Tilapia fishing is ideal for novice anglers and young anglers, as the fishing skills required to successfully catch tilapia fish are minimal. This makes tilapia fishing a ton of fun as you’ll be catching fish all day long, and it’s great for keeping kid anglers interested.
I spent my childhood in Kenya going to all the local dams around Nairobi catching tilapia, it was awesome.
If it wasn’t for catching tilapia being so accessible and so easy, I might not have wanted to go fishing again and again, or looked to target other fish species too.
Join me as I run through everything you need to know about tilapia fishing so you can have as much fun as I did catching them.
In this article...
Can you catch tilapia in the United States?
Yes, you can catch tilapia in the United States but they are not a fish species endemic to the United States, tilapia are actually from the Middle East and Africa.
All the tilapias in the United States were introduced and you can find them in quite a few states like Florida and Texas.
Is tilapia safe to eat?
Yes, tilapia fish are safe to eat, in fact, they are quite delicious with flakey white meat.
Tilapia are relatively small fish though with an average size of around 1-2 lbs and the world record tilapia is 6.4 lbs, so don’t expect to get a large filet off a tilapia fish.
Since tilapia fish are not a game fish, anglers don’t need to feel bad about taking one or two home for the pot or the grill.
Also, tilapia fish reproduce at a very quick rate, around every three to four months so they are very sustainable.
Tilapia is a common name for hundreds of species of cichlids but the most common type of tilapia fish anglers will find in the United States is a blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus).
Blue tilapia are quite thin but with a broad profile and feature a long dorsal fin with about 25-30 rays and 15 to 16 spines.
Tilapia don’t have any distinct markings on them and females are generally brown in color while male tilapia have a metallic blue coloration.
Most other tilapia have a similar front portion and shape, so identifying other species is easy.
Where To Fish For Tilapia?
Tilapia, as I already mentioned, are endemic to Africa and the Middle East but they can be found all over the world these days, from Thailand to Nicaragua and the U.S.
Which US States Have tilapia?
Tilapia require warm water temperatures in order to survive and therefore you will only find in the United States with warm waters which are the southern states.
Today, you can go tilapia fishing in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Hawaii. But, the states with the most tilapia fish opportunities are Florida, Alabama, and Texas.
What Season Can You Catch Tilapia In?
You can go tilapia fishing all year round but the best time of year to catch tilapia is when the water temperature is warm, hitting around 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above as this is their spawning season.
When the water is this warm, tilapia congregate in shallow waters to start their spawning season.
Tilapias spawn in shallow waters and during their spawning period, they are very hungry and aggressive, protecting their spawning bed as best they can.
TIPTheir spawning season is the best time of year to catch them. They are looking to eat as much as possible to ensure they have a successful spawning season and aggressively protect their spawning bed from any lure or bait that comes past.
When water temperatures drop to below 60 degrees Fahrenheit the fish leave the shallow waters and this is the end of a tilapia’s spawning season.
The fish move to deep water where they will be harder to find and they will be less aggressive and hungry.
This means it’s best to target fish during the warmer months during the spawning period, so plan your fishing trip accordingly.
What Time Is Best To Catch Tilapia?
You can catch tilapia at any time of day but like other fish, the best times are early morning sunrise or later evening sunsets. But, in other words, you can catch them all day long, but fish do tend to bite early and late to get a morning meal or stock up before the night.
What Water Types Do You Find Tilapia In?
Tilapia are a freshwater fish that can also live in brackish waters. Your best chance of finding them is in slow moving waters such as ponds, rivers, canals, lakes, and estuaries with sea structures.
I would personally recommend fishing tilapia in smaller water bodies like a pond as it will be much easier to find them than in a big lake.
How To Target & Catch Tilapia
What Tackle Is Best For Fishing Tilapia?
Since tilapia are small fish, it’s the most fun catching tilapia on light tackle. It’s best to use a light spinning fishing rod, and a short spinning fishing rod at that of about 6 – 7 feet with a spinning reel.
NOTEYou should load up your reel with 4 to 6 lb line as this light line will allow you to throw small baits far enough and make catching tilapia a lot of fun.
Other useful bits of light tackle to have include small floats, smaller hooks than usual (size 4 or 6), light split shot, and some small artificial lures.
You can also catch these fish using a fly rod, which is my preferred method. I would recommend using a light 2 or 3 weight fly rod with small nymph flies on a 3 lb leader.
What Bait Is Best For Catching Tilapia?
Before we look into what the best baits for tilapias are, it’s best to know what these fish eat and how they behave in the wild and then base your bait choices on this.
Tilapia are largely herbivorous fish and a tilapia diet consists mainly of plant foods. In fact, they were introduced into the US mainly to eat overgrowing aquatic plants.
That being said, hungry tilapia will also eat small invertebrates and, since they also have territorial instincts, will also attack small fish. So what bait should you have with you when trying to catch these fish?
The best bait is vegetable based and includes corn, shelled green peas, bread balls, earthworms, and short lures that mimic small fish.
Corn comes in many forms and all of them are effective for catching tilapia and these include: feed corn, imitation corn, frozen corn, flavored corn bait, and canned sweet corn.
The best of these include frozen corn and canned sweet corn as this kind of corn has a smell that attracts the fish to your bait plus frozen corn stays on your hook a lot longer.
You should fish this bait on a very small hook in size 6 or size 8 as it will be easier for the fish to eat your baits and for you to hook them.
Peas are another of the top baits to catch tilapia with as they work just as well as corn. When your peas hit the water, they leave a smell that attracts the fish.
You can use tinned peas, shelled peas, or frozen peas, and I’d recommend frozen peas as they are easier to put on a hook and they stay on the hook longer too.
Bread balls are also one of the best baits for tilapias and to make this bait you want to buy the cheapest white bread you can find. You then need to remove the crust and squish the bread into tiny bread balls that fit on your tiny hook.
Bread balls break up quickly when in contact with water and therefore this bait doesn’t stay on the hook very well. This means when you get a bite, you’ll need to strike quickly and it’s a good idea to check your bait regularly while fishing in case it has fallen off.
You can also use shorter lures as a bait for tilapia as they will attract small lures when they are territorial.
Your lure should be around 1 to 2 inches long and it should be a floating lure so you can fish it in shallow water.
Cast the lure and bring the lure in slowly in a particular fishing spot where you know the tilapia are hanging out and wait for an attack.
NOTELures are also a great bait to use when searching for tilapia as you can cover a lot of ground with them by casting in different directions and choosing new spots.
If you are fly fishing for tilapia then using nymphs as your bait is super effective. Cast out a damsel nymph, prince nymph, or pheasant tail nymph and strip it in slowly and you’ll get a bite very quickly.
Another of the great tilapia baits to use are earthworms.
Fishing with earthworms works well as they stay on the hook, they release a smell, and their wriggling action creates a bait that these fish can not resist.
Tactics For Catching Tilapia
Focus On Shallow Waters
As I already mentioned, when the water gets warm, tilapia move to the shallows to spawn and become super hungry and aggressive. This means the fishing spot that you start fishing in should always be shallow as chances are, there will be a lot of tilapia there.
In the colder months, they might move a bit deeper to find warmer waters but they will still stay near the shallows to avoid getting eaten by predatory fish that lurk in the deep.
Don’t Get Too Close to the Spawning Beds
Tilapia are easily spooked and if you want to have a successful day make sure you don’t get too close to the spawning beds or you might empty them of fish.
If you keep your distance from the spawning beds by casting from a good distance of 30 ft, have a stealthy approach, and ensure they don’t see your shadow, you should be ok.
Rig Your Baits Properly
When using any of the bait options mentioned above, your chance of hooking a fish that is eating the bait will go through the roof if you bait your hook properly.
Here’s a video on some great tips from a Tilapia fishing pro.
Make sure the bait sits on the hook solidly so it doesn’t fall off when you get a bite and the hook tip needs to be exposed. This is to ensure that when you set the hook, the point will go into the fish’s mouth.
Use Light Hook Sets & Small Hooks
Tilapia have soft mouths and if you try to hook them with too much force, chances are you will rip the hook through their mouths and lose the fish.
Hooking tilapia requires a short sharp light strike. If a tilapia is eating your bait, simply lift the rod from 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock sharply but gently and your hook-up rate will go through the roof.
I know I already mentioned this, but make sure to use tiny hooks.
Tilapia have small mouths and the hook needs to be able to get into the mouth if you want to catch them. 4 and 6 fishing hook sizes are great but be sure to have a range of smaller ones too.
Be Sure To Have A Fishing License
Wherever you’re fishing in the U.S you will need a fishing license for the state you’re fishing in. If you don’t have one you will be liable to large financial fines and even lawsuits so make sure you have the right permit to fish wherever you are fishing.
Thanks very much for reading my article. I really hope you enjoyed it and now know everything you need to in order to catch a load of tilapia.
Tilapia fishing is a lot of fun, especially during spawning season, and if you have kids, there is no better species to keep them entertained with.
Please share the article with your fishing buddies and check out some of my others. I cover everything from how to catch trout and crappie to the best spinning rods and more.