The Usual Suspects
Blog by: Lloyd Tackitt 11/20/2017
There are four of them, four of the usual suspects that is. The four species of fish I catch most often in the Brazos. There are other species of fish than these in the river, and more varieties of these four, but these are the big four - the Brazos Slam - if you will. I have occasionally caught all four of them in the same day, sometimes from the same fishing spot. Yesterday I caught three of them, the fourth I added from a previous day's fishing so as to round out the crew.
Aplodinotus Grunniens, Freshwater Drum, Gaspergou, Croaker - See first photo below for one of the Drum I caught yesterday. These are hard fighters. They go low when they fight, they drive their heads down and hug the bottom with fierceness, they pull sideways and tear off in strong surges, especially as they get close to you. Considered excellent table fare by many people, these are tenacious fighters that are always a treat to catch. Average size of the ones I catch is about six pounds, like this one pictured.
Drum make a drumming sound when mating, sometimes a croaking sound when you pull them out of the water. I've read - and would love to experience - that if you are over a Drum mating area on a calm day in an aluminum boat you can hear the males make the drumming sound that allures the females. I bet that made a few people's hair stand up on more than one night.
Lepomos Microlophus, Red Ear Sunfish, Shell Cracker, Chinquapin - See second photo below for one of the Red Ears I caught yesterday. This may be the largest of the sunfishes. The ones I catch tend to be in the 10" to 11" range with thick bodies. They fight like all of the Bream family fight, like the third monkey on the Ark's ramp and it's starting to rain. That kind of fight. These fighters use every bit of the water column, they fight high, they fight low and they fight in between. They sometimes even go aerial. They fight with that side to side motion that puts their entire body surface against the water between you and them and they fight all the way to you, while you are removing the hook and then they flip water in your face as they swim off on release. Excellent table fare, the best tasting fish in warm water in my opinion.
They are called Shell Crackers because they have two hard plates in their mouth that they can use to squeeze and crack small mussel shells. Look at the background of the catfish photo, see all those little open mussel shells? The entire river bed is covered in them. My guess is that the mussels don't die a natural death at that early age, but these Shell Crackers are eating them. And Raccoons too, but mostly the Red Ears.
Micropterus Salmoides, Largemouth Bass, Black Bass, Bucket Mouth - See third photo below for one I caught Sunday. I know a reliable report of a 14 pounder being pulled from the river, and I've caught quite a few in the 8 to 10 pound range myself, with one that went 12 pounds - the 4 to 6 pound range seems to be the average of the large ones, as this one pictured is. These need no introduction, everyone that fishes knows about the LMB, arguably the favorite fresh water game fish in North America. They are an ambush style apex predator with a huge mouth for sucking in food. They will attack anything. They have been transplanted all over the USA and even in Italy and Japan where catching them is a big thing also. As table fare they are pretty far down the list. Flavor wise they are okay but the texture is soft. They fight magnificently hard for a few moments but tire quickly. When first hooked they often go completely aerobatic, dancing on their tails out of the water, shaking their heads from side to side. Many a great photo of them can be found doing that. Then they settle down to hard surges up and down the river, pulling with a power that makes you wonder if they are going to get the rod out of your hands. Once they tire they come to you peacefully.
These are voracious feeders, with their top favorite food being Bream. Large Bream used as bait while still lively can catch you a large Bass. Bass won't look at a dead Bream but are always fascinated by the live ones. Even when the Bass refuse to eat they will follow the Bream everywhere they go on your line - often looking like they are herding the Bream back and forth.
Ictalurus Punctatus, Channel Catfish. Oddly they don't seem to have as many alternate names as the three above, about the only thing they get called is "Channel Cat". Extraordinary fighters, these fish put up a fight that is a total blast. They roll like an alligator, twisting and turning and rolling and moving back and forth as rapidly as the Bream do. They have the stamina to fight all the way up to you but once you pick them up out of the water they tend to be calm. Very often you will see their glutinagenous (okay, I made that word up) slime clinging to your fishing line as far up as their body is long - this shows you how hard they fight as they use their bodies in ways that other fish can't - they are something like contortionists in a circus, doing things with their bodies that normal fish can't do.
Fantastic eating, these fish have a clean firm texture that is supremely good with a very light flavor. Possibly the most ordered fish in American restaurants. I normally catch these in the 2 to 6 pound range, but they can be caught in the teens as well. A 10 pounder will put up a fight you will enjoy for a long time and remember all your life.
I didn't make the full Brazos Slam yesterday, but I did get 3 out of 4 and that is a very fine day by any measure. I'll take the Brazos' Usual Suspects any day of the week. I'll take the Brazos over any place I have fished, and I have fished a lot of places.