Living

Hooking up with tasty tilapia

The red-and-white bobber hit the water and instantly gave the telltale sign a fish was nibbling at what was underneath.

"Look at that, it's already hitting it," David Horn said.

A panfish not common in most area lakes was consuming a nightcrawler and pulling the bobber under the surface as part of a wide-open bite at Corona Lake.

Horn raised the rod and reeled in another tilapia.

Yes, tilapia, the fish with the white-meat fillets that more people know from the seafood section of the supermarket, has become a light-tackle target alongside crappie and bluegill at Corona Lake.

The tasty tilapia is the sixth-most consumed fish and seafood in the U.S. and its consumption is rising more than any other fish, according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center.

The fish is farmed raised in at least 85 countries. The largest number of tilapia farms in the U.S. are in Hawaii (19), Florida (18) and California (15), the latter ranking first in sales at more than $8.1 million annually.

They don't come much fresher than at Corona Lake, where some anglers come out simply for the sake of catching fish for dinner.

But they are also fun to catch.

"We were the first ones to (stock tilapia) and our anglers really like them now," said Craig Elliott of Corona Recreation Inc., the concessionaire of Corona Lake and Santa Ana River Lakes. "In the summertime, it gives you a variety instead of just catching catfish all the time.

"You can throw a catfish pole out and on the other one catch tilapia. It breaks up the monotony in the summertime."

The fish are stocked weekly from June to August or September.

"They'll bite all summer," said Horn, the manager at Corona Lake. "The 70-80-degree water is fine for them because they are tropical fish and they love the warm water.

"They tend to be aggressive all day long in the coves, shallow water _ anywhere you see the moss and greenery growing because that's what their native habitat food is."

Tilapia originated in the shallow, turbid waters of the rivers and lakes of Africa. Though they do eat nightcrawlers, tilapia mostly feed on plankton, algae and moss, which is a plus at Corona Lake.

"We were having real problems at Corona Lake until we put the tilapia in," Elliott said. "They kind of go in and clean up the moss and keep the water nice and clear. It's a real benefit.

"There's not even one tenth the moss that used to be there."

A variety of techniques can be used to catch tilapia. A full nightcrawler wrapped around a No. 2 bait hook with a split shot a foot or two up the line has always worked for Horn.

But in the shallow water, a smaller bait hook with a piece of nightcrawler threaded on it and a bobber a couple of feet up the line easily does the trick.

Jeff James of Long Beach is a regular at Corona Lake and started fishing for tilapia this year. On this day, he caught his limit of five, much to the delight of his wife.

"My wife is from the south and knows all about them," James said. "I think if the word got out, they'd have a whole lot more business (at Corona Lake)."

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© 2007, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).

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