Volume 14, Issue 21 ~ May 25 - May 31, 2006

The Sporting Life

by Dennis Doyle

The Gamest Fish that Swims

Black bass is ticket to adventure

I still recall one of the first significant fish of my youth. The experience fueled my hopes and passion for fishing long afterward. It happened at a quiet, narrow inlet off of a lake, not far from where we lived.

Having cast a newly purchased plug as far as my meager spin gear and my skinny, 14-year-old body would permit, I had made just two or three turns of the reel handle when a vicious strike nearly tore the rod from my hands. Clutching at the cork grip and reel handle, I remember stumbling back away from the steep, sloping bank that led to the water. My battered, solid-glass rod was arched into the handle. My breath was locked in my chest.

A large fish with white and red flaring gills rose up vertically in the water in front of me, shaking and thrashing, throwing gouts of water. I clearly recall that thick body, half out of the water, violent and suspended in time and space, until at last the sound of the lure whistling past my ear and my rod, snapping back reflexively, ended the moment. My hands shaking, I became slowly aware that I had just met my first, big black bass. I desperately wanted a rematch.

Are you interested in pursuing a strong, fierce fish that can be found in just about any sized body of reasonably fresh water in Maryland? A fish that is just as content to swim in a weedy, suburban pond as a secluded, pristine lake or river? A vigorous fighter eager to strike any bait or lure that intrudes into its domain? Then the black bass is definitely your ticket to adventure.

“I consider him inch for inch and pound for pound the gamest fish that swims.” These words were first written about the black bass by Dr. James Henshall over 125 years ago. Since that time, this fish has become the most widely distributed and popular freshwater game fish in America. It is certainly one of the most popular in Maryland. An extremely aggressive species, it grows quickly, feeding voraciously on a wide spectrum of aquatic life.

The black bass, interestingly enough, is not a bass at all but the biggest member of the sunfish family. There are two main species, the largemouth and the smallmouth. Both have a dark green back that gradually softens into a silvery, pearl color on their stomach.

They are differentiated by the fact that the largemouth has a heavy, dark lateral line running the length of its body and an upper jaw line that extends past the end of its eye. It reaches about 10 pounds in Maryland environments. The smallmouth has irregular vertical bars running the length of its sides and a jaw line that extends only to the eye, not past. It averages about two-thirds the size of the largemouth.

They are occasionally found in the same waters, but the largemouth prefers warm, non-flowing impoundments, while the smallmouth likes colder running water. It has long been a matter of serious contention among bass fisherman which is the superior fish. At the risk of offending one group or the other, I will speak of both species as one.

The smashing strike of the bass is what endears the fish to me, and probably to most fishermen. That is usually followed by a series of muscular runs toward cover, gill-rattling jumps and frothy tantrums all the way to the net. This fish does not go gently into anyone’s possession.

They can be pursued with all types of tackle and also on just about every variety of live bait. How can you not love such an egalitarian fish?

That is not to say they are pushovers. They grow quickly, but they grow wise quickly as well. The larger fish can be incredibly elusive and difficult to catch. But that lends the game that much more challenge.

The table quality of this species is also quite good. A firm, white, flaky flesh, bass may be prepared in a wide variety of ways, but older fish readily pick up a weedy, off-tasting flavor from the water. I consider this a benefit, for it encourages anglers to release the larger fish to fight another day. To paraphrase the words of an exceptionally cogent angler from a previous generation, Lee Wulff, these spirited fish are much too valuable to enjoy only once.

Fish Are Biting

Fishing in the mid-Bay continues to be maddeningly inconsistent. There have been pods of good fish, both rockfish and perch, found by persistent anglers, but the fish move day to day and are elusive. Whether due to the May worm hatch, seasonal instability or just contrary fish is up for debate. Warmer weather may bring more predictable patterns. For now, better fishing means heading south. On a positive note, the cool May weather has kept weed growth down in the lakes and ponds, making bass and bluegill unusually accessible.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.