Michael Pearce

From the mouths of fish

By Michael Pearce

The Wichita Eagle

Just the antennae is showing after this bass swallowed a crawdad Tuesday morning.
Just the antennae is showing after this bass swallowed a crawdad Tuesday morning. The Wichita Eagle

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.

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.