Outdoors: Smallmouth buffalo: The humble giant
At first thought, it might seem difficult to work up any enthusiasm to fish for a species that belongs to the sucker family, but there may be more to the humble smallmouth buffalo than meets the eye.
After all, any species that can reach a maximum weight close to 100 pounds is bound to give some resistance at the end of a fishing line.
I have personally seen a hard-fighting 62.5 pounds buff (as they are commonly referred to) being landed at Lady Bird Lake in Austin.
The smallmouth buffalo is shaped very much like the common carp. The difference is its color is gray, and it lacks the barbels that carp have on either side of the mouth. It has a small mouth that is typical of suckers on the underside of the snout, and it protracts downward.
Smallmouth buffalo primarily inhabit large rivers and reservoirs, and have a varied diet which includes crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and plants. Spawning occurs in the spring when water temperatures reach 60-65 F and takes place over weed beds or mud bottoms amid lots of splashing.
The current state record for smallmouth buffalo is 82.2 pounds by rod and reel and the all-tackle record is 97 pounds.
There are two other species of buffalo in Texas, but they are relatively uncommon. Bigmouth buffalo up to 75 pounds have been caught in Texas, but its distribution is pretty much limited to the Red River below Lake Texoma and to the Sulphur River in the northeast.
The black buffalo may reach a weight of 50 pounds, and some specimens have been recorded in the Rio Grande, Colorado, Brazos, Sabine, and the Red River basin.
Smallmouth buffalo are often unintentionally caught by anglers (especially by carp anglers), but now the species is gaining in popularity in its own right. There is even a fishing guide who caters to European clients looking for trophy buffs in Texas.
Smallmouth buffalo can be caught with the same bait as for carp. You can use boilies, dough balls, or corn. For the best results, anglers usually pre-bait with range cubes, corn, or cereal mixtures.
Specialist bank anglers typically use three 12-foot rods mounted on a rod holder fitted with bite alarms and hair-rig terminal tackle. This setup works well for catfish too.
Some of the best places to fish for trophy smallmouth buffalo in this region include lakes Walter E. Long (also known as “Decker”), Austin, Travis, and Buchanan. Now, I don’t expect you all to rush out and try to catch a buff, but if you ever decide to, you’ll be sure to appreciate the fight.
Mukhtar Farooqi is a fisheries biologist with TPWD. For more information about fishing opportunities and fisheries management, contact the San Marcos inland fisheries office at (512) 353 0072 or visit our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Texas Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries San Marcos).