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How I Catch Wolf Fish (Traira)

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

Wolf Fish Teeth

Wolf Fish Teeth

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 malabaricus) 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.

Wolf fish (traira)

Wolf fish (traira)

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 the 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 needle nose 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.

Peacock bass, wolf fish, Oscar, and tilapia

Peacock bass, wolf fish, Oscar, and tilapia

Using a Net to Catch Fish

The other way of catching this 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 its 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, tilapia, and the wolf fish.

Catching wolf fish with live bait

Catching wolf fish with live bait

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 for 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 better 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.

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Traira Escape

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 neighbor's 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 on our farm averted.


Preparing Traira

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Mary Wickison


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 23, 2019:

Great name. It must be interesting to observe one up close. Although I am open minded about keeping pets, I think I'll stick with dogs.

Preston on March 22, 2019:

I actually own one as a pet. His name is Sid Viscous

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on June 16, 2017:

It is a rather ugly fish. LOL. It is slimy as well, even after I have frozen and defrosted it. It is like holding a wet bar of soap!

We haven't eaten it in awhile because of the bones. It feels like a mouthful of hair, even when we have cut them really small. I may try again, my husband usually goes fishing most evenings.

The cat finishes off huge fish and I know they are good for her.

Perhaps I need to fry it longer to crisp off those bones. It isn't a nice taste (we think) so that is why soaking in milk may help. We end up pulping it between our tongue and the roof of our mouth while trying to fish out hair like bones. This results in messy fingers or the sound of spitting out the bones.

I am also pureeing it for the dogs. Maybe the answer is to make fish pate for crackers.

Oh Shauna, it is a work in progress. I hate to waste anything here on the farm but not sure what else to try. If I bury the guts and heads in the garden, the darn dogs dig them up!

Plus, a couple of weeks ago, I stepped on a triaira tooth that the cat didn't eat. Luckily I had my flip flops on so it stuck in the rubber.

Just another day on the farm. LOL

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 16, 2017:

What an ugly fish! Does it taste anything like catfish, which are bottom dwellers as well? I love catfish and prefer it fried.

I'm really enjoying learning about life on your farm, Mary.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 15, 2017:

Hello Dora,

Yes, life on the farm is different, it makes one realize how simply a person can live.

For the longest time, I didn't eat fish unless I went out to a restaurant because I didn't know how to prepare it. Now, there are so many helpful videos on YouTube which make it easy to learn.

Fishing can be enjoyable or frustrating but if you go out fishing to have fun with friends, it is always a pleasure.

Thanks for your comment.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 14, 2017:

Mary, you make farm life so appealing. It's quite a different world on the farm, and you have been teaching us to enjoy it. I fished only once in my life and have been longing to do it again. Preparing the fish for cooking is an art, indeed. Thanks for the lesson.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 14, 2017:

Hi Jackie,

You've mentioned something I didn't touch on in the article. In a lake which is full of fish, it is necessary to have predators to keep the numbers in check.

When we were raising tilapia, if there were too many in the lake, there would be stunted growth in the fish and too much competition for food.

Plus, that means a lot of fish waste which can pollute a lake. It is a point I have tried to explain to our neighbors but without much success.

Although I am nervous of the wolf fish, I know it plays a vital role in the whole ecological circle of pond life.

Thanks for your comment.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 14, 2017:

Never heard of this fish, so thank you for the information. I would sure be after them to kill being the fierce predator they are and apparently can live out of water so indefinitely! Scary things to say the least.

Enjoyable read!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 14, 2017:

Hi George,

It is interesting that you bring that up, yes they do have that in Brazil. We do have snails in our lakes, however, I am unaware of the disease in this area. People still fish here in the lakes with nets, often. Also, in certain places, they also wash their clothes and animals use it as a watering hole.

Our lakes are private although, we have neighbors who come in when the water gets low to fish it. I also know that snails move, as do the birds who consume them.

The next time I am in the health center I will ask about its prevalence in our region. My friend here is an ex-Red Cross nurse who spent most of her time in Africa and has given me graphic details of what occurs when infected with this.

Thanks for explaining how resourceful people can be and the potential dangers involved.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 14, 2017:

Hi Bill,

Oh, it's not so different than Washington, we just have warm weather and palm trees.

Glad you enjoyed the article.

Georgeetaylor on May 14, 2017:

Thank you Mary for posting this. I enjoyed watching the videos. That one in the video was very large!

In Puerto Rico they will use an empty cola bottle or beer can to hold the line and they will use old auto spark plugs for weights. They catch fish all the time this way. The majority of the people do NOT go fishing in fresh water because of "bilharzia" which is Shistosomiasis in English - I suspect they are also in Brazil. Am I correct?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 14, 2017:

Mary, you live a cool life. Seriously, I am slightly envious. :) I love these articles which detail the way you live...thanks for sharing.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 14, 2017:

Wow, that must have been an exciting catch. Although I have been deep sea fishing when I was young I never caught anything that big and it's is something I want to do again. When we sell/swap our farm, we plan to get a sailboat and I will undoubtedly have a fishing line in the water.

Thanks for reading.

diogenes on May 13, 2017:

Darn, Mary, you're pretty gnarly! That fish sounds like a handful.


ps I caught a 250 lb. Hammerhead once so I bin there, done was in Bocachibampo Bay in Guaymas Mexico...but it was docile when we got it to the boat and didn't fight much...I released it as felt sorry for it. and they aren't good to eat.

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