Author Topic: Rio Grande Cichlids - Tips and Techniques to Catching a Truly Unique Fish!  (Read 983 times)

Offline Sean-NOLA

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  • Sean Gilthorpe
This is something I wrote for the New Orleans Fly Fishers Club before our annual Rio Rodeo. Winter isn't the ideal time of year to catch Rio Grande Cichlids (Rios), but I figured I could share this nevertheless.  I hope you get a chance to read this, as it may help you land these fish more consistently.  Rios are a worthy target species for any angler. While these fish aren’t easy to catch, they aren’t an impossible target. If you utilize a couple of techniques, use an adequate setup, and fish the right flies you will have more consistent success and more fun catching these interesting fish!


Sight-fishing – Rios are challenging fish on the fly, especially when sight-fishing. While sight-fishing does present its own challenges, it is the most effective technique. To achieve this, you must simply find the fish before you cast to them. The first thing you’ll need for effective sight-fishing is a pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses will allow you to see into the water more easily. Due to the tannic, sediment rich nature or these waters, I’d recommend using amber lenses. When sight-fishing it is also important to wear clothes with drab or earth tones. Now all you need to do is walk along the bank and look for Rios. As soon as you see the fish, you can then present the fly. Just remember, if you see the fish before it sees you, you’ll have a better chance of catching ‘em!

Blind-casting – While conditions may not always be optimal for sight-casting, blind-casting can be quite effective. Keep in mind that Rios are a structure oriented fish. They can hold in and near variety of structure such as rocks, piers, tree branches. I have also found most Rios I’ve caught have been within 3’ to 6’ of the bank. You can maximize your chances when blind-casting by making your casts parallel to the bank, varying the retrieve, and small strips. If casting parallel to the bank isn’t working, you can always try fan-casting and working all the angles within a given area.


Rods - Rios lend themselves to being excellent quarry on ultralight fly rods, anything 3wt. and under. They can be caught on heavier rods, but they really show their stuff best on ultralight tackle. As for rod length, that is purely a matter of personal preference. Long cast aren’t necessary to successfully catching these fish and Rios are often in places where tight cast are needed, so a short rod would be most advantageous. My personal favorites are the TFO BVK 3wt, Cabela’s CGR 2wt & 3wt, and TFO Finesse 1wt.

Reels - Fly reels selection isn’t as critical. You aren’t going to need a beefed-up reel or a reel with a high backing capacity. In this case, the reel serves as a line holder. A click-pawl reel will work just fine on Rios.

Leaders - Lighter leaders (6lbs. and under) generally work best when fishing for Rios. First, they aren’t extremely big fish and their teeth aren’t going to fray a leader. Second, in certain conditions these fish can become extremely leader shy. Finally, it is important to match the leader to the rod and fly line. Store-bought and homemade leaders work equally well.


Poppers – Using poppers for Rios isn’t the most common method of catching them, but it can be effective. Small poppers, sizes 10 and under, work well whether sight or blind casting. Blue, black, yellow, and green are great popper colors. Dinnys and Bogglebugs work very well. Working poppers near structure and irregular banks can yield excellent results.

Dry Flies - Dry flies work as well, but are more effective when sight fishing, preferred sizes are 10 to 20. Adams, Blue Wing Olive, Elk Hair Caddis, and Stimulators are excellent dry fly patterns. Dries work most effectively sight-casting to Rios either rising or near the surface.

Soft hackles – Soft hackles are some of the more effective patterns for Rios in sizes 10 to 16. These flies are relatively easy to ties and are durable. Adding bead heads allows for more versatility. Some great soft hackle patterns are Partridge and Orange, Partridge and Red, Black and Peacock, Hare’s Ear Flymph. Slow stripping and drifting are effective methods of fishing these flies.

Nymphs - Nymphs are very common and work well. As with soft hackles, these flies are easy to tie and durable, and work well in sizes 10 to 20. Nymphs can be weighted or unweighted. Successful nymph patterns include Pheasant Tail Nymph, Hare’s Ear Nymph, Red Ass, and Prince Nymph. Nymphs can either be slow stripped, worked on a hopper-dropper rig, or under an indicator.

Midges/Scuds – Midges and scuds are often some of the most underutilized flies in the fly box, and are extremely effective in sizes 14 to 20. I like them because they’re simple, plain, and they work. These are probably the easiest flies to tie! I utilize Zebra Midges frequently. The best colors I find are Red, Orange, Purple, and Black. Brassies and V-Rib midges also work very well. Scud imitations are also excellent flies for Rios. Patterns such as a Ray Charles, Bead Back Scud, and Czech Style Scuds work very well. Like nymphs, midges and scuds can be slow stripped, worked on a hopper-dropper rig, or under an indicator.

I hope this information helps you in the pursuit of Rios! As you can see, these fish do present a challenge on the fly rod, but they aren’t impossible to catch. With a little patience, the right equipment, and a diverse selection of flies, you’ll be consistently catching Rios in no time! The Rio Rodeo is one of the greatest and most well attended fly fishing tournaments on the Gulf Coast. Hopefully we’ll have another successful Rodeo next year! I look forward to seeing everyone on the water!
The best fish to catch???  Is the one on the end of your line!!!