Northern Squawfish (Ptychocheilus oregonensis)

Northern Squawfish (Ptychocheilus oregonensis)

The northern squawfish is a large-growing member of the Cyprinidae family of minnows that is often caught in north-western North America trout and salmon waters. Yet it is not actively sought and is viewed as a threat to more popular species.

Related fish include the Colorado squawfish (P. lucius), the Sacramento squawfish (P. grandis), and the Umpqua squawfish (P. umpquae), which have limited distribution in their respective river systems. The Colorado squawfish, which is endangered, is North America’s largest native minnow and can grow to 6 feet.


The northern squawfish’s mouth is terminal and large, extending back past the front edge of the eye. The head is somewhat conical and flattened between the eyes, and the body is slender and barely compressed. All fins are clear, with no spots or coloration, and there are 9 to 10 rays in the dorsal fin and 8 rays in the anal fin. The caudal fin is deeply forked.

Its coloring is usually dark green or greenish brown above and lighter and often silvery on the sides, and it has a whitish belly. The spawning male takes on a yellowish or yellow-orange color and develops tubercles on the head, the back, and some fins.


This species can live 10 years and can grow to 25 inches, although it has been reported to attain lengths between 3 and 4 feet. Common sizes are in the 7- to 10-inch range.


The diet of northern squawfish is terrestrial insects, aquatic insect larvae, plankton, crustaceans, small fish, and fish eggs. Large individuals especially prey on small fish and are considered serious predators of juvenile salmonids. In the Columbia River, fisheries managers undertake efforts to control squawfish numbers to minimize this problem.

Other Names

squawfish, Columbia River dace, Columbia squawfish; French: sauvagesse du nord.


Northern squawfish occur in North America in the Pacific drainages from the Nass River in British Columbia to the Columbia River in Nevada, in the Harney River basin in Oregon, and in the Peace River system (Arctic basin) in British Columbia and Alberta.


Northern squawfish inhabit lakes, ponds, and runs of small to large rivers.