I came home from fishing and thought about writing this, and then when I read Dave’s blog about fish being shallow
it really tied in with what I had experienced.
My wife and I fished a specific lake for the first time on Saturday that I’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t had the opportunity, as it is a little over an hour from where I live. It is a medium sized Front Range lake with very little information online regarding structure or cover, and no lake maps that I can find. The lake has an embankment around most of the shoreline, with large rocks that go down below the waterline, like a dam. My main quarry for the day was pike, though there are also trout, bass, and pan fish. With that in mind, I brought swimbaits, spoons, minnows, and worms. Since my wife and I both have second rod stamps, I wanted to give a variety of baits/lures and presentations.
We got the lake around 2:30, I found an outcropping that gave us a comfortable place to sit and I hoped gave some structure to attract fish. I cast a worm out on the bottom as far as I could. I then set up a minnow under a bobber which I moved around: sometimes out in front of us, sometimes along the bank. We then both tossed different lures, from Kastmasters and Luhr Jenson spoons to tubes and big swimbaits. We both got to spend time practicing using a baitcaster reel, which is another story (she picked it up right away and didn't get any backlashes…).
The visibility was about 2 feet, so we could see the rocks under the waterline, but not much further out than that. From the way the sinkers and spoons sank, it seemed the lake dropped off in depth fairly quickly, but seemed to be a bathtub with very little structure. After a couple of hours a group of people moved off of a spot about a quarter of a way around the shoreline I wanted to try. As we walked along the path I watched the water along the rocks, and started seeing more fish. Some baby bass, some sunfish, a couple bigger bass.
The new spot was a large outcropping that created a sort of small bay on either side of it. As we came up to it, we spotted a lot more fish in the rocks along the shore. Bass, sunfish, and even small perch were all hugging the rocks. Then we started seeing bigger bass moving along the rocks, maybe up to 15”. I decided to sight fish the bass, so I put a worm under the bobber and would cast out in front and bring the worm back in front of the bass. I ended up catching one ok size fish (not sure, didn't measure, maybe 14”) and had another gently take the worm but didn't get the hookset. The fish were sluggish, and were not going out of their way to feed, but would take something put right in front of them. All of this was between 6” and at most 24” of water and no more than a foot and a half out, all in the rocks.
As I was attempting to get the bait in front of another fish, I caught site of the tail end of a much bigger fish that was cruising about two feet out in front of the rocks. As the fish swam by, everything in the rocks, including the larger bass, all dove for cover. I realized with excitement that it was the tail end of a pike, grabbed the bait caster, and started casting out the large spoon that was on it.
While I was casting out multiple times to no avail, I really started thinking about the dynamics of the lake. Here is where I am getting to the point of my long story! I have fished many ponds and lakes where the bass is the top predator in the lake, and can be found throughout the lake at different depths, different distances from shore, and in different cover. Sometimes they sit and wait, sometimes they cruise the edge of cover. Sometimes they sit suspended.
In this lake, however, the bass weren't the top predator. There was a much larger, more aggressive fish that pushed even bass that would be fearless in another lake into the rocks along the water’s edge. Being off of cover meant being a meal. And since cover is hard to come by in the bathtub muddy bottom type of reservoir we see most often along the Front Range, it pushed everything that doesn't like being in depressions at the bottom (like catfish and larger perch) into, at most, a two foot by two foot wide band along the shore. It made me really think about how many things affect the dynamics of where fish are in a lake.
I fished this lake like I would have any other lake with bass and trout, but the added dimension of pike completely changed the way I needed to think about the dynamics. Since there aren't any reeds or submerged trees (that I could see), I am really curious where the big bass hang out and what their interactions are with the pike. Every time I go out I realize how much more I need to learn.
I know I always try to think about structure and cover when I'm fishing, but forget that there's a lot more to think about. I'd never thought about food webs when fishing, but I'm sure the fish do, a lot. :-) Thanks for the new viewpoint David.
Great post David and so very very true! I have come to realize there are 3 different types of anglers. 1) The person that knows nothing to very little. Everything is very basic to them. Line, bait and wait. 2) The ever learner. This is the most common angler. Learns some thing new every time he/she goes out, but at times, feels overwhelmed with knowledge and ends up getting lost trying to figure out how to fish. 3) The pro. Looks at a lake, runs through a checklist in there head and before they reach the end of the checklist, fish on!
There's not a whole lot in the literature about the interactions between Largemouth and Pike since their ranges don't overlap that much. A recent paper by Soupir et al. (2000) says "Although largemouth bass were observed in the diet of northern pike, largemouth bass apparently did not prey on northern pike...Percent resource overlap values were biologically significant (greater than 60%) during at least one season in each sympatric assemblage, suggesting some diet overlap."
Another paper by Wahl et al. (2012), however, indicates that largemouth bass present a predation threat to immature muskellunge. "Predator-acclimated esocids, however, spent more time in the vegetation, indicating that exposure to predators may alter some behaviors."
Lots of other diet an population studies reach differing conclusions. As usual, fish behavior is largely context-specific, and is governed by things like cover availability and quality, average water temperature, turbidity, and other limnological factors.
If you're curious about anything having to do with fisheries, go to your local library and use google scholar or Web of Science to find, download, and print off articles on the subject. You can also go to the webpages of scientific societies and peer-reviewed journals like the CANADIAN JOURNAL OF FISHERIES AND AQUATIC SCIENCES or North American Journal of Fisheries Management, or the American Fisheries Society.
Also, my search through the lit was quick, a prolonged search or an email to a local fisheries manager ought to turn up more relevant journal articles.
Thanks for the info brookie. Slippery slope, now I'm looking for info on intereaction between trout (stockers) and pass, pike, walleye, etc. to get an idea of how to better fish our front range reservoirs. I couldn't agree with David more, I have A LOT more to learn. Just gotta keep fishing and reading and fishing.
thank you for not naming the lake, I know exactly what lake it is, if you want some pointers on it if you want to hit it again shoot me an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
opencage and alanlf thanks for the comments!
brookie - thanks for all the info! I love finding and reading papers, but so many of them are in online libraries that will only show the abstract. I miss having access to the scholarly library databases. Gonna be starting school again soon though...
Dangly - I don't like it when I see my ponds being blasted so I am careful not to blast other peoples ponds (: And thank you, I will take you up on that if I have the opportunity to get back up that way!