As an angler that claims to have caught a fair number of black buffalo, I have been asked on more than one occasion how I am able to differentiate them from smallmouth buffalo. So, when I decided to start my blog, I thought it might be yet another brilliant idea to attempt to address that subject as an article online.
Many people could not be blamed for considering me to be a marine biologist with superlative angling talents and good looks, not to mention humility. However, I wish to emphasize here that I am in no way a qualified expert in this subject. As stated in my “About the Author”, what I am about to present is part fact, part experience and partly my own blessed opinion – which is very important. Don’t forget it.
For the uninitiated, carp and buffalo are not related. It can get really tedious when some people look at your photos of buffalo and make a know-it-all comment about being trashy carp. When I attempt to correct them it is often followed by “well, they are the same family”. NO THEY ARE NOT !! Just remember, there’s only room for one smart-a$$ in Texas ……… and I’m busy writing this article !!!!
There are many differences between carp and buffalo – the easiest way to figure it out is to look at the mouth – carp have barbels, buffalo do not. Regardless of color or size, that is by far the easiest way to differentiate.
To the best of my knowledge, there are five types of buffalo, but because I’m fishing in Texas, I’m only going to consider three of them – smallmouth buffalo, bigmouth buffalo and black buffalo. If you are interested in the other two you can do a search for them on the Internet ‘coz I know nowt about ’em – fleshylip buffalo (Ictiobus labiosus) and usumacinta buffalo (Ictiobus meridionalis).
(Don’t be too impressed with the Latin names, I just looked them up!!)
This article is intended to focus on black vs. smallmouth buffalo but I’d like to say one thing about bigmouth buffalo first. Bigmouth buffalo are different from black and smallmouth buffalo in that they do not have mouths designed for sucking on the bottom. Both smallmouth and black buffalo have sucker-like mouths with the tip of the upper lip below the lower rim of the eye.
Ok, so let me start from the basics ……………
For me, it is always hard to categorically state the color of a buffalo. Not only can the color vary slightly depending upon the angle of the light, I have caught some buffalo that are metallic grey and others that have a definite bronze tinge. One thing is for sure, even though I may be a tad color-blind, I cannot believe that black buffalo are named that because of their color. Depending upon the age, black buffalo can be very similar in appearance to smallmouth buffalo. I say “can be” because unless someone can prove to me otherwise, I’m convinced that the coloring very much depends upon their diet and the clarity of the water in which they dwell.
One of the most significant characteristics of a buffalo is their eyes. The smallmouth buffalo have large jet black eyes – almost mesmerizing. I know of no other fish that has such hypnotic eyes. The black buffalo have much smaller eyes than the smallmouth. I remember reading somewhere that the diameter of a black buffalo’s eye is equal to or less than the distance from the back of the lips to the front of the lips (when mouth closed!!). I cannot in all honesty say that I have ever taken a tape measure and proved that to be correct but I reckon it’s a good rule of thumb.
As for the overall body shape, the black buffalo is more streamlined than the smallmouth and nowhere near as “high-bodied”. If you are really into being able to state that you have banked a black buffalo – get your tape measure out. The black buffalo allegedly have a body depth that goes more than 2.9 times into their length (nose tip to tail tip).
The black buffalo mouth is located just beneath the front end of the nose, and it is ever so (ever so) slightly oblique while the smallmouth buffalo mouth is located further back, and is nearly horizontal.
One characteristic that really stood out for me was the lips – the black buffalo has much thicker lips than the smallmouth. I usually do not fish with anything bigger than a #6 hook and every time I land a black buffalo I have to “hunt” for the hook as they get embedded in the lips. It’s amazing. Another thing about the lips is that (maybe due to their thickness, I don’t know) they have grooves underneath. I have searched high and low on the Internet for an example of what I am trying to explain and just as I was about to give up I found one ………
I just hope I am not in breach of any copyright/propriety laws by including the picture here, but this shows the underside of the lips very clearly !!
Having never banked a buffalo and then taken out my tape measure to perform mathematical calculations on eyes and body size, you may be wondering why I can lay stake to my claims of having caught any ??
The answer is quite simple really. Having been very lucky and caught more than my fair share of smallmouth buffalo, I have had ample opportunity to ‘study’ the fish before being released, not to mention the countless hours spent literally memorizing all my photos. When I caught my first black buffalo, I was fishing on Lake Whitney and I remember I was fishing with 3lb test curve (tc) rods. When the bite alarm started screaming, I jumped up, set the hook and my rod was immediately bent almost double. I honestly thought I’d hooked into an International water body record fish. This thing screamed left and then right, giving me some line, then taking even more line …….. the fight was awesome adrenaline pumping action. When we finally got it into the net, my first reaction was one of disappointment – it didn’t look much over 16lb. However, when I got it on the bank and laid it out on the unhooking mat I immediately realized this was different to the buffs I usually catch. Yes, the color was much darker than what I had been used to on the Colorado (but you know what I have said about that) and the eyes were just not the “buffalo eyes”. When it came to removing the hook I had to carefully use my forceps to ensure I did not damage the fish – the hook had almost disappeared into the folds of the lips. They were like bloody Michelins. (That was when I learnt that Lake Whitney holds black buffalo). This went on all day as I managed to catch over a dozen of these really aggressive buffalo. As far as I am concerned, black buffalo have an aggressive temperament that provides w-a-y too much fun. Not that I’m playing down the feistiness of a smallmouth buffalo but the black buffs just do not know when to give up.
I think that’s enough for this article – (I can almost hear Shakespeare groaning in his grave). Hopefully I have given you an insight to some amazing fishing facts concerning a few of the buffalo family members.
Unfortunately there is not much scientific information out there on the web so I’m in a pretty cool place just now in that no-one can really question my opinion about the black and smallmouth buffalo !!!!!! LOL
Tight lines y’all.
Word of caution: if you know of a venue that holds black buffalo and you intend targeting them, here is some advice. Please put mono on your reels – braid will cut the crapola out of their mouths. I had braid on my reels at Lake Whitney and one of the buffs was so aggressive, and I played it as carefully as I could, and yet the hook cut their lower lip from one side to the other. Fortunately I had some replacement spools that had been lined with mono so I was able to switch them over and avoid harming any more fish.
Filed under: 2 – General, Tips & Techniques | Tagged: black buffalo, buffalo, carp, keith, keith melrose, melrose, smallmouth, smallmouth buffalo, whitney |