The bream never saw it coming. Guarding its bed, the hand-sized fish swam in circles until a flash of green, black and white burst onto the shallows. Engulfing the bream with one strike and pushing a foot high wall of water was a massive largemouth bass. Nearly as round as it was long, the lunker barely missed beaching itself through sheer momentum, reminding me of iconic footage of orca whales savaging seals.
Although this encounter was in a neighborhood pond, it was as wild, untamed and intense as anything I had seen fishing in Mexico, Venezuela and Spain’s remote Segra River. This was a game fish at its raw, primal best.
Despite the fact these kinds of interactions occur daily in virtually every fresh water body in North America, the image of the largemouth bass has been watered down. In fact it has been rendered feeble with the public now far more interested in professional bass anglers than the bass. I have much respect for bass pros but my deepest admiration is for the fish themselves.
The public and to some extent the fishing industry have forgotten just what an effective, voracious, hardcore predator the largemouth bass happens to be. These fish will literally attack and kill anything that can fit in their mouths. Biologists say it all hinges on the “gape width” factor.
That according to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Biologist Craig Bonds is how far bass can open their mouths.
“If they can fit it in their mouths, they will attack it and over the years I have seen impressive evidence of this,” Bonds said.
As a graduate student, he conducted a study examining bass dietary habits using clear plastic tubes that could be inserted through the mouth, worked into the stomach and used to extract the contents without hurting the fish.
“I found everything from snakes to small turtles, a baby duck and all kinds of fish from sunfish to other bass.”
Plastic fishing lures were a fairly common item and once he found a bunch of worms of the exact same color and length in one bass.
“I don’t know if someone dropped over a whole bag of worms but this bass had a bunch of them in its stomach all the same color and size. They are opportunistic predators and that shows they will eat pretty much anything.”
Bonds said he once observed a bass leaping from the water in at attempt to catch a dragonfly hovering over the surface.
“They are pretty vicious and very determined,” he said.
As a youngster, this was the kind of behavior that attracted me to bass to begin with. I remember walking into a tackle shop inside an old Gibson’s store here in Orange and seeing a topwater that mimicked a mouse. I remember thinking how cool it was that a bass might attack a mouse or squirrel swimming across the gully down the street.
Early outdoors television programming with greats like Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin highlighted this very essence of the largemouth’s predator accomplishments.
I remember watching Dance catch a 12-pounder on gigantic live bait fished in Florida and him saying something to the effect that “if these fish grew to 100 pounds you would not be able to swim anywhere in the South.”
Contrast that to a show I watched recently where the host talked about the bass being a very delicate fish and how they were so precious and beautiful. Jimmy Houston kisses the bass he catches before releasing them but I thought this guy was going to hug his too.
I want my bass mean, ornery and ready to destroy crankbaits, spinners and worms. I want dangerous, not delicate. Who needs “A River Runs Through It” when you can experience your very own “Texas Topwater Massacre”? Forget precious, bass are powerful.
The pros I have had the pleasure of sharing a boat with see largemouth in this light and it is a big part of what fuels their desire to pursue them. From Kevin Van Dam to Judy Wong to Alton Jones, they all recognize the opportunistic nature of bass and that “gape width” can factor into the process of eliminating small fish.
Lures you see on the market filter down from what the pros use. The reason super-sized swimbaits and bulky creature baits are in vogue is because the best anglers in the world know a giant bass has no problem going after a giant bait.
That is a signal of an awakening in the angling community that bass are no longer just bumper sticker fodder but are apex predators in their environment. They are to stock tanks and streams what great white sharks are to the ocean. They are to sunfish what cougars are to deer and when they gather in schools, they brutalize shad like a pride of lions among wildebeests.
It is time we take back bass from the touchy-feely types and recognize them for what they are.
Chester Moore, Jr.