The Redbreast Kurper, or Redbreast Tilapia (referred to as a Red Breast) is a standard food source for bass in the areas of southern Africa that have the climate to produce trophy bass. This species is on the bass’ menu list in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KZN and Transkei, and in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Redbreast has been introduced into a number of dams and lakes as a means of weed control because they can consume large amounts of vegetation and algae.
See the distribution map above.
The Redbreast Kurper, like the Vleikurper, is part of the tilapia family that occurs commonly throughout Africa. Redbreast Kurper do extremely well in dams with abundant vegetation, but differs from the Vleikurper in colouring and the fact that it is not a maternal mouth brooder. The Redbreast does not survive cold winters and needs warmer year-round temperatures than the other baitfish species covered so far. It prefers water between 24 and 32 degree Celsius and quickly disappears from dams where the water temperature drops into the teens in winter.
Redbreast Kurper can easily be caught using earthworm, a small curly tail grub, a small spinner, small floating minnow imitations and is sometimes caught on crankbaits aimed at bass. On light tackle a big Redbreast can give you a fantastic fight, and there are many anglers that target them as a species. It is a principal aquaculture species for the following reasons:
- Can withstand poor water quality and low oxygen levels.
- Can withstand variable water temperatures as long as it does not get too cold.
- Wide diet variety of plant matter, algae, worms, detritus, commercial pellets, Lemna (duckweed) and Water Lettuce.
- Good growth rates and food conversion ratios.
- Good polyculture possibilities with other species.
- Disease resistant
- Excellent taste and texture
Most bass fisherman know how a Redbreast Kurper looks, but have not studied them sufficiently to understand their behaviour and how we need to fish imitations of them to attract the attentions of trophy bass. This article is aimed at providing a deeper insight into the Redbreast Kurper as a bass prey fish specie.
The colours of the Redbreast can range from silver to olive-green, with the red breast and stomach area clearly visible when the water temperature is in the ideal range and the fish is not under stress. They can have up to nine vertical stripes of a darker green or black. These stripes becomes less distinguished as the fish get bigger, but are clearly visible in smaller individuals (the size that bass eat) and together with the red colour of the breast area act as a trigger point for bass. The fins have red outlines and the underside is a lovely dark red colour. The part of the lower body that is not red is white that then blends into the green back. The Redbreast is slightly more slender than the Vlei, but when it stresses and loses most of its colour, you will have to look twice to distinguish it from the Vlei. The quickest way to tell them apart is to hold it in your hand and watch what it does. A Vlei lies motionless, while the Redbreast will turn its body and straighten all its fins and also “shivers”. It almost looks like it goes into a spasm. This is its last defence mechanism to convince a predator not to eat it. For this reason bass always hits a Redbreast from the front and swallows it head first. Bass sometimes get it wrong and there have been many reports of bass that have died with a too large Redbreast that managed to lodge its back fin into the bass’ throat. When looking at them in the water you can recognise them by their dark greenish colour, distinctive bars or stripes along the sides, the white belly and of course the distinctive red coloured breast area. When looking at them in the water from a boat you can easily distinguish them from other kurper by the white underside and fins that are clearly visible.
The Redbreast’s diet is made up of aquatic invertebrates, vegetation, water plants and occasionally small fish. It also eats lots of vegetation which forms the bulk of its diet and consists of a wide variety of plant matter and algae. They eat plants aggressively and the quickest way to locate schools of Redbreast is to watch all the vegetation sticking out above the water surface and to look for short sharp movements of the plants caused by the Redbreast shaking it below the surface. The accompanying picture shows what a school of Redbreast does to Water Lettuce. They also eat whatever else they can find, including worms, insects, frogs, small fish etc. The Redbreast does not survive for long in dams that have no vegetation. The Redbreast is not able to survive in dams where the vegetation is killed off during cold winters.
The South African angling record weight is 1.845kg. They live for approximately seven years and have been known to grow up to lengths of close to 50 centimetres and there is no difference in size between the male and female. In captivity however they can attain weights of up to 2.5 kilograms. For the purposes of being a bass prey fish, we would mainly focus on sizes between 10 and 13 cm (4 and 5 inches).
Redbreast Kurper enjoy water from shallow depths to water of 8 meters deep, and cover is essential. If the cover is not vegetation, then it must be covered with algae. Schools of bigger Redbreast Kurper enjoy standing timber with strings of algae. For some reason you will see Redbreasts of all sizes in the same area, while in most other species fish of similar size stick together, but with the Redbreast it seems like they don’t really care. Redbreast Kurper occur in a widely diverse habitat - they favour areas where plant cover exists along the edges of rivers, dams, lakes or swamps, and they love to enter newly flooded areas and feed on the vegetation and organisms now covered by the water. They relate to structure but will feed from the bottom to the top of the water column. A lot of Redbreasts get caught on surface lures, especially where there is standing timber. They are comfortable in fresh and brackish water and can tolerate water with a very high salt content. They prefer standing or slow-flowing water and thrive in dams. They will relate to any kind of structure that has got plant or filamentous algae growths and this includes areas with vegetation, trees, lay downs, man made structures and launch ramps. This is almost exactly the same as for the Vleikurper, except that you will find the Redbreast in much deeper water as well. This is the “go to” imitation if you fish big bass lakes and your target structure is deep water trees and grass. The deep grass found in dams like Driekoppies is a perfect example of the perfect structure to target using a Redbreast imitation. Use a Texas rig to weight you imitation in deepwater and hop it on the bottom and bounce it off the structure.
The Redbreast is unique in that it is the only tilapia species that is not a maternal mouth brooder. Instead, the eggs and subsequent young are guarded on a rock or in a crater by both parents. These craters can be huge - up to a meter by a meter in extent - and can be seen all along the shorelines where they breed.
The breeding months are mostly from November to March but can be longer in the northern parts of South Africa, and in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The size of baitfish that we try to imitate as a bass prey fish is however not sexually mature yet, so its breeding habits are of little use apart from the fact that these smaller Redbreasts will hang out in the same areas - and so will the bass!
Recent Research Findings
The Redbreast is a food source for bass from the time they are born to the time they reach about 15 – 20cm, depending of course on the size of the bass in the dam. A big bass likes a big meal and a Redbreast of 15cm is a proper meal – such a fish lives in the same sort of structure as a big bass, is present in abundance and is a healthy, high protein meal. In the northern regions such Redbreasts form the bulk of a big bass’ diet. In addition the distinctive markings such as the contrast between the white belly, the red throat area, the dark green back and the dark to black bars act as a trigger for bass. In fact, bass respond very positively to these triggers, even in water where the Redbreast does not occur - I know of many anglers that effectively fish Redbreast imitations even in the southern part of the country. The trick is to enhance the trigger by bringing out the contrast in your imitation.
The Redbreast relates to structure with plant or algae growth and moves from deep to shallow depending on water temperature and water clarity. The clearer the water and the deeper the plant growth, the deeper they will go. When they are in the shallows you will quickly identify their position based on plant movements. Fishing a Redbreast imitation in vegetation or structure will lead to big bites.
Bass often herd schools of Redbreast into bays where they aggressively feed on them. Bigger Redbreasts like to relate to standing timber where they eat the algae growing on the timber but also attack small bait fish or anything artificial that ventures too close. A big bass will use these structures as ambush points and always hit the Redbreast head first, using the red markings to sure it ambushes from the correct side. Strikes are aggressive to ensure that they hold and swallow the Redbreast correctly to prevent the Redbreast becoming stuck in their throats.
Next time you go to a big fish dam or go on your bass fishing holiday to Zimbabwe or Mozambique, make sure you imitate the bass’ major food source in a way that triggers it into striking.
Fish any vegetation by dropping your imitation into the pockets. Also weight your imitation and fish trees (shallow to deep) by slowly moving it until you get to a branch, and then give it a sharp jerk to bounce it off the wood. Very few decent size bass in an ambush position will reject a Redbreast when it suddenly appears in front of them with all its triggers. Make sure your imitation shows the dark bars along the sides, the red breast, the white belly and the darker back that act as triggers for the bass, especially when they are lying inside structure and have a limited view.
Remember – a smaller bass is not very fussy, but if you want to trigger a big bite consistently, do everything you can to put the odds in your favour. Don’t only match the hatch with the bait you choose, but also by the way you fish it and where you fish it.