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JACK WOLLITZ Ebb and flow of water life: Eat -- or be eaten



Published: Sun, May 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



This is the time of year that a lot of aquatic dramas are played out around the perimeters of area lakes and rivers.

For the observer of the world of fishes, spring provides daily opportunities to gain new understanding about life in the water world. Life begins and lives end in the warming shallows, completing cycles that have been repeated for tens of thousands of years.

Spring is when many species venture up to the skinny water to seek mates, build nests and create the next generation of their own species. It's also a season for predators to fatten up on vulnerable prey.

In the world of eat and be eaten, few creatures are safe from attack. Last weekend at Shenango Reservoir, I watched a small water snake glide toward the bank and narrowly escape the jaws of a largemouth bass that apparently waited a second too long to pounce. The bass chased its prey into water too shallow for the fish's body. The snake then disappeared into the carpet of oak leaves.

Next time, I thought, the reptile might not escape.

I fished along and soon was in another quiet cove. The water's edge was dappled with sunshine and shadows, providing near perfect camouflage for a two-pound largemouth resting motionless in a foot of water.

The only hint of the fish's presence came when it swirled the water with a kick of its tail to chase off pesky bluegills that swarmed like mosquitoes looking for a warm-blooded meal.

Bluegills spawn later in the spring, but they are up in the basses' bedding areas right now with instinctive appetites for largemouth eggs and the soon-to-hatch fry. Bass of both genders work to keep the nest free of sunfish until the eggs are laid, then it's up to the bucks to protect the site and give the offspring a fighting chance.

Most, of course, do not live long.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the morning gained heat. I changed into cooler clothes and my boat drifted toward a log that leaned from the bank out into five feet of water. The approach was too close for comfort for four painted turtles and they decided to end their sunbathing with four kerplunks.

They were the lucky hatchlings that grew to adulthood after escaping the beaks of birds like the great blue heron that stalked the silty bottom 50 yards from the log.

The 3-foot-tall predator cocked its head, focusing on a spot ahead. Then like an arrow loosed from a bowstring, the heron stabbed the water and pulled out a little sunfish. It vanished into the throat of the bird, which flushed with a prehistoric squawk after spying my boat.

That's life on the edge of a lake.

Top basser: Veteran Arkansas pro Mark Davis put the finishing touches on two major angling accomplishments Thursday-winning the coveted B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year award and the qualifying portion of the $667,000 BASSMASTER MegaBucks Tournament on Tennessee's Douglas Lake.

Davis wrapped up the top spot in the three qualifying rounds with a 12-pound five-bass limit. That gave him a total of 41-10. It also sent him into the lucrative two-round finals with a first-place prize of $134,000 where he will compete against nine other pros on a specially-designed course with assigned fishing areas or holes through which the anglers rotate.

"I figured out a way to catch the bigger fish with a great big crankbait in real deep water," Davis said. "The fish went deep in this tournament, and I was able to stay with them."




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