How I Catch Wolf Fish (Traira)
What is a Wolf Fish?
Even the name of this fish sounds intimidating, and as you might have guessed from its name, it's a predator. The wolf fish (Hoplias malabaricu) is found in Central and South America, in rivers, lakes, and lagoons. As long as there is food in the form of fish, this prehistoric-looking fish is likely to be there.
Here at our home in Brazil, we have this fish in our lakes as do most people with even the smallest lagoon. I need to make it clear that there are two distinct types of wolf fish that live in fresh water, the traira and trairão, the latter being much larger. The smaller maxes out at 10 lbs. whereas the larger can get up to 30lbs.There are a few different ways we use to catch these beasts.
Using a Float With a Hook
This is the lazy man's way to fish but it is one which we see used here often to catch these fish. The Styrofoam float has a heavy duty line hook and leader on it.
We will put a live fish on the hook and randomly toss the styrofoam blocks into the water and leave them overnight. We have found hooking the bait fish along the back to be the most effective. The fish continues to swim albeit, slowly, making it an excellent choice for the attention of the wolf fish. We will know if there is a large fish on the hook as the float will have moved in the night. Either swimming out to float or pulling it in with a long stick is the easiest way to retrieve it. This is something I don't like doing as the fish is usually still alive and still likely to bite.
This fish has teeth, as you can see in the images, so removal of the hook can be daunting. I have found a pair of needlenose pliers works well to keep the jaws open. Locally, they will kill the fish by pulling the head back, thus snapping the spinal cord. We have tried clubbing it, although this isn't always effective as the head of this fish is hard. I usually have my husband do this, as he wears boots and will place his foot on the fish to secure it, and then remove the hook.
Using a Net to Catch Fish
The other way of catching the wolf fish is with a net. Here on our farm, we have many different sizes, dating from the time we were commercially rearing tilapia. When we put the net out to catch tilapia, we usually get traira in there as well. This can be problematic, as the normal way of removing a fish from a net is to pull them out headfirst. This is done by inserting the thumb into the mouth with the forefinger in the gills. This is impossible with the traira because of its teeth and willingness to bite. That's why we usually kill them before removing them from the net. If they aren't killed quickly they twist and turn and tangle themselves in the net making it more difficult to remove them even if they are dead.
As you can see from the photo, when we net, we pull out a variety of fish including peacock bass, Oscars, and the wolf fish.
Using a Surface Lure or Live Bait
Another method of catching wolf fish is to use a lure. We use one that looks like a piaba, a small silver fish we have here very similar to a minnow. My husband and I have different techniques of using the lure. I prefer the jerk-and-reel motion, hoping this motion imitates an injured fish. My husband just seems to reel in a continuous motion. I can't say one works best than the other, to be honest.
Besides the lure, we also use live bait to catch wolf fish; we catch bait fish here with a fish trap.
Sometimes, when we are fishing for something else, a wolf fish will attack our catch as we are reeling it in. This can be quite a shock when you go from having a gentle tug to your pole nearly being ripped out of your hands.
This is the type of lure we use but any for bass would work. What we have noticed is the wolf fish we have caught go for a silver lure, which is like the fish they normally eat here. Also, they are only hooked on the rear hooks.
The wolf fish is a strong and powerful fish and as slimy as heck, so you have to have a robust lure.
On Easter of this year, my husband was fishing and called me out; he had caught a wolf fish about two feet long. This was just two minutes after I passed him the rod not having a bite all morning. I bagged the fish up in a plastic bag and hung it in a tree, ready to take to the neighbors who enjoy eating them. When I returned a couple of minutes later the bag was on the ground and the fish was still alive, even though we thought we'd killed it. I quickly threw another bag over it and headed to my neighbors house. Along the path, the fish chewed through the bags and tried to make its way back to the water. These fish have the ability to cross land and can often be seen crossing roads when it is raining.
I was at a loss of what to do with this fish, as I didn't have my pliers to grip its mouth or a lump of wood to hit it on the head with. Plus, to make matters worse, I was wearing flip flops so I didn't want to risk stepping on its head. I shouted for my neighbor, who jumped over the fence, waded through thigh-deep water, and grabbed the fish before it made its way back into the lake.
Phew, another crisis averted.
The wolf fish has a lot of bones and it is impossible to remove all of them. People here make multiple vertical cuts along the side of the fish, cutting the bones into small pieces before removing the spine.
I am including a video (in Portuguese) of a man removing the spine, fins, and head and cutting through the remaining bones. His method seems to be a much better way of preparing it for cooking.
After the fish is cleaned and the bones chopped finely, most people opt to fry it. It is quite a meaty fish and served in some upmarket restaurants.
I have met people who say they don't like it because it tastes muddy. Although I can't say I have noticed this, the taste of the fish could change when rivers or lakes are low and the remaining standing water is of poor quality. Because the fish hunts often in the shallows, it lays in the mud waiting for its chance to attack. This too could be the cause of this taste.
If you catch fish that do spend time in the mud, you can remove the muddy taste by soaking them in milk in the fridge.
For those who love to fish, it can be an exciting fish to catch. It's best to have either a net or pliers handy to avoid getting bitten.
If this is the first you've seen of this fish, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.
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© 2017 Mary Wickison