Goode graduated from Wesleyan University and studied at Harvard University.
In 1872, he started working with Spencer Baird, soon becoming his trusted assistant. While working with Baird, Goode led research sponsored by the United States Fish Commission, and oversaw many Smithsonian displays and exhibitions, for the museum itself and for expositions around the world. Goode"s first of these were the preparations for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, for which the Smithsonian was responsible for all the government displays.
He also served as the assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in charge of the United States National Museum.
Goode effectively ran both the fish research program of the United States. Fish Commission and the Smithsonian Institution from 1873 to 1887. He was the United States Commissioner for Fish and Fisheries from 1887 to 1888.
He authored many books and monographs and wrote more than 100 scientific reports and notes. He received from the Queen Regent of Spain the decoration of Commander in the Royal Order of Ysabel la Catolica.
He also was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Indiana University and that of Doctor of Laws from Wesleyan University.
He died at Lanier Heights in Washington, District of Columbia, on September 6, 1896, at the age of only 45, after a bout with pneumonia. He had been at work on a history of the Smithsonian"s first fifty years, which were being celebrated in 1896. The then head of the Smithsonian, Samuel Pierpont Langley, completed the volume and wrote a memorial to Goode, published in 1901.
The genus Goodea of splitfins was named in his honour by David Starr Jordan in 1880.
This in turn gave his name to the family Goodeidae. Species named after him include: Bluefin killifish, Lucania goodei Jordan, 1880.
Southern eagle ray, Myliobatis goodei Garman, 1885. Goode croaker, Paralonchurus goodei Gilbert, 1898.
Quillfish, Ptilichthys goodei Bean, 1881.
Chilipepper, Sebastes goodei (Eigenmann & Eigenmann, 1890). Palometa, Trachinotus goodei Jordan & Evermann, 1896.
Member of staff Smithsonian Institution, 1873, assistant secretary, 1887.
Married Sarah Lamson Ford Judd, 4 children.