Yesterday (Feb 9 2007) the surface of our lake (scrolling panorama here) was calm. Largemouth Bass were not rising for surface poppers.. I switched to an 11 centimeter Rapala floater/diver and immediately got a hard strike at about 5 feet deep, 20 feet from shore in 10-15 ft water.
This fish was a really good fighter. First it made a run out, then it simply held on like a bulldog, making me think I may have snagged a rock. I tired it out and lifted it by the gills, as its small mouth had some fairly sharp teeth.
Its was about 14 inches long and weighed approximately 4-5 pounds. I could not match it exactly with photos on various Internet sites, but it appears to be an African cichlid that comes closest to the description of a Blue Tilapia. The Spotted Tilapia is smaller. If readers can verify its identity I would appreciate it.
It actually did not take the lure into its mouth. Rather, it struck it and the hook engaged above its upper lip. This is not surprising. Despite its robust and fierce appearance, it is a herbivore that usually is caught on dough balls. It may well have been making a defensive move, as breeding season is approaching.
The fish broke water several times while I was bringing it in, and this apparently attracted a Great Blue Heron that came within 15 yards of me, perhaps anticipating a meal. I have noted Great Blues, Little Blues and Tricolored Herons, as well as Great and Snowy Egrets follow cormorants and Anhingas as they fished near the shore, probably for the same reason.
This fish species (if my identification is correct) is a mouth breeder. It scoops out a depression in shallow water, and the female may receive several males, taking the fertilized eggs into its mouth and protecting them at the nest. I have seen several guarding their nests that fit the description of this fish, though they had some red on their tail fins.
Tilapia is a good eating fish, but I follow a “catch and release” philosophy. Besides, I do not like all the chemicals that surely flow from neighborhood lawns and storm drains into the lake.
As I was disengaging the hook, the fish made a sudden lurch and slipped my grasp. On its way down the triple-treble lure drove one of its hooks deeply into the base of my thumb. Since I lacked the courage to either pull it out or push it all the way through, I spent the next couple of hours at an Urgent Care Center. The doctor simply extracted it our under local anesthesia, happily keeping my Rapala intact.