"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

RX for Big Bass: March!

March, ". . . the third month of the year, having 31 days . . . ," Mr. Webster tells us in his Webster’s New World College Dictionary, in which--(being a phonetic [phoenetic] speller)--I often find myself buried, or is it burried? 

All of that may be as it will. The thing I set out to tell you today, is that March--among its other virtues--offers a wealth of activities for Hoosier outdoors folks.

To many Hoosier sports nuts it is the beginning of the end of hoops, or is it “whoops?” For others, it is the beginning for a multitude of summer sports, as in competition. This, of course, would include the former "All-American Pastime," professional baseball.

Still, when Hoosier nimrods get down to the nitty-gritty plus features of March, it means the awakening of largemouth bass after several months of a relatively sedate life.

It is not as though your reporter looks with disdain upon such species as suckers, crappies and many of the other denizens of our waters. No! Certainly not! Fishing for these species has its place in this old heart.

Still, “ . . . the largemouth bass is the darling of Hoosier anglers,” says Bill James, chief of the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Fisheries Section for many years.

“It (the largemouth) may not be the most caught (fish) species in Indiana,” James continues . . . “but it certainly is the most sought . . . . Almost everybody wants to catch bass.”

March, of course, has long been known as a month for catching “hog, as in humongous” largemouth bass. James explains that there may be even  more superlunkers caught in April, depending on how spring breaks.
James says the big bass syndrome is largely dependent upon the weather, especially air temperatures which warm shallow waters, which in turn prompts bass to think about nesting, even though we all know such critters do not have the capacity to reason. It is a built-in thing.

Doug Keller, Central Indiana fisheries biologist for the DFW, tells us that largemouth tend to nest when water temperatures reach the mid-60s. This of course means largemouth bass generally nest earlier in Southern Indiana than they do in the northern tier counties.

James points out that largemouth bass, like other members of the sunfish family, start developing egg sacs soon after spawning. 

When the following spring comes, a big bass can be carrying two egg sacs that may be an inch or more in diameter and five or six inches long. The larger the bass, the more eggs, a rule of thumb says.

Thus, if you want to catch a superlunker, the time to do it is before the fish spawns for two simple reasons. First of all, fish that have not fed heavily during the winter months, go on a feeding binge to prepare their bodies for spawning. Secondly, if a bass spawns before it is caught, the weight of the eggs make it heavier.

There is, of course, a gastronomic facet in catching bass--and other fish as well--while they are carrying egg sacs.  Fish eggs are delightful table fare and may be prepared in many ways. But give the eggs of catfish a wide berth, they can be trouble in the kitchen . . . like cluster bombs.

Take, for example, an episode from yesteryear when I camped with my family at Starve Hollow Lake near Vallonia  in Jackson County.
It was late afternoon and a Southside Indianapolis couple watched as I cleaned bluegills at the campground fish-cleaning station.

When I removed the entrails and cut off the heads of each scaled bluegill, I separated the yellow, finger-sized egg sacs from the offal and saved them right along with the slabs.

“What is that and why are you saving it?” the lady asked. “It doesn’t look like fish to me.”

They are eggs, I said, adding that they may be the tastiest part of the fish.
Realizing that I was dealing with a pair of unbelievers, I told the couple to stop at our tent in 20 minutes for a sample of fried caviar.

“If rich folks eat it, it’s good enough for me.” I told them.

By the time I finished frying the fish and egg sacs, the fried potatoes and baked beans were ready to go and the slaw was chilled nicely when it came out of the cooler to the picnic table.

The Indy couple saw us dining and came over to sample the bluegill eggs like finger food. It quickly became apparent that I had turned the unbelievers around 180 degrees. They thanked me profusely.

That could be the end of the story. But it isn’t.

Some years later a man and woman approached the booth I was manning at the Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show.

“Do you know who I am, you ornery puke?” the lady said.

Taken somewhat aback by this brash attack (most folks like me), but remembering the Starve Hollow incident, I countered: “Certainly . . . I cooked fish eggs for you at Starve Hollow Lake.”

“I’m glad you remember,” she said, growing more cordial, while explaining that her husband had brought some bullhead catfish and saved the eggs for frying.

She said it was like a young war when she started cooking the eggs in a fry pan, just the way I had cooked the bluegill eggs.

“I had to get out of there,” she said, they were exploding all over the place . . . it cost $1,500 to get the kitchen cleaned.”

We all had a good laugh and I explained that I told them to cook panfish and bass eggs. We parted friends.

Incidentally, it is interesting to observe bass and other nest-builders of the sunfish family as they fan out their rounded depressions on the bottom of  lakes, ponds and quiet waters.  They look somewhat like old auto tires on the bottom, but at times they are oval shaped rather than round.

The male bass--like the other members of the sunfish family--fans loose sand and other objects out of the nest. When the time is right, he herds a female to his pad. The female deposits her eggs in the nest and the male fertilizes them.

Having done her duty, the female leaves and the dutiful male takes up his vigil of guarding the eggs. When the eggs start hatching, the male guards the progeny, which may number in the thousands, with a tenacity and ferocity of a wild bull protecting his harem.

However, the urge to sate his appetite will one day send the doting father through the school of young, inhaling all that are swept into his bucket-like mouth . . . Cannibalism at its best, and from that time on, the young are on their own.

I once had a male bass a foot or so long guarding a nest two feet from the edge of my front-yard pond.

When mowing the grass I had to move the power mower, which must have loomed as large and noisy as a thrashing machine to the bass, just over the edge of the water.

But the bass held his ground--or water as it were--defiantly flipping his tail and pectoral fins, as his eyes seemed to say:  “Run that thing here and I’ll take a wheel off.”

Even with his “high-in-the-sky, apple-pie-hopes,” I doubted he could do it. I have found that the Bolen folks put pretty good stuff in their lawn mowers.

Still, I did not doubt that he would have given it “the old college try.”

Jeff Eaton, a tennis pro at the Carmel Racquet Club, displays proof positive that winter and early spring is a great time to catch big bass . . . Jeff nailed this 23-inch, 6-pounder in the warm spell just before the cold weather hit.
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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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