Sometimes even the fish can defy human logic

Sometimes the fish defy logic — at least in human terms.

We all have our own expectations about where and when we might put ourselves within range of our favorite species. Our expectations are based on our years of experience.

Whether we’re targeting crappies, walleyes, bass or catfish, we know approximately where to put our bait or lures with reasonable hope that a fish will bite.

But nature has a way of saying, “Not so fast, Buddy.” Just when we think we know where, what and when, the fish are following a different guidebook.

Last weekend, for example, I was fishing for largemouth bass at Shenango Reservoir north of Sharon, Pa. The lake level was dropping and the water was cooling.

The “book” said the bass would be following baitfish into the cooler water, but their location also would be influenced by the dropping water level. No fish will behave in a manner that creates risk that it will be caught high and dry, so while the bass would want to stay close to their baitfish, they also would be skittish about the dropping water level.

So I selected a shoreline that still had wood cover in the water and worked it for 90 minutes after sunrise with a shallow-running squarebill crankbait. Several bass hit the lure, but none exceeded Shenango’s 15-inch length limit.

I stowed the trolling motor and headed further up the lake, eyes scanning for another location featuring stumps and brush. I decided to poke around a large flat where I could see the tops of stumps and remnants of brush piles.

My lure was a soft-plastic beaver-tail creature bait rigged Texas-style. I pitched it to four or five good-looking targets before reaching the point where I could hear the trolling motor’s propeller kicking up sand and mud. The water was so shallow I could see the trail of silty water trailing the BassCat and decided to backtrack before I got stuck.

Just then I noticed a few twigs poking the surface in water only one foot deep. I pitched my lure to the target and the water boiled at the strike of a big fish. I set the hook and the fish surged away from the brush, racing under my boat.

My stout rod and strong line gave me leverage to pull the fish back toward me and I thought I was going to win the battle. But then I made an ill-advised decision and tried to flip the bass up and over the gunwale. The bass, nearly 5 pounds, flopped back into the lake with a big splash and was gone.

Shaken, I regrouped, straightened the plastic lure and looked for more twigs sticking up through the surface. I spied another target, pitched the bait and was rewarded with another solid strike. The fight ended in my favor and the day’s pattern became clear.

The bass were staked out in dirt-shallow water, locations that might seem more likely to hold rabbits or raccoons instead of largemouth bass. For the balance of my fishing day, I caught fish in water only a foot deep, finishing up with 10 largemouths.

I knew before the day began that the fish would be shallow. But there’s shallow and then there’s shallow. The super shallow hideouts frankly should not have attracted bass under those circumstances, but they surely did even though “safer” depths were sometimes hundreds of yards away.

Logic would tell us to fish the areas where the bass could escape to deeper water, but the bass last weekend defied logic.

Jack Wollitz’s book, “The Common Angler,” explores the fun stuff that makes fishing a passion for so many people. He appreciates emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.


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