Rio Grande Perch (Texas Cichlid): A Warm-Water Tenkara Challenge

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

A Slab-Sided Rio Grande Perch Taken on a Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 18

A Slab-Sided Rio Grande Perch Taken on a Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 18

Rio Grande Perch (Texas Cichlid): A Warm-Water Tenkara Challenge

When we think of tenkara fishing, we usually imagine casting for trout in free-flowing cold water mountain streams. The sport encompasses much more than that, however, and one warm-water fish that offers a special challenge for tenkara anglers is the Rio Grande perch/Texas cichlid (Herichthys cyanoguttatus). As the scientific name suggests, the fish is often a beautiful turquoise/gray color, with white speckles on the sides. The mature males have a pronounced hump on their heads, and many of the species show faint black vertical bars. They can be found in much of the lower United States, and their range seems to be expanding into many warm-water drainages.

Rio Grande perch are great fun on tenkara and keiryu rods, but fishing for them requires some adjustments in thinking. They tend to favor slow-moving, stained water, near thick cover, often within a foot or two of the bank. They hang out near the bottom of the water column and readily take dark-colored, weighted killer bugs. I’ve had my best luck with black killer bugger yarn that’s really “fuzzed up” on size 8-12 heavy wire scud hooks. I usually wrap 8-10 turns of .020 lead-free wire around the hook to get the bug down to where I need it.

If you prefer live bait on your keiryu rod, butterworms and crickets are hard to beat.

Often, Rio Grande perch do not strike aggressively, but—once they realize they’re hooked—they pull like a sunken bulldozer! They love to hug the bottom, and their deep sides and broad “shoulders” give them plenty of advantage when you’re playing them on a light tenkara rod.

One of the challenges of fishing for Rio Grande perch is that they have tough mouths and rubbery lips. Getting a good hook set is not easy, so often I will use a stiffer keiryu rod if I know that I’m fishing in deeper water where there’s a good population of these fish.

If you come to Central Texas and have a hankering to try the Rio Grande perch, I would recommend Cibolo Creek Nature Center just outside of Boerne or Pedernales Falls State Park near Austin. Be aware that the Nature Center is strictly catch and release, but the wide, slow spots in Cibolo Creek boast some truly record-size Texas cichlids. The state record is just over two pounds, and I’ve managed to take a couple at Cibolo Creek that pushed the two-pound mark.

Accompanying this article is a photo of a nice Rio Grande perch that I caught on the diminutive Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 18 while micro fishing on Cibolo Creek. I was using a size 16, rust-colored killer bug to catch little 3-inch bluegills when I thought I had snagged the bottom. Imagine my surprise when the “snag” started to move! It was quite a tussle for a few minutes and speaks to the capabilities of the little Kiyotaki rod that I purchased from Chris Stewart. The other photo shows the kind of cover that Rio Grande perch favor.

If you have access to warm-water streams, I would encourage you to give this species a try. They fight hard, willingly take nymphs, and provide even greater variety for our fishing.

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