invasives 0035.jpg

Locals call this species 'Rio Grande perch," but the fish is in the cichlid family and the non-native, invasive species has found a home in the waters in and near New Orleans' City Park. The New Orleans Fly Fishers has set Saturday for its 9th annual Rio Rodeo and all fly fishermen are invited.

ADVOCATE FILE PHOTO BY AUTHUR D. LAUCK

Amidst the peril, the agony, the frustration, the utter destruction and the pervasive despondent feelings gripping New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, another problem surfaced of far less consequence when compared the shattered lives and dreams of the Crescent City’s citizenry.

See, there was this little critter books identify as a cichlid, a fish resembling a small sunfish, a species that calls the Rio Grande Valley its home that took up residence in the lagoons and other waters in and around City Park. Speculation was a small population of Rio Grandes escaped from aquariums during the massive flood.

It took a couple of years before this invader established a rapidly growing population, and nothing short of draining waterways and killing all the fish in there would eradicate them.

The rest of this story involves the folks who were reinvigorating the City Park Big Bass Rodeo — considered to be the country’s oldest continuing freshwater fishing event — and a new Rio Grande Perch category was born.

At first, there was a prize for the team catching the most Rio Grandes, but the rodeo committee soon found the error in their way. Make note of the “most” not the largest or heaviest.

With the weigh-in for all the other species completed, and hundreds of anglers awaiting the awards presentation and all the bragging rights that go along with that, the weigh-in committee continued to cichlids.

If memory serves, the winning catch totaled more than 900 of these fish ranging from sizes fitting a hand’s palm to several pushing 12 ounces, or about the size of a keeper bluegill. Add as many as nine more teams to counting and it was a miracle the committee finished the job.

Aside: Although several teams brought in excess of 400 fish, the memory of pair of 8-year-olds with their bucket holding 78 cichlids showed none among the teams was prouder of their catch.

Anyway, the change for the next year abandoned the “most” for the heaviest total catch, and, once again, teams showed up with five-gallon buckets filled with these little buggars, which appear to eat anything cast their way, including bread, worms, crickets — almost anything you can find that’ll stick to a hook.

The species remained prolific until the freeze a few years back cut into the population, but not enough for biologists and state fisheries managers to believe their numbers are controlled.

The next step

Never ones to let a good opportunity pass them by, the guys and gals in the New Orleans Fly Fishing Club decided to balance the spring’s Big Bass Rodeo with a fall fishing event.

So, eight years ago the club picked the first Saturday in October for a Rio Grande Rodeo, and that makes Saturday’s the ninth-annual rodeo. At the risk of inciting a riot, maybe “roundup” could be substituted for “rodeo,” because the idea here is to not let these critters go — and, honestly, cichlids are pretty darned good to eat.

That said, the NOFFC decided to set a $10 entry fee and donate most of that money to charity. A.J. Rosenbohm said the Second Harvest Food Bank got the money to feed Baton Rouge area flood victims (remember the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank was flooded.)

Rosenbohm said the club has decided to donate sign-up fees to Casting for Recovery.

“(It’s) a great organization that works with women that have breast cancer,” he wrote.

Here is other Rio Grande Rodeo info, and note all fly fishers will be welcomed:

  • 8 a.m.-noon Saturday, Oct. 7, lunch served for registered anglers;
  • Fee $10, registration deadline 8 a.m. rodeo day; registration opens at 7:30 p.m. with coffee and doughnuts at the intersection of Henry Thomas Drive and Palm Drive. (Look for the NOFF sign and tent under the oak trees);
  • City Park waters (get map at registration);
  • Cichlids should not be returned to the water, and are limited to cichlids taken on fly tackle and with artificial flies. Top prize (TFO NXT 4/5 weight fly rod/reel) for longest cichlid with prizes through five places;
  • For registration or more information, email: nolaffc@gmail.com or call (504) 410-7223.