LeBlanc: Fish are not mild mannered animals
Anglers run into all size, shape and species of fish. And like all of God’s creatures, fish have some type of defensive tools that enables them to survive. For some species, their coloring enables them to blend in to the background and not be seen by a potential predator.
In the aquatic, critters many have spines in their fins that will stick and deter a potential enemy. Also we run into all temperaments in the critters with which we come into contact; some are aggressive, but most fear man and will escape if possible.
Then there are the sharks and barracudas of the world. These saltwater predators have attacked enough people in the past to make many jumpy, especially when one sees the distinctive dorsal fin of a shark break the surface of the water.
The movie Jaws did not do much to endear sharks to the general population either, but let me tell you about a fish that many would never think is one of the most aggressive, nasty tempered, unpredictable critters in the animal kingdom. That is a black bass.
They are at times ravenous eaters. It is not uncommon for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists to catch black bass in their surveys that are so gorged with small fish that a tail will be hanging out of their mouth because they can swallow no more, but still keep trying. Bass will sometime stay stationary around structures and for no apparent reason attack some life form placidly swimming by minding its own business.
A black bass will eat almost anything that will fit in their mouth. We are truly lucky that they get no larger than they do or we might be added to their list of eatables. The feeding habits change with its size. Young bass mainly feed in microscopic animals (plankton). Fingerling bass eat insect and small fish, and adult bass will eat whatever is available including fish, crawfish, frogs, salamanders, snakes, mice, turtles and even birds.
Growth rates are highly variable with differences attributed mainly to their food supply and length of growing season. By age two or three, females grow much faster than male bass. At five years of age, females may be twice the weight of males. The oldest bass from Florida whose age has been determined by fisheries biologist was sixteen years of age.
Pound for pound, black bass can be one of the most aggressive fish to be found and that is why they are such a sought after game fish. When hooked, they will fight and battle the angler, and believe me it is touch and go as to who will win that battle, and the battle is never over until the bass is landed and until it is landed no angler can count on adding it to his creel.
Another challenge an angler after bass faces is the difference in technique that must be used under all different times of the year. During the spawn, the angler is searching the shallows looking for nests and most likely sight fishing. A lure will be run past the fish in an attempt to aggravate them into striking, other times they will be in the shade of a dock or some other object. At other times they will be deep on submerged structures, deadfalls, brush piles, pond dams that afford cover so they can lurk and pounce when an unsuspecting target swims by.
I remember once in the summer, guide Wayne Whitehead and I were fishing with Texas rigged worms and Wayne said to work them slow across the bottom so that is what I was doing. He got a strike and was doing battle with a nice bass so I put down my rod and took up the landing net. After he finally got the bass into range I netted it then picked up my rod. I had a bass hooked; I guess he was right when he said work it slow and forgotten and laying still worked for me.
As far as dangerous looking freshwater fish, in the warm waters where we live, would have to go on the top of my list is a gar fish. There are five different species of gars and undoubtedly the alligator gar is the most intimidating looking. Although they all have teeth, I have never heard of anyone being bitten by a gar, except when someone is stupid enough to stick their fingers in their mouth trying to retrieve a hook. That is one of those things that most anglers will only do once.
Gars also have scales that are more like armor plating than the scales on most fish. In the bayous of the coastal marshes when we use to catch them on a trot line we would normally use a .22 rifle or a hatchet to kill them before trying to get them off of the hook. More times than not a big gar would tear up a good trot line before you had a chance to run the line and it was not unusual to catch a gar three or four feet long. Yet as intimidating as these fish look they are no where as aggressive as a black bass.