MORRIS COUNTY – Some days I look into more mouths than your family dentist.
But rather than cavities, I’m looking for things like fish tails, frog’s feet or maybe the outer end of an inner-heading crawdad. A few times I’ve found things far more interesting.
I started looking into the mouths of bass, and a few other fish, when my dad caught a 6 1/2-pounder in my uncle’s pond in about 1965. When he lifted the fish from the water he quickly saw the back-half of what was probably about a 10-inch crappie. Dad explained the big female bass was probably on a feeding spree, came in shallow to take the spawning crappie and his frog-colored Midge-Oreno must have looked like the perfect dessert.
Tuesday morning I was fishing a gorgeous Flint Hills watershed with Jim Barr, a 92 year-old bass fisherman from Cottonwood Falls. Heading to the lake he’d mentioned the high crawdad population along the lake’s rocky shores. About an hour, and 15 fish, into the morning I caught a 12-inch bass that had about four inches of crawdad antennae protruding from its throat.
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Through the years, I’ve probably seen more crawdads heading down the throats of bass than any other prey. It’s the same with green sunfish, another species that sometimes has a mouth big enough to be checked. Most times it’s the antennae sticking out, a few times I’ve seen both pinchers showing, too.
The next most-common find has been the tail of bait fish. In ponds, lakes and streams that’s usually bluegill or green sunfish. On reservoirs, it’s been the back end of a gizzard shad. Once I found the tail end of a bullhead, which makes me wonder what that must have felt like swallowing a fish with those three needle-sharp fins.
One of the most interesting finds was the feet and a few tailfeathers from a small bird in the mouth of a six-pound bass in the phosphate pits in Florida. I’ve seen the back few inches of a water snake a few times. A good friend caught a bass in Harvey County a few years ago that still had part of a garter snake writhing past the bass’ jaws.
On the occasions that I clean largemouths, which are almost always small fish from a private pond or lake that’s becoming over-populated, I may check the stomach out of curiosity, too.
Crawdads and bluegill have always been the most common. The most surprising was when I cleaned ten 12-inch bass from a relative’s pond and eight of the fish had little turtles about the size of quarters in their system.
A close second was from a slightly bigger bass that Kathy caught from the same pond a few weeks later. It literally looked like it had swallowed a baseball and was so full it hardly put up a fight.
Back home I made a small slit and started pulling out a snake that seemed to get longer and longer. If I remember right, it was a 14-inch bass and an 18-inch snake.
...and I thought I had a super-sized appetite.