The smallmouth buffalo is second only to the bigmouth in the sucker family in terms of size and commercial importance, although it has a better reputation as a food ﬁsh than does its larger relative. The smallmouth buffalo, however, is less abundant and subsequently less commercially important.
IdentificationA deep-bodied and compressed ﬁsh, the smallmouth buffalo has a small conical head, a high-arched back, and a long dorsal ﬁn. It also has a small, thick-lipped mouth with distinct grooves on the upper lip; the upper jaw is considerably shorter than the snout.
Usually lighter in coloration than other buffalo, it is gray, olive, or bronze on the back; black to olive yellow on the sides; white to yellow on the belly; and it has an olive bronze sheen. The pelvic ﬁns are olive or grayish black, and the other ﬁns are indistinctly dark.
It bears a noticeable resemblance to the bigmouth buffalo, but it can be distinguished by a more compressed body and a more steeply arched back. It also possesses a smaller, subterminal mouth that lies laterally; the bigmouth buffalo’s mouth lies at a slant. Characteristic of all suckers, the mouth extends downward, a noticeable feature when the smallmouth buffalo is feeding.