The silver sharkminnow (Osteochilus vittatus) is an agile silvery fish found from parts of China down through Southeast Asia. A member of the cyprinid family, this fish is also known as the bonylip barb. The fish has a sleek body like a shark yet tends to be small like a minnow. It also has a hard lip. I guess that explains the names. Yet despite the “sharkminnow” common name, this fish is not to be confused with the much larger black sharkminnow from the same family.
Silver sharkminnows can grow to a decent size and put up a good fight on light fishing tackle. Yet they are commonly encountered in small sizes that are probably more appropriate for micro fishing. Either way, they are a fun fish to catch. Kept by some in the aquarium hobby in the west, the silver sharkminnow is a fairly common food fish in its native range. I haven’t tasted a silver sharkminnow yet, but I do know that plenty of people eat them.
How to find and identify the silver sharkminnow
The silver sharminnow is an elongated fish with a silver to bronze body. It has a dark spot at the base of the tail, but so do a lot of other fish from the same part of the world. This fish grows up to 8 inches (20 cm). But I typically catch them in the 3 to 5 inch range in Cambodia. Other people I have fished with say this is an average size for these fish. I don’t think they were just trying to make me feel better either.
In a lot of ways the silver sharkminnow resembles the silver flying fox. Both fish have elongated silver bodies and dark spots at the base of their tails. To further add to the confusion, I have caught both species in the same areas at times. There some noticeable differences however. The silver shark minnow has black stripes and orange spots along its sides. The silver flying fox is, well, silver. Another similar fish is the beardlessless barb (cyclocheilichthys apogon). That fish has a much deeper body than the silver sharkminnow.
The native range of the silver sharkminnow stretches from Yunnan province in China down through Southeast Asia. It is widespread in Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s common in the Mekong, Salween and Chao Phraya watersheds. It might exist elsewhere too. I have seen and caught this fish in Cambodia where it is fairly easy to locate.
Silver sharkminnows can be found in both flowing and still waters. They seem to thrive equally as well in rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. That said, I have encountered more of these fish in small streams then any other environment. For example, they are pretty common in the main stream flowing out of West Baray in Siem Reap after the rainy season. There they can be found from the middle to bottom of the water column in or just off the main channel.
How to catch the silver sharkminnow
Silver sharkminnows can be caught with traditional tackle as long as you use a hook of the appropriate size. That means smaller hooks in the size 10 to 20 range. If you find some bigger fish, the kind of ultralight gear you use for trout would work fine. If you find smaller fish like I typically do, you may do better with micro fishing gear. It really just depends on the situation and your equipment.
Most of the silver sharkminnows I’ve caught were found around other species of fish such as croaking gouramis and walking perch. Normally I am using a micro fishing float rig. That consists of a small float, a small split shot and a micro fishing hook baited with a tiny piece of earthworm. I have noticed that the silver sharkminnows are usually a little bit further out from the edge. I’ve caught a lot of them in deeper water than the other micro species that are more commonly found right up against the bank.
Silver Sharkminnows don’t seem to be very aggressive biters. They usually tap the bait a few times then take it in. With a well balanced float fishing rig it is pretty easy to watch this all take place. If you were using a big buoyant float you might not even know you had a bite. I always catch these fish in off colored water. I haven’t been able to sight fish for silver sharkminnows anywhere.
Since silver sharkminnows are most often found in murky water it is also difficult to single them out. Targeting this species specifically would be difficult in most fishing situations. You basically just have to present your bait to an area where you think they may be. You will normally catch several different species along with the silver sharkminnows. That’s alright with me because I love to fish and see what different kinds of fish I can catch.