Tilapia in Tennessee: Making the most of Invasive species

Friday, January 27, 2017
Photo submitted by Troy Basso Tasty tilapia are present in TN waters.

Troy Basso

Tribune contributor

The beauty of being a fisherman lies in sniffing out rumors of either big fish or big catches of fish. The latest rumor was of big catches of tilapia in Old Hickory Lake.

As with all angling rumors it had to be investigated thoroughly. I mean a new fish that, that even though is invasive, is palatable! So we picked a nice day with only 20 knot winds and away we went.

Prior to our trip I was stuck in the Dallas Fort Worth airport for a few hours and decided to look up what I could about this fish. I learned that they don't tolerate water temperatures below 48 degrees, which explained why they are populating the steam plant and a few creeks with warm water springs in them. I learned they are in fact not a filter feeder, as are Asian carp. I had also been told they were herbivores when in fact they are omnivores, which is good news for the anglers!

It appears these fish will eat a little of everything. I also learned that the Tilapia is the number one farmed fish in the world. A common misconception is that these are Asian fish is totally false. The tilapia is native to the African continent. That said they are farmed heavily thought out Asia at this time. The best anyone can tell me is that these are a cross between the Nile Tilapia and the farm raised fish. Either way we were determined to catch some and see if this rumor was true.

When the morning came is was beautiful and very windy, 12-15 MPH winds all day. We just hoped the steam plant would afford us some shelter from Mother Nature's wrath. I thought that the wind would have kept most anglers off the water, especially on a Wednesday. I was sadly mistaken, apparently no one in middle Tennessee works on Wednesdays, as there were 15 boats there when we arrived. It did not take a genius to figure out why. We watched those boats landing fish after fish while we were trying to get anchored up.

We had been told that the big catches were coming on night crawlers under a bobber, the caveat was you could only use about an inch of the night crawler on a #6 Aberdeen hook. Now I am always skeptical of fisherman giving out information with that much detail but... it was all very accurate. After catching a very small one and a darn fine one I figured out why. The Tilapia has a very small mouth like a bluegill and they simply can't get anything bigger inside their mouths. That day we caught 50 large fish and let another 50 or more go that were a little too small for my taste.

We went back again a couple days later to try something different. Rather than live bait we used our fly rods with small minnow patterns and it worked just fine. We also removed the trebles off a Rooster Tail and put a single hook in their place. It worked equally as good. I tried small crankbait's that we would normally crappie fish with but those did not produce well at all.

So all in all these fish are palatable, very catchable, and just plain fun to chase. Will they stay is the question that keeps coming up and only time will tell. We do know that they were washed into the lake during the flood of 2010 and have survived that long so who knows. Right now, they are here and willing to bite so "get out and fish."