Advice on catching bigmouth buffalo

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Advice on catching bigmouth buffalo
I've been seeing bigmouth buffalo rolling at the surface of local lakes around Madison WI and am interested in targeting them, if it's possible to do so on rod and reel with any consistency. When I lived in Texas, I would fish for smallmouth buffalo basically using the same strategies as carp: small doughballs bottom fished. It's my understanding that the bigmouths are very different fish in their feeding habits - mostly plankton feeders and not primarily bottom feeders. Has anybody figured out a consistent way to target them on hook and line? Will they intentionally go after doughballs and other baits that work well for other suckers, or are almost all hook and line catches almost by accident - snags or fish "inhaling" small baits and lures as they sift plankton?
Peeling Line
Peeling Line's picture
Most of them I caught were

Most of them I caught were with twister tails on jig heads.  In the winter I would get them with worms on the bottom but that can be tricky.  The one time I got one when they were sucking cottonseed off the surface and I had a worm under a bobber and dragged it through the school and one sucked the worm in its mouth and I set the hook and got him.  Here's my video where I caught them 5:50 for the bigmouth buffalo.

When you caught buffalo on

When you caught buffalo on curlytail jigs, were you sight-casting to them? In other words, were they actively going after the jig, or just inhaling whatever was thrown in front of their noses?

I take it from your comments that doughbaits on the bottom probably wouldn't be a good strategy for them.

P.S. Is that a blue sucker that you're holding in your photo? Where did you catch it?

Tyler W
Tyler W's picture
I do

So, I can catch them consistently... but that is with some caveats. First they have to be actively feeding on or near the surface. Second, I have to be able to see that. 

My experience is basically the opposite of Peeling Line. I don't say that to cast doubt on his experience, but just to point out that bigmouth buffalo don't play by any set of rules. Bass are bass no matter where you find them. BMB are their own fish... and you'll have to learn what those ones like. 

My technique is to pinch a nightcrawler in half, put the hook on a #6 hook and inflate it with air. Then let it float, drag free, in front of a feeding buffalo. Most of the time they ignore it. Occasionaly they eat it. When the stars align they'll even move several inches to take it. But, it has to be a perfect dead high line drift. Every time I move the worm the clock starts over. I have watched innumerable times as they feed in a straight line, duck under my worm and pop up on the other side to keep feeding. At some point it isn't an accident. 


So, to ansswer your question directly, small baits and lures. I have seen one caught on a worm on the bottom (out of 100 days fishing at that same spot). 

Thanks for the comments.

Thanks for the comments. Unfortunately I doubt your strategy would work for me. I'll occasionally see one roll near the surface, but I don't know of places where I can sight cast for them. Perhaps my best bet would be to just throw an inflated piece of worm (or a corn kernel) on a bobber in the spot where I've seen them roll and hope for the best.

The fact that some people get them on curlytail jigs suggests that they're at least somewhat visual feeders who'll pursue a bait, but that doesn't seem to be your experience. Then again, when I fished for smallmouth buffalo, a lot of people swore by tiny minnows below a bobber. Nothing but small doughballs on/near bottom in flats or dropoffs near flats ever worked for me. Sounds like bigmouth buffalo are even more finicky.

Tyler W
Tyler W's picture
They like what they like.

They do have Keen eyesight, and I have seen them move to take a bait (but more often avoid it). That being said, I asked Dr. Lackman about the odds of a bigmouth eating a minnow and he said he has never seen a minnow in a bigmouth stomach. 


Yet, more than one person says they have caught them on a jig. So, yeah... I think you need to try everything and report back. That is the joy of rough fishing, there is no "manual" on how to do it. 

kernel j
The ever-present and seemingly untouchable BMB.

I have watched innumerable times as they feed in a straight line, duck under my worm and pop up on the other side to keep feeding. At some point it isn't an accident. 

Know that experience all too well...


Can't say they're exactly spooky fish around my parts, kinda leaning toward marabou moss fly type presenations this summer.  Exhausted just about every other idea and done it at close obervation range (as one might imagine from the pic).  Have to suspect that they must "come upon" something in order to take an opportunistic chomp of it.  BMBs certainly don't appreciate introductions of fake forage into their piscatorial space and I think that's been part of the problem.

No idea how many are doing this same thing a feet feet down and below the visual depth, but I suspect there's more than a few.  Floating 'bou puffs and some indy suspension of same are going to be the next angle for me.  

This is a relatively newer stillwater haunt to me, it gets flood-fed from the big river (Wabash) and has scads of river species in a stillwater environment.  Herds of BMBs, some of extraordinary size.

kernel j
Max wonders...

Max wonders...

Will they intentionally go after doughballs and other baits that work well for other suckers, or are almost all hook and line catches almost by accident - snags or fish "inhaling" small baits and lures as they sift plankton?

Find myself wondering the same when I see the tactics involving feed pellets disolving on the bottom and BMBs getting caught on such a chum field.  These fish will go nose down verticle and "puff" the bottom substrate into a suspended cloud to subsequently sift for food.  Tecnically, if a baited hook is in there they did eat the offering while sifting.  However, it's kinda like the chandelier of hooks around a doughball for Silver Carp and the idea leaves me feeling sleazy just thinkin' about it.  

While none of it is really flossing or snagging, to me it's not much different than the dozens of Paddlefish I've caught on crappie jigs suspended under floats.  A fish accidently breathing-in the hook just doesn't cut it for me.  

All that said, I have no reason to believe that at certain time they probably do go for small shad occasionally and would almost have to take a visual approach to aquatic hatches when they happen.  Heck, even the channel cats capitalize on those.  Some of the jig catches gotta be legit, but it's a fish with various forage strategies and options so I'd expect potential failure on anything at any time.

andy's picture
Tough Buffs

The common theme is that it just depends on where and when you fish for bigmouths.  No single tactic will work everywhere all the time.  I have found success in a few ways over the years -

  • freelining a single kernel of corn
  • tiny redworm piece 4" below a quill float
  • Crawler on the bottom (only 1)
  • Various flies

The vast majority of my bigmouth catches have come on flies.  In my area you can stalk and sight-fish for them.  I have caught them on all kinds of flies - san juan worms, caddis pupae, beadheads, marabou, dry flies, wet flies, fake corn flies, and more. 


I know a bunch of anglers who have caught them on jigs and plugs in the cold months too, and don't doubt at all that it works.

MOCarper's picture

The most consistent way is to fish the European method of carp fishing and use pack bait-soybean pack with range cube chum for a couple days-also cautgh them on strawberry pack and one on a shad swim tail below a dam, but also thought that was a by-catch....When I'm fishing for carp I may catch one buffalo for every 50 or 100 carp, so I think its inadvertent............I say consistent, but buffs are very difficult and I've caught none on the surface........good luck all!  MO

Peeling Line
Peeling Line's picture
I was casting them and the

I was casting them and the buffalo would smoke them just like a wiper would.  I don't have much experience with doughballs but my buddy got the lake record bigmouth buffalo at lake Tawakoni (41.5#) with doughballs off a dock in 10 foot of water.  But like Andy said everywhere is different for catching them.  

Were you getting bigmouth or

Were you getting bigmouth or smallmouth on your carp baits? I've caught a fair number of smallmouth while fishing for carp - usually I'd get one smallmouth per couple of dozen carp I'd catch, which is no surprise given that smallmouth have similar feeding habits to carp, there are just fewer of them. I've yet to catch or see anyone catch a bigmouth on carp baits.

 I bought a meeting pair of

 I bought a meeting pair of Buffalo head cichlids from the fish store but when I got them home, the male would constantly chase and attack the female leaving her hiding in a dark corner.  I think female may be carrying eggs, but out of nowhere the male's colors are really dark and black and the females are really pale and he keeps chasing her around like he's trying to attack her and she's hiding in a corner again. My water parameters are decent . I clean this with my vacuum cleaner. I just did a test moment ago. I have a couple of green barbs and a few cherry barbs, it's a 40-gallon tank and I also have a baby. Oscar that I'm letting grow another inch or so before I put them into another tank. This is just a wild guess but I was thinking maybe with the Oscar in the tank and the other fish, the male started chasing off the female to discourage meeting because he doesn't think it's safe? Any ideas?