Photo submitted by Beth Darnell
Fly fishing for bass, Texas cichlid in Lake Bastrop
My yellow lab, Annie, and I were in the hot water discharge canal on Lake Bastrop on Monday. Bass were splashing in all directions as they devoured tiny shad baitfish. Annie was going crazy, barking like a watch dog at the swirling bass. She jumped overboard three times in an attempt to catch one. After putting a five-bass-under-14-inch-limit in the icebox, we moved to another area. I could have caught more bass, most in the protected slot of 14 to 21 inches, but I wanted to do something different with my fly rod.
Annie finally settled down when she no longer saw schooling fish on the surface. Things got much more peaceful. I tied on a white bass popper and began to fish against shallow reeds along the shore. It didn’t take long for a bass to eat my popper. Then another one. And another. When a fish swirled under the popper I expected another bass. I laid the popper back into the same shallow spot that was surrounded with vegetation and stickups. This time the fish slowly rose to a position right under the popper. I identified the fish immediately. It was a Rio Grande cichlid, the only cichlid species native to the United States. I knew not to make a big splash with the popper. Cichlids actually take small streamer flies better than poppers. So I just barely moved the popper as the fish followed. I was just beginning to think that the fish was not going to eat the popper when he suddenly opened his mouth and sucked in the popper. I set the hook when I knew the popper was in his mouth. Sight fishing is so much fun. To watch the cichlid slowly and deliberately stalk the bait was a thrill.
My Rio Grande cichlid, also called the Texas cichlid, was a good one. He weighed a little under a pound, one ounce less than the lake fly rod record held by Jamie Meaux. Jamie also holds the fly rod record on the Guadalupe River with a .85-pound cichlid.
Cichlids are warm-water fish. They prefer water temperature between 68 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The San Marcos River holds good numbers of cichlids and is the Northern-most range of these tropical fish. According to Tropical Fish Magazine, the Texas Cichlid originates in the Lower Rio Grande Drainage near Brownsville and northeastern Mexico. Because our fish are near the upper range they sometimes develop sores. These sores are not to be confused with the cream-colored and turquoise spots prominent on many cichlids.
Big, male cichlids also develop a big hump on their heads. It is very pronounced.
Cichlids will eat vegetable matter but also insects and small fish and frogs. This makes them omnivorous.
In Texas the state-record cichlid taken on a fly rod is 1.59 pounds. That’s a big cichlid and it came out of the Llano River, which is really far north for a cichlid. Closer to home, I hold the cichlid fly rod record on the Blanco River with a fish that weighed exactly one pound. I caught that one in 2007. My fishing buddy, Mike Schlimgen, owns the cichlid fly rod record on the San Marcos River. His fish, caught in 2011, weighed 1.21 pounds.
But Texas is not the only part of the United States that cichlids can be found. Cichlids are numerous in canals around New Orleans. Fish released from aquariums probably contributed to the big New Orleans population. They also can tolerate high-salinity, brackish water. Many of the canals and marsh waters near New Orleans are somewhat salty. Since these fish are not native to Louisiana, they are considered an invasive species. Many studies are being conducted to determine if these cichlid invaders are having a negative effect on other species. Time will tell.
The best known of all cichlids is the famous, colorful peacock bass found in South America. On my bucket list is a trip to the Amazon, or one of its tributaries, to catch a big peacock on a top-water lure.