Smallmouth buffalo are a wide ranging species native to streams from Pennsylvania and West Virginia west to Montana and south to Mexico. As a river species, it is common in clear waters with modest current. Reportedly they are most productive habitat is a silt bottom with abundant aquatic vegetation. They live in excess of 10 years.
This buffalo is a deep-bodied sucker. The mouth is small and horizontal, with a distinctly grooved upper lip. Adults can reach three feet and weigh over 30 pounds. Their color is a bluish-gray on top, turning silvery-blue along the sides, fading to a whitish underside.
Spawning occurs when water temperatures reach 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Fish congregate in large school in water four to ten feet deep with slow to moderate current. Spawning grounds are frequently over submerged gravel adjacent to river channels. Adhesive eggs are randomly broadcast, where they sink to the bottom. No parental care is given by the adults. Females may lay over a quarter million eggs which hatch in approximately a week.
Smallmouth buffalo consume a variety of food. Primarily a bottom feeder they forage on aquatic insect larvae, attached algae, crustaceans, mollusks, detritus, and zooplankton.
Smallmouth Buffalo in Texas
Ictiobus and bubalus are both Greek words meaning "bull fish" and "buffalo", respectively. The back and sides are light brown or otherwise dark with a coppery or greenish tent. The belly is pale yellow to white. Smallmouth buffalo scales are large, and the species sometimes be confused with common carp by the novice. However, buffalo lack the barbels of carp. Smallmouth buffalo, as opposed to bigmouth buffalo, have a distinctive sucker-type mouth, oriented downward.
Although the life history of smallmouth buffalo is not well understood, spawning seems to occur in the spring when water temperatures reach 60-65°F. Eggs are broadcast over weeds and mud bottom, hatching in one to two weeks. This species is primarily bottom feeding which is why insect larvae, algae, detritus, and sand often make up significant portions of the fishes' gut contents.
In Texas, smallmouth buffalo are found in most large streams, rivers, and reservoirs exclusive of the Panhandle.
Although some anglers consider smallmouth buffalo to be a rough fish, in many areas the species is highly prized. Specimens in excess of 82 pounds have been landed by rod and reel anglers, whereas the trotline record is 97 pounds in Texas. Buffalo will sometimes take doughballs made with cottonseed meal, and when hooked provide exceptional sport. Many people may be unaware that smallmouth buffalo is quite a food fish. It is the number one species sold by commercial freshwater fishermen.
Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife