pike unique is their incredible hunting instincts. Pikes are fierce predators, capable of attacking everything that moves in the water – it doesn’t matter if the target of an attack is a fish, a duck, or a rat! It also does not matter if the prey is big; pike have big jaws and even bigger appetites, and will attack prey that is literally the same size as they are!

They tend to be more active at dusk and dawn when they will often roam the hunting grounds. But they will eagerly attack your lure/bait during the day, especially if the weather is cloudy!

Pike will never share their habitat with other pikes, as they are cannibals, and will attack fish that enters their territory.

Due to the pronounced aggression and willingness to hit almost any kind of lure or live bait available, pike are a perfect predator fish for anglers of all skill levels!

Zander

One of my River caught Zander

Meet the king of cunningness – the elusive zander! A predator that resembles a combination of both pike and perch, and can grow to a stunning 120 cm and 20 kg weight!

In reality, the average zander is somewhere around 50 cm long; fish over 70 cm are good sized, while anything over 90 cm is a trophy fish! They are often larger in rivers than in lakes.

They inhabit large, slow-flowing rivers and big lakes. Unlike the zander, they prefer scarce vegetation, and are very sensitive to oxygen levels, being unable to survive in eutrophic conditions.

Zander is incredibly adapted to hunting in low-light conditions! They will often dwell in the deepest parts of both lakes and rivers, and reserve their hunting activities for night hours. When dusk starts setting in, zander will leave their daily habitat and will start approaching their night hunting grounds near the margins, where they will be active until dawn.

Although they hunt during the night, they can be caught both in their daily habitat and night hunting grounds. Fishing is especially successful during overcast weather and in murky water, where zander uses their excellent sight and lateral line to detect prey.

Zander prefers hunting from cover. In rivers, you will find them under drop-offs, behind sand dunes and sunken trees, in calm water pockets surrounded by turbulent water.

In lakes, they will be in deep water, often suspended, and will hunt near sunken obstacles and especially on the edge of shallow areas where prey is often concentrated.

What makes zander special is its sensitivity to presentation, bait, tackle choice, and many other factors. Zander will rarely attack loud and aggressive lures or big baits suited for pike and will be incredibly finicky to strong tackle. Beginners will often have problems even noticing a take on their lure and will have trouble with zander spitting out the bait before you can set the hook. It’s not the easiest predator fish to catch!

Although zander is not an easy target, putting your effort into catching one will pay off with the first realized strike!

To read more on zander fishing during the winter, check out my article here!

Catfish

Here I am with this huge mouthed Catfish

Meet the second-largest Euro-Asian saltwater predator – catfish! The literature claims it can reach a length of 3 meters and weight of 200 + kg, but the largest reported specimen is 144 kg and 2.78 m in length caught in river Po in Italy.

Due to living more than 50 years and growing rather fast, the average catfish is around 80-100 cm long. Fish over 150 cm are respectable specimens, while anything exceeding 200 cm is a trophy!

Catfish dwell in big, slow-flowing rivers and large lakes. They will steer clear from cold waters, preferring warmth due to their slow metabolism!

Catfish will find habitat in the deep holes on river bends, under sunken trees, or any other place they can use as a shelter. This predator will stay dormant during cold winter months, and will be most active during warm summer days – often hunting on the surface, and patrolling the shallow water like a shark.

Small eyes and long whiskers are a telltale sign of a night hunter. Catfish have very limited eyesight, but a very well-developed sense of smell and movement. It will usually feed off the bottom (with an exception of warm summer days, and summer thunderstorms that will get them up on the surface) and attack almost anything – from crabs and small fish to birds, big fish, and other catfish!

When fishing for catfish, one must be prepared for a potential monster on the other side of the line. Big water bodies always hide big fish, and it is impossible to know what will take your bait/lure. Catfish have enormous strength and endurance; successfully catching the big one is no child’s play. It is as close to Big Game as freshwater fishing goes!

The best time to catch catfish is after rainy days when water levels rise. They will use murky waters to patrol the shoreline and aggressively feed on anything, and you will have the best chances of getting your bait in their path!

One location renowned in Europe for huge catfish is Spain. Check out my review on Fishing In Spain here!

Interested in more?

Fishing for these predator fish is very exciting and enjoyable. I hope this article inspires you to go out fishing for them and tell your stories! 

If you have found some of the answers you were seeking while reading this article – or even better, developed an additional interest in the predator fishing world – Then please go and check out and read my guide on Best Baits and Lures for Predator Fish.

Denis Savretic