Sometimes the fish get terminal lockjaw. Such was the case for the bass that live in West Branch Reservoir earlier this month.
One hundred of this region's best bass anglers launched 50 boats last Sunday for a Greater Ohio Tournament Trail event at the Portage County lake and set out to poke around for largemouth and smallmouth bass in 48-degree water.
Eight hours later they returned to the ramp, but only three of those 100 anglers had something other than a sunburned face to show for their efforts.
A week earlier, a group of fine fishermen comprising the membership of Ohio Valley Bass Anglers also set out in search of West Branch's bass. For the first time in anybody's memory, nobody caught a keeper.
Zip. Zilch. Zero.
They are terms experienced even by the likes of pro anglers like Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam. But for an entire field of anglers to score as miserably as what went to the scales in the season's first two events at West Branch is practically unheard of.
It's way too soon to cast a pall over West Branch. There have been no fish kills or spoiled spawning seasons. And it's not reasonable to believe the muskies that make the lake famous have eaten all of the bass.
So what does this mean?
I think it's simply a case where Mother Nature lobbed a plate of humble pie in our faces. She went extra heavy on the whipped cream.
"OK, all you savvy fishermen with your fancy bass boats and high tech equipment, I've still got the upper hand here," she seems to have said the past two weekends with a sinister chuckle as she whipped everybody's butt.
To be sure, the G.O.T.T. and Ohio Valley competitors were faced with very difficult conditions, despite the fact the calendar said "April. & quot;
It was cold and the anglers were dealing with an ultra high pressure system that swept the clouds from the sky. Cold water and the cold weather front dealt a one-two punch that nobody could overcome. In other words, West Branch fished more like February than April and few Northeast Ohioans have any experience catching bass from a boat in February.
So despite all the years of experience, the volumes of books and years of subscribing to all the bass fishing magazines, those who fished West Branch the past two weekends were dumbfounded.
All of the rattling jigs, expensive crankbaits and fish-attracting concoctions were worthless lead, plastic and gunk.
The real reason nobody caught anything was that so darn few fish had moved up from the depths that encountering a bass was as likely as finding a needle in a haystack.
And locating a pod of offshore bass still relating to their wintering holes was equally as improbable.
Chances are the fish were up in the willows a couple of weeks ago, then retreated to no-man's land when the cold weather dropped the lake temps while the water was rising from the frigid rain that pelted the region in early April.
The last straws more than likely related to the fact that the sun and moon phases just were not good for fish activity and the bass weren't in any mood to eat.
All of those factors - and some that we probably cannot comprehend - added up to zip, zero, zilch.
That spells l-o-c-k-j-a-w. Just ask all those folks at West Branch.