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How to Catch Tilapia – A Beginner’s Guide!

how to catch tilapia
Written by Immanuel Baranov
Last Update: March 3, 2022

Tilapia are fun to catch and taste delicious. If you are looking for a fish that puts up a fight and is a great meal, you will need to learn more about them.

Here we will teach you how to catch tilapia, where to find them, the bait and tackle that works best, and what to do once you catch one.

Fishing Needs

  • Fishing reel and rod
  • Bait/Lures
  • Fishing License
  • Hooks
  • Live bucket or stringer

Tilapia’s Most Favorite Baits!

1. Corn

Corn can be fresh or frozen, but just the kernels, hide the hook in the kernels; using more than one piece is necessary.

Make sure it is on the line good so it doesn’t fly off when you toss the line in the water!

2. Earthworms

These invertebrates can be from your yard or purchased from a bait store or other vermicomposting source.

Hook the worm through the middle. You don’t need a big piece of a worm, just enough to entice the tilapia onto the hook.

3. Balls made of bread

They are a Tilapia favorite. Take a slice of bread and break it into small pieces. Roll the small pieces in your palm until it’s the shape of a ball. Make sure it is big enough to hide the hook but small enough to get in their mouth!

If you want some tasty bait, you can roll a few shreds of cheese into the bread ball. Place in an airtight bag and put them in the freezer until you are ready to catch your supper!

4. Peas

Peas are great. Use freshly frozen (you shell and freeze in an airtight bag) or store-bought frozen peas.

Using the peas frozen will keep them on the line. Hook the pea through the middle, you will no doubt need two peas to cover the hook, so it will stay on the line as you toss it out.

5. Worms from a garden or yard

Right before you go fishing, pull or cut them into smaller pieces and store in an container with air holes and dirt in a cool spot.

6. Crickets

Crickets should be live so the fish can see them moving. Once hooked through the middle, they will not last very long. The tilapia are attracted by the movement and go after it as soon as it gets wet.

7. Bread bait

This can be slices of bread or unbaked biscuit dough. As you would with bread, pull off small pieces and roll them into balls, freeze in an airtight container and take out to use as you are going out fishing.

8. Shrimp (living)

This is a good bet. Their movement draws the tilapia. Brine shrimp are smaller and may work best. Both can be bought at a bait shop.

9. Cicadas

They are generally pretty big. Go with the smallest you can find. Run the hook through the middle and get it in the water while it is still moving

10. Dough bait

This is made using flour and water and adding a sent such as vanilla, anise, or menhaden oil. Mix it all and form it into balls. Use two parts flour to one part water and a few drops of flavoring. If the balls are sticky, coat your hands and surface with flour. Place the formed balls into an airtight container and freeze.

11. Pencil Float/Bubble

They are not bait but floaters that will keep your bait above the bottom,  the height of your choice. If you are a newbie to fishing, they give you a visual of when the fish has hit your bait as they get pulled under the water.

Preparing Ahead of Time

  • Pick your location e.g. lake or pond
  • Locate a spot where tilapia would hide
  • Make sure your gear and bait are intact and ready to use
  • Make sure to keep the bait out of sight. You don’t want to attract ducks or seagulls that love bait!
  • Check your hook, check the barb, and bait the hook. Add your floats or weights before you drop your line!
  • If using pellets or dough to attract the tilapia, drop it into the water near the boat or shore.
  • Make sure your bait is secure, and drop the line softly into the water!

Rod and Reel Tilapia Fishing

The best choice in a rod is a lightweight material such as graphite or fiberglass with a spinner reel attached.

The light combo will make holding the pole for long periods less tiring and easier to get the fish out of the water and into the boat.

Choose a small hook like a J4 and bait the hook with corn, peas, bread, or cheese. Make sure the bait is on the hook securely.

Gently drop the hook with the bait into the water and wait! You can put slip weights on the line to help it sink lower in the water.

If you want the hook suspended in the water, go with a bobber or float.

Pond Fishing for Tilapia

Pond fishing is a bit different when fishing from land.

First, you may need to use some fish pellets (Get them wet, once they are spongy, throw them in the water where you want to fish).

Within a few minutes, you should see the Tilapia surface for the pellets. If no fish surface, try another spot.

Once the fish surface, get your hook in the water where you see the fish and wait for a bite!

When using a boat on the pond, you can use the fish pellets or use the bed fishing advice below.

Bed Fishing for Tilapia

Once you find the bed, be sure to keep your distance while you bait the hook and get ready to fish.

Approach quietly, no motor! Try and keep your shadow off the water as well.

Put your line in the water on the edge of the bed, so they will strike at the bait, thinking it is a predator (especially during the spawn).

You want to fish at their feeding times: sunrise, midday, and sundown.

Tilapia Fishing Tips

Tilapia Fishing Tips

  • Dropping the hook

Place your line in the water gently, so you don’t spook the tilapia.

  • Fishing shallow waters

Tilapia love still, slightly salty, and shallow water where the weeds provide excellent cover, especially when spawning. It is not uncommon to see the Tilapia eggs in the water.

  • The correct tackle

A fishing rod no longer than 7 feet with a 4-8 pound test will work great. Use a spinner reel if you have one.

Tilapia is a smaller fish but don’t be fooled by their size because they’re known to put up a good fight. They can be aggressive during spawning and head for the weeds when on the line.

  • The correct posture

Sitting on a boat can make your muscles cramp. Try to sit with your back straight, head up, and relax. You may want a cushion for your tush; those boat seats are uncomfortable after a few hours.

Hold your fishing pole down towards the water, not horizontal or vertical; this will keep your muscles from getting stiff and give you the advantage once the fish is on the line.

  • Stay away from the spawning beds

Tilapia are very skittish, especially when spawning and gaurding the spawning beds. Stay on the outside perimeter of the beds; once you’ve scared the tilapia, your fishing is over for the day.

  • Obtain a fishing permit or license

All states require a fishing license; if you don’t have it on you when the DNR check, you will get a fine, and they will confiscate your gear!

  • Hooking the bait

Put a small piece of bait on a small hook. Tilapia has a small mouth; if they can’t get the baited hook in their mouth, you can’t catch them.

If you are fishing shallow, use a bobber or float. It will go under the water and you will know the fish is on your line.

When fishing deeper, you will want small weights to pull the line down deeper; you will have to feel the fish pull on the line unless it hits the hook and runs with the line!

  • Handling the hooked tilapia

Softly jerk upwards and set the hook once you feel the fish on the line. The fish may start swimming for cover.

No need to be aggressive; reel it in slow and firm. You can tear up the mouth if you are heavy-handed.

Once the fish is in the boat, grip the fish around the middle and firmly hold it while working the hook from its mouth.

  • Using light tackle

Tilapia are not big fish; you won’t need a heavy tackle.

Using small lures and hooks (# 4 hook) with a weight (slip-shot) or bobber will work the best.

Make sure you flatten the barb on the hook so it gets easier to remove the tilapia.

If you get a turtle or frog in the line, it will be easy to remove from them.

  • Keeping the catch

Tilapia are invasive and destructive. Some states will not let you throw them back. You have to dispose of them.

If you are taking them home to eat, you will need to place them on a stringer and hang it off the boat or put them in a live bucket with water until you get home.

They need to as fresh as possible when you clean and cook them! Know the rules in the state where you fish.

About the author

Immanuel Baranov

My life is pretty much defined by my avid outdoor activities. I’m generally obsessed with fishing, skiing and occasional hunting and whitewater paddling. I’ve been active since my early years. I inherited my passion for fishing from my father who made frequent family trips to the banks of Sacramento River. Growing up, I did a lot of fishing in the vicinity. Now that I have two sons, our weekends are full of fishing activities. I would say, you need good spots where you can go out a lot for the thing you love. I had the privilege to grow up near numerous water bodies and I’m proud to say that I made good use of them. It’s also great to do something with kids that helps them learn patience, endurance and preciseness.

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