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Biting off more than you can swallow

This Lake Belle Taine smallmouth bass, which measured just over 20-inches, was simply too greedy for it's own good. The fish had a crappie, which was nearly half the length of the bass and ultimately caused the predator's mortality, stuck in its mouth. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

With so many crystal clear lakes in the Park Rapids area, anglers often insist on light tackle for most species. This includes smaller diameter fishing line, down-sized presentations and an attitude that you have to offer smaller portions to get the fish to bite.

Remember, angling is never all or nothing. Sometimes various fish exhibit behaviors that range from one end of the spectrum to the other, since they are animals and their actions can be somewhat hard to predict. This is especially true during August, as cool nights cause the water temperature to gradually decline, forcing the fish into a period of transition. Keep in mind that fish cannot make educated decisions, they can only react to environmental changes. Water temperature that drops in the late evening, then rises from sunrise to sunset, sometimes ranging in a span of several degrees on the surface is undoubtedly an ecological shift that affects fish behavior.

The ultimate goal of fishing is to cause a reaction, either to feed or angrily attack. Yet, it's actually not very common that fish attack something out of anger. It's more likely that there is an instinct to feed.

In the world of walleye, it's common to coerce the species with live or artificial baits that emulate forage readily available in their environment and the fish are accustomed to eating. That still doesn't explain why nightcrawlers are a valuable bait to use, since I've never seen a school of live nightcrawlers swim past the boat.

However, for species like bass, northern pike and muskies, odd lures sometimes cause the reaction that eventually puts a fish in the net. Think about a buzz-bait for instance. Are the fish striking it because constant surface disruption makes them angry or do they mistake the sound, motion, profile or particular color of the bait for something that is naturally available as food in their environment?

While on a guide trip last week, my clients noticed something floating on the surface. From a distance it appeared to be a large fish, though my initial assumption was a white sucker, since that species traditionally experiences some mortality during late summer. The fish, which had died quite recently, was actually a trophy caliber smallmouth bass measuring 20 1/4-inches. The cause of death was simple to decipher, a crappie of approximately 10-inches was lodged in it's throat.

So did that big smallmouth bass actually think it could swallow such a large meal? Ironically the fish already had quite a plump belly and I couldn't imagine what the fish would've looked like had it actually swallowed the crappie. This brings up the idea that small sized baits for all species of fish, though valuable at times, don't cause the commotion to get attention like large baits. And if you provide the right combination, one of those larger species of fish might even try to grab onto something larger than they should. Just ask all the muskie anglers who have caught giant bass on massive muskie lures.