Species: Blue Tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) Location: Gila River, Phoenix, Arizona Date: November 16, 2017
I knew Redbelly Tilapia weren’t the only exotic cichlids present in the Gila River, so I continued fishing, being careful to check every one of the 23 Redbellies I caught for signs of being either Blue or Nile Tilapia, both of which can be found in the Phoenix area.
Eventually, I found one that looked just a little different. It was less rounded and and had a more pointed snout, plus its tail was heavily patterned.
Challenge completed, I began looking for other species. The river contains Sailfin Molly and a few other micros, but I had yet to start microfishing at this point. I’d purchased a pack of New Half Moon hooks to get the painfully easy Western Mosquitofish, but I left them at home.
It would be another month before I got to try microfishing for real.
So instead of micros, I looked for the “Plecos” that were supposed to be in the Gila because at least I had a shot, if a long one. No dice.
At 50 fish, I stopped for the day and headed back because I had some work responsibilities to attend to.
Species: Redbelly Tilapia (Tilapia zillii) Location: Gila River, Phoenix, Arizona Date: November 16, 2017
While the first Rio Grande Cichlid was easy to catch, the next dozen or so fish I caught were Redbelly Tilapia. These feisty and beautiful little fish came out of the weeds with every drop, looking to pounce of any- and everything I dropped into the water.
It wasn’t challenging fishing, but it was a blast, as I worked my way to first 50-plus-fish day outside the state of Oregon.
I wanted to explore and look for new species, for big bass I assumed had to be there, and to hunt for the elusive plecostomus catfish I’d heard lived nearby, but I couldn’t pry myself away from the fast-paced action the tilapia afforded.
Using a tiny jig tipped with worm was the ticket, and though success dropped off after a few hours when my worms were disgusting mush tubes instead of recognizable bait, it was still worth the walk in to that part of the river along the long, dusty road.