River Monsters: Discover the Largest Fish in the Nile River

© Feroze Edassery/Shutterstock.com

Written by Taiwo Victor

Updated: September 6, 2023

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The Nile River is the longest in Africa and also the longest in the world, stretching across a total of 11 countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of Sudan, and Egypt. The 4,132-mile river located in northeastern Africa harbors many interesting species of plants and animals.

Hidden beneath its long expanse of freshwater are what we call river monsters; some of the world’s largest freshwater fishes! Of all the great fish species inhabiting the Nile River, which one is the largest? How can you identify them? Where are you most likely to find them? What do they eat to get so big? In this article, you’ll find the answers to all these questions and more.

Fish in the Nile River

128 fish species belonging to 27 families are found in the River Nile.


The Nile drainage basin currently contains more than 800 fish. River Nile itself is home to several fish species. According to research, 128 fish species, belonging to 27 families, are found in the River Nile. In addition, most of the fish species in the Nile basin belong to the families of Cichlidae, Cyprinidae, Mormyridae, and Mochokidae. Some of the common fishes found in the Nile River include:

  • African Tigerfish
  • Mudfish
  • Vundu catfish 
  • Marbled lungfish
  • African knifefish
  • Nile perch
  • Nile tilapia
  • Catfish
  • Barbels
  • Eel
  • Elephant-snout fish

What is the Largest Fish in the Nile River?

The Nile perch reaches a maximum length of up to 2m (6 feet 7 inches) and can weigh up to 440 lb (200kg).


With a total length of 4,132 miles, the River Nile is famous for being the longest river in the world. Similarly, many creatures inhabiting the iconic river are enormous in size. Worthy of note is the Nile perch, one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world. An adult individual can measure between an average length of 4 ft to 4 ft 6 inches, although many are caught before they get to grow this large.

The Nile perch reaches a maximum length of up to 2m (6 feet 7 inches) and can weigh up to 440 lb (200kg), making this species easily and undoubtedly the largest fish found in the Nile River. More fascinating is that it is not just the largest in the River Nile, it is also the continent’s largest freshwater fish!

What is the Biggest Nile Perch Ever Caught?

The largest Nile perch ever recorded weighed 230 pounds and was caught by William Toth.

©Cheng Wei/Shutterstock.com

For many anglers, catching a Nile perch may as well be the same as landing a trophy. One lucky Californian angler, William Toth made history on December 20, 2000, by catching the biggest Nile perch ever recorded –with a weight of 230 pounds (104.32 kg). This massive fish was caught while Toth was trolling Lake Nasser, but it was later released alive – but not before Toth and two other local guides spent almost an hour trying to weigh the big fish on a sling. 

How to Identify the Nile Perch

The Nile perch (scientific name, Lates niloticus) is also called African snook, Goliath perch, Goliath barramundi, or Giant lates –pointing to one obvious fact: the Nile perch is a tremendously large fish. It is a large-mouthed fish with an elongated body appearing green or brown above and silver in color at the belly with a blue tinge. Females are generally larger than males. It also has distinctive dark-black eyes which are surrounded by bright yellow rings.

The Nile perch has a rounded (convex) tail and two dorsal fins. One of the dorsal fins features 7 or 8 strong spines while the other comes with 1 or 2 spines and several soft, branched rays. The top of the fish’s head is depressed and it has a protruding lower jaw. The Nile perch looks similar in appearance to its close relative, the Barramundi. 

Nile Perch: Range and Habitat 

Adult Nile perch can be found in aquatic habitats with sufficient oxygen concentrations. Because these gigantic creatures need highly oxygenated water to survive, they are found more often in deep, less polluted regions of bodies of water. Juveniles, on the other hand, are restricted to shallow or nearshore environments. 

The Nile perch is a large species of freshwater fish of the Centropomidae family of order Perciformes, one of the largest groups of fishes in the world. This species is known to occur in the Blue and White Niles. Contrary to what their name may suggest, the range of the Nile perch is not limited to the Nile River, they’re also found in other large rivers in Africa such as the Benue and Niger Rivers, and lakes such as Lake Albert, Lake Rudolph, Lake Fayoum, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Menzaleh.

What Does the Nile Perch Eat?

The Nile perch is a carnivorous species. As a fierce predator, this fish dominates its surroundings —which is not surprising if we consider how huge it is compared to other fishes in the same habitat. The Adult Nile perch feeds on other fishes, especially tilapia which is its primary food source. Another interesting fact is that they are well-known for their cannibalistic nature – Yes! They can eat up members of their own species. Sometimes, the adult Nile perch feeds on crustaceans and insects. Juveniles like to feed on zooplankton, insects, clams, shrimp, and snails

Is the Nile Perch an Invasive Species?

Though native to most of Western, Central, and Eastern Africa, the Nile perch is an invasive species in many other African river basins. It has ever-growing popularity among anglers and fishermen across the world, majorly because it is a popular source of food and commercial fishing. Due to the recent introductions to many other non-native lakes and rivers, it is currently recognized as a dangerous invasive species. It is considered one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world, according to the Invasive Species Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union.

This phenomenon has been especially disastrous for Lake Victoria, which until recently had no Nile perch inhabiting it, but has now become a successful habitat for this species. This can be attributed to the availability of plentiful forage fish in the lake. Unfortunately, more than 200 native fish species in Lake Victoria have become extinct, and many more are slowly driving towards extinction due to the dominating predatory nature of the Nile perch.

How Long Does the Nile Perch Live For?

Nile perch slowly swimming underwater.

Nile perch can live for as long as a decade or even longer

©neenawat khenyothaa/Shutterstock.com

The Nile perch does not live as long as other marine species capable of achieving impressive lifespans such as sturgeons that can live up to 50 years. This fish which reaches sexual maturity at the age of 6 years, generally lives as long as 8 years or 16 at the most.

Fortunately, it is rather prolific at reproducing and not only spawns several times in a single year but is also capable of producing as many as 16 million eggs at once.

Other Animals in the Nile River

Strongest animal bite – Nile crocodile

The Nile


is the largest denizen of the River Nile and is capable of exceeding 2,000 lbs in weight

©Rudi Hulshof/Shutterstock.com

Apart from being known for its thriving fish population, an impressive number of other animal species also live in or along the river. Some of the animals include:

  • Nile crocodile
  • African softshell turtle
  • Nile monitor 
  • African shoebill
  • African sacred ibis
  • African common toad
  • Dice water snake
  • Egyptian goose

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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