Big Bend National Park

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park
Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park (Eric Leonard/National Park Service)

Most of the park's native fish are of minnow size but the Rio Grande does attract anglers. The major attractions are catfish, gizzard shad, carp and suckers, the freshwater drum, and an occasional longnose gar. The complete list of fish recorded in the park and its immediate surroundings includes 35 species, including bluegill and sunfish.

Most anglers are after the blue, channel, and flathead catfish. The blue and flathead are favored food fish. The longnose gar may reach over a meter (four feet) in length and is predatory, as its long snout and sharp teeth suggest. You do not need a fishing license to fish in the national park. For advice on fishing spots and preferred methods, ask a park ranger.

Yellow cat up to 45 kilos (100 pounds) have been taken from the river, and 14-kilo (30-pound) cats are not uncommon. Channel and blue cats also provide fine sport and good eating. These deepwater species feed on aquatic plants, insects, and smaller fish, both living and dead. They spawn in depressions and sheltered nooks in river banks and canyon cliffs. While catfish account for most of the recreational fishing in the Rio, many other interesting species swim the brown waters: the predatory garfish, needle-nosed and shaped like a torpedo; the humpbacked carp that can survive even in limited waters; smallmouth buffalo, sheepshead, and green sunfish; the bullhead that favors quiet waters and can endure higher temperatures and lower oxygen content than most other fish; and of course the minnows, as plentiful and gregarious as sparrows, with a preference for running water and rocky or sandy bottoms.



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