How to Catch Tilapia: Tilapia Tips and Tricks [2022 Update]


Updated on September 21, 2022 by

The best way to catch more tilapia is to target a brackish estuary during early spring as the water temperature warms to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, using an ultralight spinning rod and reel with a kernel of corn on a #4 hook and 4-pound mono line.

Few fish are more commonly featured on restaurant menus than tilapia. This unique species is caught along the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico coastline, and elsewhere throughout the world in mostly brackish waters. There’s no denying that tilapia are excellent table far, and they also present a rewarding challenge to anglers who want to specifically target them. 

Almost 100 different fish species are considered to be in the tilapia family. These fish are found in various locations where saltwater meets freshwater and can be caught worldwide by anglers willing to take the time to put in a bit of careful strategy and use the right tackle. 

If you’re planning to go after tilapia on your next fishing trip, there are a few key things you’ll want to remember if you want to be successful. We’ve compiled this article on how to catch tilapia to help you plan your day on the water. 

What is Tilapia? 

Tilapia is one of the most popular fish in commercial hatcheries that sell their fish to restaurants and other buyers. This is mostly because there is a significant demand for tilapia filets. The meat offers an exceptional taste and a desirable, flaky texture that most people prefer over other species. 

These fish are native to the Middle East and Africa waters, and it is not exactly known when they were first introduced to the regions around the United States. It is much more common for people to farm tilapia instead of catching them in the wild, but most anglers who go through the trouble to fish for them agree that wild tilapia offer a much better overall flavor than farm-raised fish. 

Tilapia is known for being a fast-growing fish capable of living in crowded stretches of water with other fish, which is ideal for anyone wishing to raise these types of fish on farms. These fish also have a notorious reputation for being skittish in the wild, as they are known to bolt and leave an area if they sense predators nearby. This makes them especially tough to fish for but even more rewarding for those anglers who can land them. 

large tilapia fish

Most species of tilapia live up to about ten years in the wild in most cases. A mature tilapia usually grows to a sizable 20 inches in the right conditions. There are many varieties of tilapia. Some can come in vibrant colors while others mostly have a darker black or grey look. 

These fish pack on quite a bit of muscle on their short, stocky frames and can often weigh roughly 8 pounds when fully grown. It is these larger, older fish that most anglers target instead of the smaller variety of tilapia. The world record tilapia was caught by a Florida woman in 2011. The fish tipped the scales at 9.6 pounds and measured over 24 inches. 

How to Catch Tilapia 
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When it comes to learning about and planning your tilapia fishing trip, there are some key things you’ll want to keep in mind throughout the process. These fish are quite unlike most other types worldwide, so you may have to get used to often unconventional tactics when targeting tilapia in the wild. 

There are a lot of pieces of advice you can use to catch tilapia, so I have summarized them into this easy-to-follow list:

  • Best State: Texas, Florida, and Alabama.
  • Best Water Type: Brackish or Freshwater estuaries.
  • Best Fishing Spot: Lakes, rivers, canals, and ponds.
  • Best Month: March.
  • Best Temperature: As the water warms up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Best Time of the Day: Dawn and Dusk.
  • Best Bait: Kernels of Corn.
  • Best Gear: Ultralight Rod and spinning reel.
  • Best Tackle: Small #4 hook and 4-pound monofilament line.

Best Bait for Tilapia 

While it is true that most tilapia species will sometimes eat anything they can find, most of these different tilapia species are herbivores and eat plants as the bulk of their diet. Instead of using live bait that can often be very costly over a few days of fishing, most anglers can opt for things like corn and bread balls. Anything you have used to target carp or other herbivore fish species will also work with Tilapia. 

When tilapia are not spawning, it’s best to target them and try to appeal to their appetite by using corn or small bits of dough. There are different schools of thought when deciding exactly what the best type of bait is for tilapia. Most anglers will go with a small hook such as a #4 size that’s simply rigged with a kernel of corn or a small bit of fish dough that you might use to catch trout or other small fish species. 

tilapia caught on a kernel of corn

Depending on the time of year and whether or not tilapia is in the middle of their annual spawning ritual, you can sometimes get away with using smaller minnow-like lures. This is mostly the cast when tilapia are spawning and can be found in large schools of fish that will feed voraciously on almost anything that comes within striking distance. 

The most productive lures commonly used by anglers who catch tilapia during their spawning seasons are artificial lures that offer a tight wobble, such as lipless crankbaits or shallow-diving plugs. 

Many other lures will work in these circumstances, and many anglers will experiment with various lure types when tilapia are spawning, as you never really know what triggers them to strike certain rigs or presentations. 

Best Times to Catch Tilapia 

Tilapia are known to feed at different times of the day, and anglers have reported success in catching them at virtually any hour of the day or night. However, it is also true that you will have greater success at the usual times around dawn and dusk when it comes to going after these types of fish. 

Tilapia is known to spawn around the year’s cooler months, just after the water starts to warm up in the early spring. Like most other fish species known to spawn in freshwater or even brackish waters, a specific temperature seems to be the magic number for the spawn.

The best temperature to target Tilapia is when the water temperature warms up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Once the water reaches this point, tilapia will usually go into their annual spawning routines, but there are certain cases in which a particularly strong cold snap might cause them to retreat back into their pre-spawn territory and habits. However, if you’re fishing in an area where other anglers can often pinpoint the exact time of year when tilapia will spawn down to a few weeks, you can usually bank on this being the case. 

For some areas of the world that are particularly warm in temperature, tilapia might spawn more than once in a year. This is often somewhat predictable as the water temperatures fluctuate in the spring and fall enough to cause this spawn. 

Tackle and Gear for Tilapia

When fishing for tilapia, you’ll want to stick mostly with a more lightweight rod and reel than one that’s heavy. This is not necessarily because tilapia is smaller than most other game fish species around the coast but because they are known to have a very subtle bite that is usually very tough to detect. 

Novice anglers will often get very frustrated when they first start fishing for tilapia because these fish can easily steal your bait without you ever realizing it. It takes quite a bit of practice and time on the water to pick up on the little bumps and tugs you’ll feel on the end of your line. Be sure you don’t jerk the hook out of the fish’s mouth too early, as tilapia need a few seconds to ‘chew’ on their food before they get it deep enough in their jaws for you to apply a hook set. 

Most anglers that go after tilapia regularly will often use a light to medium action rod, a lightweight reel and smaller hooks. Spinning reels are typically what most anglers use as you can quickly and easily pick up the slack in your line once you get the lure in the right location. 

tilapia spinning rod and reel combo

Best Spots to Catch Tilapia 

One of the biggest questions most anglers have when catching tilapia is where to fish. This is understandable as these fish are usually found in shallow water but can very easily be spooked off of a stretch of water that they won’t return to for several hours in some cases. Caution and silence are two factors you’ll want to have when going after tilapia, as you can waste a significant amount of time if you spook the fish away and don’t realize it. 

During the spawn, tilapia will gather in large schools around bedding areas with numerous craters at the waterway’s bottom. Like most other species of fish, tilapia will use these beds to lay their eggs and guard their eggs and fry as they hatch and reach a level where they can fend for themselves. These beds are usually found in shallow waters near some type of vegetation and are usually in freshwater lakes and rivers, as well as ponds where tilapia have been stocked. 

Tilapia spawn bedding area

Throughout most of the year, tilapia will gravitate toward shallow, brackish waters where they can stay away from most types of predators. If you find some type of vegetation in shallow water in an area where saltwater meets fresh, you can usually expect some tilapia hanging around. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Tilapia Good to Eat?

Yes, Tilapia are extremely nice-tasting fish. They are a very popular menu item found in restaurants around coastal areas and even far inland since they can easily be farmed in the right conditions. Tilapia is very easy to cook, and they often turn out to be very tasty when grilled, fried, baked, or cooked in virtually any other method you might use for fish. 

Their filets will soak up most citrus juices and spices, making it easy for you to dial in your specific recipe for tilapia. There are countless recipes online and guides for best cooking tilapia depending on whether you want to fry or grill them. 

What is the Best Time of Year to Catch Tilapia?

The best time of year to catch tilapia is in early spring as the water temperature has begun to warm up after the fish have finished spawning. I recommend fishing for tilapia in March as the water temperature hits 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

What is the Best Fishing Line for Tilapia?

The best fishing line for tilapia is a 4 or 8-pound monofilament. This gives the best sensitivity to feel the small fish as they nibble and chew on the line. If you use a line that is too heavy or not sensitive enough, you will notice a lot of missing bait because you haven’t noticed the fish biting.

Conclusion 

There are quite a few other tips and techniques that you might want to learn when it comes to fishing for tilapia, but the information we’ve mentioned will give you a decent start in going after these unique fish. These fish can be fun to catch as you’re likely to land dozens of them if you run into a school of tilapia at the right time of year. 


Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.