While fishing for sunfishes in Texas waters you may encounter strange looking fish that take your bait. In this post we will discuss some of the more common exotic fishes.
First, let's understand that most of these fish were not put there by TPWD. They are the result of "bucket stocking" by individuals who dump fish in the lake either because they have outgrown their aquarium or because of a misguided belief that they would benefit the lake. In particular a number of Asian species have made their way into our lakes and streams in because they are prized food fishes back home. Others are native to the US and are moving into more and more waters in Texas as global warming advances north. And a few are the result of legitimate research programs by TPWD.
The most common family of exotic fish you are likely to encounter is the Cichlids.
Rio Grande Cichlid (Rio)
The Rio Grande Cichlid (Rio) was first found, as the name implies, in the southern parts of the Rio Grande River. However, the fish has now established breeding populations in large springs and rivers of Central Texas' Edwards Plateau including the San Marcos, Guadalupe, San Antonio and Colorado rivers. Our TFF members in the San Antonio area frequently catch large fish. Chuck Dewey, who writes under the pseudonym of Banker Always Fishing recently announced that he had caught a new state record Rio which weighed 2.02 pounds on Lake Dunlap. The fish was a little over 11 inches in length and had a girth of 12.25 inches. The new record fish is shown below, courtesy of Chuck.
The TPWD website states:" Rio Grande Cichlid are distinctive in that they exhibit cream and turquoise colored spots, giving them a speckled look. Background color varies from very dark to light olive. Lighter colored specimens usually exhibit five dark vertical bars. Both dorsal and anal fins are long and tapered extending behind the caudal peduncle (fleshy portion of the tail). Unlike tilapia and most sunfishes, which typically have three spines on the anal fin, Rio Grande Cichlids are equipped with five to six anal fin spines. Adult males may also develop a pronounced "hump" on the head which is not present in tilapia."
The Rio is a vigorous feeder, which can be taken on a wide variety of baits, such as worms, crickets and dough baits. The fish fights like a bluegill.
Temperatures cannot go below 50 degrees Fahrenheit if the Rio is to survive and breed. In suitable water the fish is a prolific breeder.
Another common Cichlid is the Tilapia. Blue Tilapia were introduced to Texas waters because of their value as a food fish. In particular Lake Fairfield and other power plant lakes provide an excellent habitat. A temperature of 60 degrees is required.
Because Tilapia are not classed as game fish they are usually caught in cast nets. It is illegal to possess a Tilapia that has not been gutted.
The Tilapia are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal life. They are caught on small pieces of worm, and are reported to be vigorous fighters.
A large number of exotic fish are released into Texas waters by hobbyists who buy or are given aquarium equipment and enthusiastically set forth to raise the larger captive fishes. After a few weeks or months the honeymoon is definitely over. Maintaining filters, heaters, air pumps and lights definitely take the thrill off watching the little devils eat 5 bucks worth of food. So the fish are dumped in a local pond, lake or stream where some of them grow to considerable size before they are killed by a cold winter.
The Oscar is a Cichlid, which grows to 18 inches in length and 3.5 pounds. It is a colorful bad-tempered fish which will eat just about anything that falls into the water, including crayfish, worms, and insects such as flies or grasshoppers. They even eat small mice. Crickets are also good live bait. Since these fish eat fruit in the wild, it can also be used as a type of bait.
The Oscar is reported to be a good food fish along with the other Cichlids. If caught it should be killed. It is illegal to return the fish to the water. A temperature of 55 degrees F. is required, so in Texas power plant lakes are the primary habitat, although reports of Oscars being caught in warm reservoirs are not uncommon.
Pacu and Piranha
Pacu is a common name used to refer to several species of omnivorous South American freshwater fish that are related to the piranha. Pacu and piranha have similar teeth, although the difference is jaw alignment; piranha have pointed, razor-sharp teeth in a pronounced underbite, whereas Pacu have squarer, straighter teeth in a less severe underbite, or a slight overbite. Additionally, full-grown Pacu are much larger than piranha, reaching up to 60 pounds in weight in the wild.
Piranha have the reputation of existing in large schools, which attack any animal, including humans, unlucky enough to fall in the water. South American fishermen frequently have circular scars from the razor-sharp teeth.
Fly fishing for Pacu in the Amazon has become a popular tourist destination.
When bait-fishing in Pacu-stocked ponds, anglers in are advised to use circle hooks, size 2 or larger, and wire rather than nylon leaders which are easily broken by the Pacu's teeth. Since pond Pacu often nibble at the bait before taking it, anglers should let them swim away with the bait. If the angler simply allows the line to tighten, the circle hook will slide to the side of the fish's mouth and embed its point there.
The Pacu and Piranha have invaded Texas waters. A confirmed report recently appeared in the media. While I worked in Lake Weatherford Marina several Piranha were brought to the marina for identification, although we suspected the person who brought them of being the one who raised them.
They are considered excellent food fish.
Any exotic fish caught in Texas should be killed rather than released, except of course for the Rio, which is a prized native fish.
First offense for possession of prohibited fish species is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, with a maximum $500 fine. But subsequent convictions boost the charge to Class B and Class A misdemeanors, which carry possible jail time as well as heavier fines. A person caught releasing a live, prohibited fish in Texas faces a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense, and repeated offenses can bring state-jail felony charges.
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