Bass have anger issues. We need to get these overgrown sunfish some counseling.
Yes, bass are sunfish, just like bluegill, crappie, pumpkinseed and all the other salad plate-shaped fishes. These fish share a condition: they respond to invasions of their personal space in socially inappropriate ways.
If sunfish had shoulders there’d be chips on them. Not Pringles. Chips of wood, and they’d demand you make a choice: knock it off and face the consequences or get out of their face, pronto!
Sunfish are fighters, not lovers. That’s why we love them so.
Attitude makes these fish so much fun to catch. They feed aggressively, and sometimes, especially with largemouth, the catching isn’t the result of a hungry fish, but an angry one.
I’m no bass psychologist and it’s foolish to anthropomorphize them, but if you spend much time chasing these fish, you’re going to see a lot of bullying-like behavior, such as bass chomping down on your fly like the family pit bull on some sketchy burglar climbing in the living room window at 3 a.m.
This spring as I pursued carp with my fly rod I had quite a bit more success on bass. The lake I fish has a high bank along one shoreline and the clear water shimmered like a gin and tonic, so I usually had a good view of who and what was chasing my fly.
In one instance I dragged an olive crawdad pattern across a sandy bottom. The fly drew the interest of a carp shaped like a puffy loaf of French bread. As the fish moseyed toward my fly its directness seemed to rouse the interest of a largemouth about half the carp’s size that had been lounging in nearby weeds.
The bass cruised out of the weeds, trailing just behind the carp in the same fashion my setter Jade sometimes trails my cat, Laney, when she’s chasing a ball. And just like Jade following Laney, when the carp neared the target, that bass swooped in ahead, flared its gills and sucked up that fly.
I didn’t set the hook hoping the bass might spit it out and the carp wouldn’t be so full of itself to not give the fly a taste as well. Unfortunately, the bass, a nice 3-pound football, hooked itself. In the commotion of landing and releasing the largemouth, the carp took its business elsewhere.
In another instance on that high bank, I spooked off a couple of carp that had been feeding near shore: either my weighted Woolly Bugger hit the water too hard, or the nervous carp got a glimpse of my fly rod flashing in the morning sun. When you’re fishing for them, carp are remarkably nervous.
In my failed carp efforts I’d caught a glimpse of another football, also hanging out in a patch of weeds it obviously called home. Each time a fish finned near, that bass roared out of the weeds and chased it off.
Think Clint Eastwood’s “Get off my lawn” speech in “Gran Torino.”
I needed a consolation prize so I shot the Woolly Bugger out along the edge of the largemouth’s weedy abode. The bass edged out, flaring its gills as the fly swam past, but didn’t eat. I tried another cast and this time the bass didn’t bother.
I cut off the Bugger and tied on a white Zonker that had incited attacks from bass in the past. As I stripped it past the weed bed the bass raced out and smashed it. I had to slide down the bank on my butt, yet still managed to lip the toady largemouth.
There’s not much delicacy when it comes to bass. I love sipping trout as much as the next guy, but there’s nothing quite as thrilling as a poorly adjusted largemouth that has decided your fly must die.
Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.
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