Bigmouth Buffalo

Bigmouth Buffalo, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.

Characteristics

Body color of this fish varies from bluish-green dorsally, shading to coppery-blue on the sides, then fading to a light bluish-gray belly. It has a deeply rounded bodywith small eyes set close to the snout. The head is large, round, with thin lips surrounding a large, oblique mouth. The lateral line is complete with 32 to 40 large cycloid scales. The dorsal fin is sickle-shapedwith 23 to 32 rays. Pharyngeal teeth are short and fragile with about 165 per arch. Adults commonly reach 15 to 27 inches in le

Distribution

Bigmouth Buffalo Distribution

The Bigmouth Buffalo is found throughout most of Iowa, except for the Nodaway River drainages. It is most abundant in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their larger tributaries, in the river impoundments and in some natural lakes. The Bigmouth Buffalo is less common in the smaller tributaries of the Missouri River in the southwest part of the state.

Foods

Plankton, copepods and cladocerans.

State Record

64 lbs 6 oz.; 41.5 in. - Lake Manawa, Pottawattamie County, April 2007 - Ronald Anderson, Omaha, NE

Expert Tip

Bigmouth Buffalo are rarely caught on hook and line - if you do, hold on because these fish are strong!

Details

The Bigmouth Buffalo is found throughout most of Iowa, except for the Nodaway River drainages. It is most abundant in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their larger tributaries, in the river impoundments and in some natural lakes. The Bigmouth Buffalo is less common in small tributary streams, especially the smaller tributaries of the Missouri River in the southwest part of the state.

Body color of this fish varies from bluish-green dorsally, shading to coppery-blue on the sides, then fading to a light bluish-gray belly.  It has a deeply rounded bodywith small eyes set close to the snout.  The head is large, round, with thin lips surrounding a large, oblique mouth.  The lateral line is complete with 32 to 40 large cycloid scales.  The dorsal fin is sickle-shapedwith 23 to 32 rays. Pharyngeal teeth are short and fragile with about 165 per arch.  Adults commonly reach 15 to 27 inches in length and weigh 2 to 14 pounds.  Individuals over 40 pounds are not uncommon in commercial landing.

Bigmouth Buffalo are well-adapted for life in shallow, standing water that is characteristic of lakes, impoundments, marshes and backwaters of large rivers. While it is commonly encountered in deep pool regions, the species can also be found in quiet shallow waters and tolerates high water temperatures. They prefer very shallow and slow-flowing water habitats over bottoms rich with detritus in mud and silt. It is more tolerant of high turbidity and standing water than other species. This species tolerates very turbid waters but prefers clear, organically-enriched water with heavy algae and zooplankton blooms.

Spawning commences in April when the water temperature reaches 60 degrees F. The adult fish enter flooded marshes along river bottoms enticed by a sudden rise in water temperature or by an increasing water stage from runoff. They congregate in large schools to spawn over sedges and grasses in shallows about 2 to 3 feet deep. A single gravid female sinks to near the bottom and is surrounded by several males. Together they engage in a series of rushes that pushes the female to the surface while the adhesive eggs are broadcast and fertilized at random. The eggs are unattended until they hatch after incubating 8 to 14 days. Maturity varies, but most fish are sexually mature and spawn at age 3. Fecundity of a 10-pound buffalo is around 400,000 eggs.

Growth rate of Bigmouth Buffalo is rapid. Specimens from the Wisconsin River had calculated body lengths of 5.2 inches at age 1 to 33.3 inches at age 12. Growth varies considerably with location. It is often found in populations with huge standing stocks, particularly in lakes and impoundments. Populations densities of up to 1,200 pounds per acre have been reported in Iowa.

The food chain of the Bigmouth Buffalo is quite short, utilizing mostly plankton and benthic fauna, particularly copepods and cladocerans. They compete directly with many other fish species at different stages of development. Bigmouth Buffalo exhibit a definite behavior pattern to form schools. They are a hardy fish species that can endure oxygen concentrations less than 1 ppm and equally able to withstand warm water temperatures in excess of 90 degrees F.

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.

Sources:

Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames.

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


Return
Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Red Rock Reservoir Marion 4 miles north of Knoxville 15250.00
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. There is some shore fishing along the parking area and at the outlet of Lake Odessa. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Muscatine Amenities list for Muscatine City Ramp. This ramp is located in downtown Muscatine. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5280.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
Clear Lake Cerro Gordo south edge of Clear Lake 3684.00
Storm Lake (incl Little Storm Lake) Buena Vista south edge of Storm Lake 3097.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Lake Manawa Pottawattamie Southwest edge of Council Bluffs 747.00
North Twin Lake Calhoun 4 miles north of Rockwell City 453.00
West Swan Lake S.W.M.A. Emmet 3m SE Gruver 379.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
East Nishnabotna River Fremont Red Oak city limits has river access and hard surface boat ramp 123.00
West Nishnabotna River Fremont 121.00
Skunk River (Rose Hill to Coppock) Washington McKain's River Access : Dogwood Avenue on the South side of the River. 3 miles North of Lake Darling State Park. 110.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa This stretch is located in Marshall, Tama, the SW corner of Benton, Iowa, and Johnson County. 104.00
Sand Lake Marshall On the Northeast edge of Marshalltown 95.00
Five in One Dam Linn On Cedar River under I-380 in Cedar Rapids 90.00
Terry Trueblood Lake Johnson 1.5 miles south of Hwy 6 on Gilbert Street in Iowa City. 90.00
Wapsipinicon River (Oxford Junct to Mississippi R) Scott Wapsi River Environmental Education Center : 31555 52nd Avenue, Dixon, Iowa 52745. Northeast of Dixon along the Wapsi River. And Sherman Park across the River in Clinton County 66.00
Skunk River (Coppock to Mississippi River) Des Moines Mac Coon Access is located five and one-half miles north of Lockridge just east of Willow Blvd. 65.00
Missouri River (Sioux City to Little Sioux) Harrison Chris Larsen Park: 1280 Larsen Park Road/Sioux City, IA. Located on the Sioux City riverfront along the Missouri River. Larsen Park offers 110 acres on the Sioux City Riverfront. Managed by the City of Sioux City. 64.00
Missouri River (Council Bluffs to state line) Fremont Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive/Council Bluffs, IA 51501 phone: 712-366-0220. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lake Manawa State Park has boat ramps on the Missouri River within the park. 61.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 3 Cass 60.90
Alice Wyth Lake Black Hawk north edge of Waterloo 60.00
Little Sioux River (Correctionville to Missouri R) Harrison Little Sioux Park, 2 miles SW of Correctionville, Woodberry County Conservation Board 57.00
Des Moines River (Stratford to Saylorville Lake) Polk The Highway 30 Access is in the middle of this river section and is located 3 miles west of Boone on the north side of Highway 30. 57.00
Cedar River (La Porte City to Cedar Rapids) Linn This stretch is located in Benton and Linn County. 56.00
Cedar River (Cedar Rapids to Moscow) Cedar This stretch is found in Linn and Cedar County. 55.00
Missouri River (Little Sioux to Council Bluffs) Pottawattamie Wilson Island State Recreation Area: 32801 Campground Lane/Missouri Valley, IA 51555 phone-712-642-2069. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wilson Island Recreation Area has 544 acres along the Missouri River near Missouri Valley Iowa. 53.00
Des Moines River (Saylorville to Red Rock) Marion A mid-section access point for this stretch of river is at the Pleasant Hill Boat Ramp. This ramp is located on SE Vandalia Drive immediately east of Highway 65. 50.00
Folsom Lake Mills 2 miles west of Glenwood 45.00
Prairie Park Fishery Linn 1.5 miles SSE of Cargill on Otis Road, along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids 42.00
Des Moines River (Farmington to Keokuk) Lee Redwing Access : 3941 Valley Road just west of Keokuk. 35.00
Cedar River (Moscow to Columbus Junction) Muscatine Saulsbury Bridge Recreational Area :•2007 Saulsbury Road, Muscatine, Iowa 52761 •From Highway 61 in Muscatine go 2.5 miles north on Mulberry Rd., then 4 miles west on Saulsbury Rd. 32.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 2 Cass 31.10
Swan Lake Johnson 4 miles Northwest of North Liberty 30.00
Iowa River (Columbus Junction to Mississippi R) Louisa Cappy Russell Access : West of Oakville 6444 County Road X-71, Oakville, IA 52646 30.00
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson This stretch is located in Johnson County. 29.00
Meyers Lake Black Hawk Evansdale 27.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 4 Cass 25.00
Iowa River (River Junction to Columbus Junction) Louisa River Forks Access : 1001 Main Street, Fredonia, IA 52738 24.00
Bartlett Lake Fremont ½ mile west of Bartlett 22.00
Burlington Street Dam Johnson On the Iowa River in Iowa City under the Burlington Street bridge 12.00
Seminole Valley Park Lakes Linn Along the Cedar River in Northwest Cedar Rapids 12.00
Big Lake (Including Gilbert's Pond) Pottawattamie North 25th street exit off interstate 29. Nash Blvd to Big Lake Road. Northeast Council Bluffs. 5.00
Ambroson Pit (north) Winnebago 3 1/2 miles north of Forest City 4.28
Iowa River Landing Pond Johnson Just south of I-80 at Iowa River Landing 1.90