Kentucky Creeks

Welcome to Kentucky Creeks.  dedicated to the beauty, diversity, and conservation of the waterways within Kentucky.

Minnows, Shiners, Dace, & other Creek Fish of Kentucky

Most of the time when you hear about a minnow, it's from a fishermen talking about bait fish.  Many of the small stream fish in Kentucky are commonly used as bait.  Kentucky has a large diversity of small stream fish.  Minnows, Shiners, and Dace normally swim in schools.  Some prefer slow pools and other like faster moving water.  Some will visit large rivers and other stay in small headwater creeks.  Minnows, Shiners, and Dace are a must for a stream aquarium, they occupy the mid-section of the tank and do well with darters.  Caution must be used when collecting and transporting these fish as they are not as hardy as darters.  It's best to collect these in the spring or fall.  Listed here are some of the more common stream fish found in Kentucky.  Visit the KDFWR website to find stream fish in your area @

Scarlet Shiner, Lythrurus fasciolaris

                                                                                                                                                 Photo courtesy of NANFA

Inhabits clear upland streams of small to medium size over rock substrate in or adjacent to riffles, but often in pools during midwinter and the summer spawning season.  Also in large streams and rivers in areas of moderate to strong flow (1).  The Scarlet shiner is found in many creeks throughout Kentucky.  Males show beautiful colors, especially during spawning season.  They maintain some color and have a unique 'tiger stripe' pattern that can be seen in the aquarium.  These fish are great for the stream style community aquarium.  They are, however, very fragile and care must be taken in capturing and transporting them to ensure survival.  Grows to 3 1/2inches and do well in small schools.


Spotfin Shiner, Cyprinella spiloptera

                                                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy of NANFA

Occupies medium to large-size streams and rivers that are permanently flowing and of moderate to high gradient.  Usually in or adjacent to rocky riffles in swift current or around cover in the form of logs and boulders.  Also in the main channels of big rivers in flowing water (1).  The Spotfin Shiner is generally distributed throughout most of Kentucky, except far western KY.  They show beautiful colors in the creeks, but generally maintain a silver color in captivity.  However, they are a great addition to the stream aquarium.   They are hardy and look great with schools of other fish.  They grow to nearly 5inches, so a larger aquarium may be needed.

Emerald Shiner, Notropis atherinoides

                                                                                                                                                           Photo courtesy of NANFA

Inhabits medium to large-size streams, rivers, and big rivers where it is typically found over firm sand or gravel in pools or areas with some flow.  Also in impoundments and floodplain lakes.  In Kentucky, the Emerald Shiner is generally distributed in the state, found in large creeks and main channels of rivers.  They are absent from the upper Cumberland River drainage.  This fish doesn't show much color, but has a long silver shape.  They make good tank mates in aquariums and are fairly hardy.  They will give a unique look to a school of minnows/shiners.  Grows to 5inches.


Silver Shiner, Notropis photogenis

                                                                                                                                                           Photo courtesy of NANFA

Inhabits medium to large-size streams and rivers where the water is clear, the gradient moderate to high, and the bottom of clean rocky substrates.  Normally occurs in schools in deep swift raceways or in pools just above or below riffles (1).  Similar to the Emerald Shiner, but it has 2 black crescents between the nostrils.    The Silver Shiner is common in mid to eastern Kentucky.  This fish doesn't show much color, but has a long silver shape.  They make good tank mates in aquariums and are fairly hardy.  They will give a unique look to a school of minnows/shiners.  Grows to 5 1/2inches.


Rosyface Shiner, Notropis rubellus

                                                                                                                                                           Photo courtesy of NANFA

Frequents clear, cool waters over a rock bottom in small or large-size upland streams and rivers.  Usually in pools with noticeable current, occasionally in riffles (1).  In Ketucky, the Rosyface Shiner is common in much of the eastern part of the state.  Found in the upper and middle Cumberland, Kentucky River, Licking River, and others.  During spawning, the head/face of the fish will turn a reddish color.  The Rosyface Shiner is a great addition to the stream aquarium and one of my favorite shiners.  Care needs to be taken in capture and transport of these fish as they can be fragile.  Grows to 3 1/2inches.


Southern Red-Belly Dace, Chrosomus erythrogaster

                                                                                                                                                          Photo courtesy of NANFA

Inhabits small, often tiny, upland headwater creeks, streams, and spring branches that have permanent flow, clear, cool water, and silt-free sand/gravel bottoms.  Waters inhabited are invariably shaded and submergent vegetation may be present.  Usually in pools with some flow or at the crests and bases of riffles (1).  In Kentucky, the SRBD is found throughout most river systems that have cool headwater creeks with good flow, including: Cumberland River, Kentucky, Green River, and other.  They generally are not common in western KY or the lower Licking and Kentucky rivers.  These fish are stunning when found during the spring spawning season.  Their bellys will turn bright red and their fins will be yellow.   In captivity the red-belly will come and go, depending on the excitement level.  They are great additions to a stream aquarium, and one of the most colorful Kentucky stream fish.  Grows to 3 1/2inches.


Silverjaw Minnow, Ericymba buccata

                                                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy of NANFA

Occupies pools with current and the bases of riffles in small to medium-size headwater creeks and streams of low to moderate gradient, occurring over a sand or mixed sand and gravel substrate in water 15-80cm deep.  Water may be clear or turbid, and many streams inhabited are devoid of shade-producing riparian vegetation (1).  The Silverjaw Minnow is common in most of the river systems in central Kentucky and eastern Kentucky.  It is also found in the Tradewater River system.  This fish can be distinguished by the large silver chambers on its cheek.  Though unique, this fish does not do well in an aquarium.  They usually do not last long.  I have made several attempts to keep this fish in captivity, but they normally only last a few months.  Grows to 4inches.


Red Shiner, Cyprinella lutrensis

                                                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy of NANFA

Most frequently taken in pools with current over a gravel or sand bottom in lowland creeks and small streams…  Also in shoreline areas of lowland lakes and big rivers.  Tolerant of turbidity, siltation, fluctuations in water level, wide ranges in temperature, and other physicochemical factors.  Clear upland streams and rapid current are avoided (1).  In Kentucky, the Red Shiner is found only in western KY.   They have a limited distribution.  Males are colorful in spawning.  Grows to 3 1/2inches.  I have no personal experience on this fish in captivity.


Whitetail Shiner, Cyprinella galactura

                                                                                                                                                  Photo courtesy of Dustin Smith

Inhabits medium-size upland streams and rivers… that are clear, have moderate to high gradient, strong continuous flow, and rocky substrates.  Normally in pools with some current, especially where there are submerged logs, large boulders, and beds of water willow (1).  In Kentucky, the Whitetail Shiner is known from the Cumberland River drainage and the upper Big Sandy River.  This is a beautiful fish that is hardy and a great addition to the stream aquarium.  It can be distinguished by two clear to white patches at the base of the tailfin.  Grows to 6inches, so a larger tank may be needed.


Redfin Shiner, Lythrurus umbratilis

                                                                                                                                                           Photo courtesy of NANFA

Inhabits creeks and small to medium-size streams of low to moderate gradient, often in association with flowing waters, but generally avoids rapid currents.  Frequents pools over mixed gravel and sand, occurring in large schools near the surface (1).  Similar in color to the Scarlet Shiner.  In Kentucky, it is common in western KY and the Licking River system.  Grows to 3 1/2inches.


Streamline Chub, Erimystax dissimilis

                                                                                                                                                           Photo courtesy of NANFA

Occupies medium to large-size streams and rivers of moderate to high gradient where the flow is continuous, the water clear, and the bottom of clean-swept rocky substrates.  Often found in shoal areas less than 1m deep or in pools with noticeable current (1).  This fish is found in the Cumberland River, upper Kentucky, Green River, and other systems.  Grows to 6inches.  These fish are more difficult to keep in the aquarium and likely need some sand substrate and a lot of flow to thrive.


Blacknose Dace, Rhinichthys atratulus

                                                                                                                                                           Photo courtesy of NANFA

Occupies small, often tiny, upland headwater creeks and streams that nevertheless have permanent flow, are clean and often spring-fed, and have bottoms of pebble, gravel, and sand.  Occurs predominantly in riffles, but also in shaded pools along undercut banks with brush and roots (1).  The Blacknose Dace is common throughout most of Kentucky.  More common in eastern KY, in the Cumberland River, Kentucky River, and Licking River drainage.  They are also found in other drainages in the state.  R. atratuslus males will have a burnt orange stripe on the side during spawning, and dark brown the rest of the year.  These are not colorful in the tank, but are peaceful, very hardy, and will get along well with other fish.  Grows to 4inches.


Striped Shiner, Luxilus chrysocephalus

                                                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy of NANFA

An ecologically labile species that occupies a variety of riverine habitats.  Generally in small to medium-size upland creeks and streams with clear water and rock bottoms, being taken in both pools and riffles (1).  The Striped Shiner is found in almost every river drainage in Kentucky.  Striped Shiners get fairly large, up to 8inches.  They have a good look when they are young and are tempting to get for an aquarium.  However, they get large and fairly mean in the aquarium.  I do not recommend this fish for captivity.


Bluntnose Minnow, Pimephales notatus

                                                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy of NANFA

An ecologically labile species that inhabits a wide variety of riverine habitats.  Generally in clear, warm pools of creeks and small streams over a rock/sand bottom…Also in rivers and big rivers, but usually in backwaters and quiet pools.  Sometimes associated with mud/silt bottoms and submerged aquatic vegetation.  One of the most abundant and ubiquitous minnows in Kentucky, being generally distributed throughout the state…(1).  The Bluntnose minnow doesn't display colors, but they are generally peaceful in captivity.  They make good tank mates, and are a great starter fish as they are abundant throughout the state.  Grows to 4 1/2 inches.


Creek Chub, Semotilus atromaculatus

                                                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy of NANFA

A predominant species in headwater creeks, occurring over a variety of bottom types and often associated with submerged aquatic vegetation.  Usually in pools; able to survive and repopulate intermittent creeks from isolated pools.  Generally avoids big rivers and large lacustrine environments.  Generally distributed and abundant in headwater creeks and small to medium-size streams throughout the state (1).  The Creek Chub can be found in almost every small creek in the state.  They lack much coloration.  They are tempting to collect when they are small, but they grow to 12inches and become bullies in captivity.  I do not recommend this fish for an aquarium


Central Stoneroller, Campostoma anomalum

                                                                                                                                                                  Photo courtesy of NANFA

Predominates in creek and stream reaches of moderate to high gradient that have permanent flow and extensive rocky substrates.  Occupies riffles or flowing pools and raceways adjacent to riffles.  Often occurs in large schools that graze on bottom ooze and algae (1).  The Central Stoneroller and cousin the Largescale Stoneroller, Campostoma oligolepis, are found in most systems throughout the state.  The Central Stoneroller is found more commonly in the eastern part of the state and the Largescale Stoneroller is concentrated more in the western part of the state.  A larger stream fish, growing to 6 & 8inches.  They do not exhibit lots of color, but make a good fish for the community tank.


1.        Burr, Brooks M. and Warren, Melvin L.  A Distributional Atlas of Kentucky Fishes.  Kentucky: Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission Scientific and Technical Series, 1986