By David Graham: 12-2-2022
The 1950's... a decade marked by the post World War II Boom, when Elizabeth became Queen, NASA was created, racial segregation was deemed unconstitutional... and the oscar went to.... Florida
Fishing for oscars. Florida oscar fish. How to catch oscar fish
Yes, its been some 60-70 years since the oscar was first found wandering around somewhere far from its glass box in the canals of Miami-Dade County. Even further from its native ranges along the Amazon River Basin. Native to Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, Peru, and Venezuela... this fiery colored species of cichlid has been a staple of the aquarium trade for decades, and its now running rampant in the Everglades.
Cherished for its flashy color variations, ease of care, and 'personality' - fervent owners of this wildly popular 'pet' say the oscar is comparable to the family dog or cat! With this line of thought - its easy then to assume the responsibility for their spread on US soil falls squarely on the shoulders of irresponsible and ill prepared pet owners.
While the oscar doesn't grow particularly large - maybe over three pounds max... they do grow quickly, to the chagrin of ill-suited aquarium hobbyists... but perhaps to the delight of an open minded angler.
Now - as stewards of the outdoors... and the conservation especially of our beloved Everglades, we cannot and should not condone the spread of non-native species of any sort. But... we also have to be realistic with where we're presently at. There is absolutely positively no scenario in which we 'undo' the existence of established exotic species like oscars, snakeheads, tilapia, or other cichlids. Its simply impossible... and its the proverbial beating of a dead horse to jaw about those that are already here.
Interestingly enough - the oscar is a primary forage item of peacock bass in its native ranges in the Amazon... and perhaps the biggest driving factor in Florida's decision to introduce peacock bass in the 1980's to help control them!
Where Can I Find Them?
Today Florida's oscars are most abundant in canals of water conservation areas and the more freshwater ecosystems of South Florida's Everglades. A cool water tolerance threshold of 12.9 °C (55.22 °F) serves as a barricade of sorts - confining the species to the warmer climates of southern Florida.
Oscars will frequently be found on or near the flat surface of rocks at the water's edge. They like places to hide and structure... fallen trees, lily pads, undercuts and shade provided by overhanging limbs are all suitable homes and areas to target for these fish.
The canal systems in South Florida of Alligator Alley and the Tamiami Trail where water runs freshest will almost invariably have atleast some oscars.., curiously - this notoriously territorial fish will move in groups and 'schools'. I have found that funnel points where some current pushes through will generally have oscars sitting just outside the current line. Key in on culvert pipes pushing water, or the through point of small bridges where flow is concentrated and bottlenecks. Oscars will sit on the downstream side of the pipe, bridge etc. in the slack edges waiting for food to push through.
How to catch them
The oscar represents a unique quarry for the curious angler seeking a first rate battle on light tackle. On lighter gear it presents a formidable target with a broad set of disproportionally powerful shoulders, and massive goggle like eyes protruding out of its head giving a panoramic view with exceptional eyesight.
The oscar is omnivorous, eating mostly fish but they will eat fruits, seeds, insects, and many other forage items they find opportunity to consume. They will strike opportunistically at a variety of baits including cut fish, shrimp, crickets, and worms.
Small crappie style jigs are extremely effective with oscars, which are generally not difficult to coax into a bite. They will aggressively pursue and assault lures designed for bass and other predators significantly larger than they are. Small hard plastic x-rap lures and other crankbaits work very well as well. Generally, they are not going to be overly selective and will aggressively try to eat anything that fits in their mouths...
If there is any bonus to this exotic invader, its that they taste really good! As far as freshwater fish go - oscars are widely considered for their table-fare. Even though there is simply no getting rid of them, anglers may feel a little better knowing an oscar removed from the water is going to a practical use. Filleted, and battered with fish or even chicken batter - oscar fillets make great fish tacos or however you prefer to fry fish!
On light tackle, this feisty little invasive is a day saver if nothing else. Think of them as an alternative panfish species - light tackle they can provide fast action and a good tug for anglers of all skill levels, and a great meal to boot.