The Blue Tilapia is an African cichlid that is commonly raised as a food fish. It has become established in Florida and elsewhere as an invasive species. Blue tilapia are omnivorous but notoriously finicky when it comes to bait - bread, algae, and worms are popular. In certain times and places, tilapia will aggressively chase small lures and baits, but it is also common for them to ignore such offerings. At times, the males can be targeted by using the time-honored "nest invasion technique" that can also wreak havoc on nest-guarding bass and sunfish. Like many other nest-guarding species, the male tilapia is a stickler for cleanliness. If a foreign object falls into his nest, he'll pick it up in his mouth and either eat it or carry it away from the nest and spit it out (depending on how it tastes, presumably). So a male on an active nest can be caught by stealthily dropping an artificial lure into the center of his nest and waiting for the male to remove the lure to keep his nest spotless. It might take a long time for the male to notice the lure and get around to moving it, so be patient. Once he picks up the lure in his mouth, set the hook because he will probably swim to the edge of the nest and spit it out in a second or two. The spawning period is lengthy, with males attempting to mate with several females in succession, so you can usually use this tactic throughout the spring and early summer.
Mouthbrooding in Tilapia
One reason that tilapia have gained a reputation for being difficult to catch might stem from the fact that they are mouthbrooders. As all aquarists who keep African cichlids know, this means that one of the parent fish (in this case, the female) holds her fertilized eggs in her mouth until the baby fish hatch. During this time, of course, the female tilapia cannot eat because her mouth is full of eggs. If you run across a tilapia which is refusing to even look at your bait, it could be a brooding female. If this is the case, there's nothing an angler can do except find a different fish. It's a waste of time trying to get a brooding female to eat, because she would have to physically spit out all of her eggs to take your bait - and she won't do that. Since female tilapia don't necessarily hang around the nests, and they don't move into feeding areas while brooding (which would be pointless), they just hang out in the middle of nowhere, swimming aimlessly around, sometimes schooled up with other females and sometimes alone. You can find yourself casting at a school of tilapia, all of which aren't feeding because they are mouthbrooding females which can't eat. The good news is - if you find a brooding female like this, then there is probably a male on a visible nest somewhere nearby, and the nest-invasion tactic detailed above will fool him. Ditch the lady and go to work on her beau - you'll have much better luck.