Post date: Sunday, March 4, 2012 - 13:24
Updated date: 10/31/14
Smallmouth Buffalo Closeup - Ictiobus bubalus


The Smallmouth Buffalo is a fish often confused with carp, suckers, or other buffalo.


Other Names:  Razorback Buffalo, Suckermouth Buffalo, Quillback Buffalo, Roachback Buffalo, Humpback Buffalo, Channel Buffalo, Baitnet Buffalo, White Carp, Liner Buffalo, Brown Buffalo, Blue Pancake



The smallmouth is a heavy-bodied fish with large scales, black eyes, no barbels, and an underslung sucker mouth. It is usually bluish or grayish in color; never yellow. The blue coloration is always present in the tail fin. There is a prominent lateral line. It's body is narrow and compressed in cross-section. The fins have no spines, and the scales are close-knit and smooth. They have an arched back and a tall body with broad sides. The mouth length is invariably smaller than the eye. The fish's nape (the back of the fish behind the head) is strongly keeled.




Smallmouth buffalo inhabit larger pools of higher order rivers with low velocity current as well as certain lakes and impoundments. It prefers clean to moderately turbid, deep, warm waters. The most productive habitat for smallmouth buffalo is one with abundant aquatic vegetation and a silt bottom. They are temperature-sensitive, inhabiting areas within a varying 2-degree range of temperature throughout most of the year. Thus it is possible to predict where these fish will be in the river at any time of the year. However, since I don't know what temperatures they like, this doesn't help much. Experimentation is in order.






The mouth of the smallmouth buffalo is fleshy and projects downward, like most suckers. Smallmouth buffalo feed on the bottom, and eat mainly insect larvae and crustaceans. Smallmouth Buffalo can reach weights of over thirty pounds in our region. Both spinning and fly tackle may be used. Once again, the Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear is a good fly to start out with, although it's always a good idea to check under a few rocks before you start fishing to see what the local nymph population looks like. Look for smallmouth buffalo around current breaks in large rivers, or up in the gravelly shoals near the main river channel. Smallmouth buffalo spawn in the spring - consult the Sucker Spawning Chart for more information.


Smallmouth Buffalo will capitalize on whatever food is abundant.  Where drifting food (such as insect larvae or chunks of algae) are present and the water is clear, these bottom-feeders will take drifted baits well off the bottom, often suspended several feet up.  Drifting a float, baited with a chunk of nightcrawler or a wad of green algae (or both!) can really work well in these situations.  These fish have very sensitive mouths and will spit out the hook very quickly, so be sure to strike quickly when a buffalo takes your bait!



Range Map

Photo Credits:

David Graham, Andrew Geving, Corey Geving

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