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How to Catch Buffalo Fish? (An Expert Guide)

How to Catch Buffalo Fish? (An Expert Guide)

Fishing for buffalo is becoming more and more popular in the US and many anglers, who are new to the sport, wonder about the best ways of catching this awesome species. So I decided to write a detailed guide on how to catch buffalo fish in order to help you get going.

In order to successfully catch buffalo fish, you will need heavy carp rods, carp reels, a strong braided mainline, and #4-#8 wide gape hooks. Buffalo fish are best fished for on the bottom and caught on hookbaits such as boilies or tiger nuts.

If you want to get expert tips on how to catch buffs, what gear and baits to use, and where to fish for buffalo, all you have to do is keep reading.


Disclaimer: This article includes expert advice provided by Texan buffalo angler James King. James has caught several lake records and was kind enough to share some of his best tips with Strike & Catch.


What Gear Do You Need To Catch Buffalo Fish?

When it comes to buffalo fish, using the right gear is absolutely essential. Not only when it comes to the presentation of your baits, but also because buffalo fish are extremely strong fish. Getting them on the hook is only half the battle, fighting and successfully landing them is the really difficult part.

It is here that fishing with heavy and qualitative gear really pays off!

Rods

You will want to use heavy 2-section carp rods with a length of 12ft and a test curve of at least 3lb. Rods like that will both let you cast out your rigs very far and have a strong enough backbone to fight even the biggest and strongest of buffalo.

When it comes to carp rods, both Shimano and Daiwa are two solid brands that you can trust 100%. They make really high-qualitative rods for a very decent price. I use 3 Daiwa rods myself and they have landed me a ton of fish over the years. Check out the Daiwa Black Widow Carp Rod on Amazon here.

Reels

Heavy artillery carp reels are also something that I recommend strongly when fishing for buffs, as they will do most of the hard work together with you during the fight. Big pit reels that can hold a lot of line are definitely the way to go, both for casting and for fighting buffalo. Because when they charge off, they can go a long way!

Once again, Daiwa is the brand of choice here. You should definitely check out their Daiwa Crosscast Carp. It’s a superb real that is definitely capable of handling big buffalo. Take a look at this awesome reel on Amazon here.

Line

The third really important component when it comes to your gear is your mainline. Now, you can choose between monofilament and braid, and if this article would have been about carp, I’d suggest mono. For buffs, however, braid is definitely the better choice!

Braid has almost no stretch to it, which is a huge advantage when fishing for buffalo, as they are extremely careful when picking up your hookbait. You will want that hook to set as quickly as possible, and a no-stretch mainline will certainly help in that regard.

Additionally, braid has the ability to transfer even the slightest of movements from your hookbait to your rod tip much faster than mono does, which means that you will be able to detect even the most careful of takes.

a strong braided line of 30lb test is what you are looking for here and the one braid I use for all my fishing and one I can highly recommend is the Power Pro. I don’t think there is a better braid out there, to be honest! You can check out the Power Pro on Amazon here.

Pro Tip: Connect 4-5 feet of 40lb fluorocarbon to the end of your mainline and cover it with a sinking rig tube of the same length to both protect the fish and to make your end tackle even stronger and more abrasion-resistant.

Rigs

a hair rig setup with a boilie and a dumbbell for buffalo

The best rig for buffalo is a classic carp rig, consisting of the following end tackle:

  • a barrel or quick change swivel
  • a 4-5 inch braided hooklink (30 to 40lb test)
  • a size 4 to 8 wide gape or long shank carp hook

That’s basically it! This will make for a very effective hair rig that can catch you a ton of buffs! To make this rig even more effective, you can also put on an anti-tangle sleeve (helps a lot for those long-distance casts), as well as a short piece of shrink tube that’ll go on the hook shank (for a better hook set if and when the fish hooks itself).

RELATED ARTICLE: You can check out this article if you want to learn how to tie a simple hair rig!

The short hooklength further aids the hook set, as the hook will set almost immediately after the fish has picked up your bait.

Bank Sticks or Rod Pod

Fishing for buffalo is a waiting game and if you are using more than one rod, putting them on a couple of banksticks or a rod pod can be a very good idea.

This way, they are secured (use butt rests) and off the ground and you can use bite alarms to better detect the often careful buffalo takes.

Bite Alarms and Bobbins

Electronic bite alarms are super useful when fishing for buffalo. They make the need to constantly check your rods obsolete and also let you fish through the night. Although when it comes to buffalo, keeping an eye on your rods is never a bad idea, as the bite alarms can certainly miss the occasional slow or careful take.

That’s why bite alarms should be used in combination with hangers, or bobbins. These will help you notice less obvious bites and can accurately indicate the, for the buffalo so typical, drop back take, which will be explained further down in the article. A cheap set on bobbins can be found on Amazon right here.

Landing Net

a smallmouth buffalo lying in a landing net

Buffalo fish can get huge, which is why you’ll need a wide and deep net in order to securely land them. A 42inch carp landing net is the perfect fit for big buffalo. You can find a great carp landing net on Amazon here.

What Is the Best Way to Fish for Buffalo?

Finding the Fish

If you’re not fishing pay lakes, but instead target natural waters with wild buffalo in them, you will often find yourself fishing water systems of considerable size. Put in other words, buffalo can most often be found in gigantic lakes and larger river systems, and finding them there is not always the easiest of tasks.

If you’re lucky, you will be able to spot fish somewhere in the lake, but all too often, that is just not possible.

Try to find any kind of features that hold food and hence attract fish. Those can include:

  • Weeds
  • Reeds
  • Small islands
  • River mouths
  • Drop-offs (especially attractive during summer, when the shallow waters are too warm)

Pro Tip: If you fish a water you are not familiar with, ask the local fishermen for advice! Most of them will be happy to share some good locations and give you some valuable tips!

Pre-Baiting

So, once you’ve decided on a spot you want to try out, a good tactic is to pre-bait it. If there is food in your spot, the fish will find it, as opposed to you having to search for them.

Of course, there is never a guarantee, but as buffalo fish, much like carp, really like to feed a lot, pre-baiting can definitely improve your chances.

Now, what and how much you put out is really up to you. Generally speaking, the more you can throw in the better! You can pre-bait your spot with anything from feed corn, beans, nuts, to boilies and pellets. Trust me, they’ll eat it all.

Pro Tip: Stay clear of processed ingredients such as Jello! Instead, use lots of good attractants like salts and oils to make your particles even more powerful.

Pack Bait

a ball of pack bait and a hair rig with boilies for buffalo fish

Once you are ready to start fishing, consider using bigger balls of pack bait around your weights or method feeder. The additional bait, which will be presented extremely close to your actual hook bait, will certainly get the attention of any buff that is now in the area.

Additionally, pack bait and the bait cloud it produces attract a lot of small fish, which, in turn, capture the interest of bigger fish, like buffalo and carp.

Pro Tip: Buffs like hot and spicy stuff! So make sure to flavor your pack bait with chili or curry powder!

Fox Paste Bomb

As mentioned in the gear section above, using an inline paste bomb is by far the most effective way to fish for buffalo. Not only will a weight of 3 or 4oz keep your hookbait pinned down on the bottom, it also allows you to chuck out really big and heavy balls of pack bait.

If you know how to handle a 3lb carp rod, casting out a 3oz weight with an additional 4oz of pack bait 70 yards or more can be a relatively easy task. And being able to get that much feed out with each and every cast is a huge advantage! You can purchase the Fox Paste Bom at Big Carp Tackle here.

The Hook Set

Now that you have baited up your swim and cast out your rods, it’s time to wait for that take. When it comes, you gotta be 100% ready!

Despite their impressive size and brud force, buffalo fish actually feed and bite very cautiously and it’s extremely easy to miss a bite when it comes.

Unlike carp, who will almost always hook themselves against the weight of your bottom lead and then immediately swim off, buffalo won’t really notice that they have been hooked. Due to their very thick and fleshy lips, they simply won’t feel the hook when it penetrates.

And as they don’t really seem to care much about the weight hanging off their mouths either, they’ll just keep grazing and feeding.

All too often, this behavior will lead to the classic drop back, which is the best bite indicator you can get when fishing for buffs!

When they’ve been hooked and carry on feeding or swimming around lazily, they will often lift the weight off the bottom. This will cause your mainline to go slack and the hanger, or bobbin, on your bite alarms to drop down.

At best, you will get the visual indication of the bobbin moving and a few beeps from your bite alarm, but that’s usually it. So if you want to be able to fight and land that buff, this is when you’ll have to pick up your rod!

What Are the Best Baits for Buffalo?

a boilie and a dumbbell on a hair rig for buffalo

Buffalo fish can be caught on a variety of both natural and artificial baits. The ones that are best suited for big buffs and for the type of rig presented in this article include:

  • Boilies and Pop-Ups/Dumbbells (fish them snowman style: 1 boilie and 1 pop-up on the hair)
  • Tiger Nuts
  • Plastic Tiger Nuts

Pro Tip: The artificial baits are especially effective in waters that hold crayfish or turtles, as they have a much harder time getting those baits off the hook or hair.

All three bait types can be presented on a simple hair rig and will fit the buffalo’s fairly small mouth perfectly.

The somewhat bigger boilies and pop-ups come in handy on waters with a lot of smaller baitfish, as they won’t be able to get those baits into their mouths and hence do not produce unnecessary bites. You can find high-quality boilies and pop-ups over at Big Carp Tackle.

If your fishing spot is not disturbed by any smaller fish, you can also use the following baits for buffalo:

  • corn
  • artificial pop-up corn
  • worms

What Is the Best Time of Year to Catch Buffalo?

In the southern parts of the US, the best time to catch buffalo fish is between December and May. During that period of the year, the temperatures in both air and water are more moderate, which means that there is more oxygen in the water.

This spells more active fish that feed on a more or less regular basis throughout the day.

In the northern parts of the US, as well as in Canada, the best time to catch buffalo is between late summer and late fall.

Where Can You Catch Buffalo Fish?

an American angler in front of a big lake holding a giant smallmouth buffalo

While a majority of lakes with the biggest buffalo can be found in the state of Texas, you can actually find them in most US states.

Their geographical distribution stretches Canada in the north to Texas and Alabama in the deep south.

In Canada, they can be found in the Milk River and Qu’Appelle River that flow through Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. They also inhabit Lake Winnipeg.

In the northern US, they are native to midwestern and eastern states such as Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota. They then follow the midwestern and eastern parts of the US all the way down to Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

The major water systems in which they can be found include the Hudson Bay and Mississippi River drainages.

Do Buffalo Fish Fight Hard?

While buffalo are extremely subtle feeders and are generally fairly slow-moving fishing, they can turn into real steam locomotives once they realize that they’ve been hooked.

Unlike carp, which often swim hither and thither and in a somewhat panicky and uncontrolled way, buffalo often simply charge off into one direction and keep to it.

But that’s exactly the difficult part when fighting them. Consider a 50lb fish that seems to have near unlimited power and energy reserves and that swims off with relentless force and determination!

Now, try to imagine that powerful fish at the end of your fishing line. If you can imagine that, you understand the need for all the heavy gear I mentioned above!

How Big Can Buffalo Fish Get?

The smallmouth buffalo, which is the buffalo type that is most commonly found and fished for in the States, is a species that can reach really impressive sizes. Fish over 60lb aren’t that unusual and fish that have weighed in at over 80lb have been caught in the US.

As the species isn’t all that popular, not too many fish get caught and so, no one really knows how big they can get. It is not impossible that there are 100lb+ specimens swimming around in some major lakes of the south! Imagine hooking up to a fish that size!

Currently, the US and world record smallmouth buffalo is a fish of an incredible 82lb 3oz. That behemoth was caught by angler Randy Collins on Athens Lake (Texas) back in 1993.

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All images courtesy of James King

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