The trouble with March, one of my older outdoors
mentors used to say, is that the hunting seasons are over an the fishing
seasons haven’t arrived.
What the late William Branard “Jack” Cain was
saying was that there wasn’t much to do in March, except to wait for spring-like
I went along with Jack’s thinking until one year
on Easter Sunday (it must have been in the late 1930s) Southern Indiana
was blessed with a bright, beautiful day with temperatures in the 50s.
My dad (the late Jacob W. Scifres) was talking
with fellow bass fishermen, the late Alton Cain and the late Dick Cartright
in downtown Crothersville. I, about 12 years old, was an interested listener.
One of the men suggested that (regardless of the
fact that it still was March) bass could bite on such a pretty day, adding
that he thought he would get his bait-casting outfit, some artificial lures,
and head for the Muscatatuck River’s east fork two miles south of the town.
To shorten an otherwise lengthy story, early in
the afternoon the four of us were walking the banks and whipping known
bass holes of the Old Muscatatuck to a rich, creamy lather with artificial
For two or three hours our efforts went for naught.
As we neared U.S. 31 (the north-south highway that bisected our hometown)
somebody suggested that we probably should give up on the bass.
First, though, someone else suggested that we
probably should mosey down to a recently installed dam of huge chunks of
limestone in the river just west of the Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way,
if for no other reason that to see how he dam builder had ruined the river.
We could hear the Muscatatuck roaring over the
rocks long before we could see the dam, and as we stood on in awe of the
frothy water cascading over the rocks, the three men obviously were not
thinking of fishing.
Still, inquisitive kid that I was, I kept wondering
if there could be bass in that wild water below the dam . . . and if they
might hit an artificial lure.
Picking my way carefully over the rocks, I made
it to a flat rock a foot above the rushing water and cast my lure (a Number
Three Hawaaian Wiggler with red and white skirt) into the swift water and
swimming it back just below the surface.
The older men seemed to see my efforts as the
whims of a kid--and perhaps they were. But when a fish missed my lure as
I lifted it out of the water on the third or fourth cast, and I “wabashed”
a nice bass onto the rocks on the next cast, my fellow anglers wasted little
time in finding spots to fish.
As the sun sank on that Easter Sunday, we headed
back to town with a four-angler limit of 24 bass (six each), while vowing
to keep this hot fishing hole secret. We had caught and released many more
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 and March is the time to get started.
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
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 for many years, 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
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
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 in the spring 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 filets
“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 home 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. The nests
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.”