Topwater fishing, late May. The clock said noon but it was still early morning in the cove. Contrary to popular belief, bass will strike all day on topwater in low light, depending on circumstance and presentation. Stealth is essential; I was in 4 feet of water and the cove was only 30 feet wide. A single paddle bump on the kayak would have spooked every fish.
The latest issue of Outdoor Life magazine (April 2017) contains a short feature about Bowfin fishing. The article is largely based on an interview with yours truly. For some reason, the editors chose to place it on a page entitled “Ugly Fish.” Look at the Bowfin I am holding in the photo – it’s a beauty. Nonetheless, it’s always good to grab some positive press for this under-rated and misunderstood native species, and I am particularly honored to be included in a magazine that I have read since I was a child. Thank you, Outdoor Life!
James Henshall ‘s Book of the Black Bass was published in 1881. Today it is a considered a classic; for example, the edition I read was a reprint published by B.A.S.S. It is a strange book to qualify as a classic because it is littered with hearsay, the prose is often extravagant (but not always) and many of the scientific facts it alleges are simply wrong. Furthermore, Henshall was limited by tackle options (in those days, fly lines were made of silk and horse hair that had to be hung and dried after use, and bait casting reels –minnow casters, he calls them – were a new idea). How then is it a classic? Because Henshall was the first to argue at length for the merits of the Black Bass species as game fish, and to do so mustering all the available scientific knowledge to make his case. What is most interesting is that he did so at a time when the Black Bass was not considered a sport fish (he uses the term “Black Bass” to describe the Largemouth, but implies the Smallmouth and other sub-species). In short, Henshall’s book is filled with mistakes, but if you read it Book of the Black Bass carefully you can hear the modern bass angler’s bluster and bounce; read it with an eye for his arguments against the American trout monopoly, and you will see why he was eventually persuasive, even prophetic.
Nonetheless, to the modern bass angler looking for fishing advice or modern scientific data (not to mention a more readable style of prose), the Book of the Black Bass will resemble a work of fiction written by the good Doctor Frankenstein. In the first place, the book is longer than Abe Lincoln’s beard, numbering 455 pages. Henshall divided it in three parts, each with its faults and merits, so I will review each section in turn.
Here is a link to an excellent recent article written by Joe Cermele, Fishing Editor at Field & Stream magazine. The quote below gets my vote as the early favorite for Bowfin (a.k.a. dogfish) quote of the year. Why? Because if native species like the Bowfin weren’t in our lakes the fishing for other species would not be as good as it is.
“The funny thing is that in a fishing culture so worried about invasive species and preserving native fish, the bowfin is often falsely touted as a bad guy. The truth is that they were around millions of years before every gamefish we love. They have remained largely unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs, and I only had to catch one to decide I’d take the fight of a dogfish over that of a bass any day. I’m not alone.”
Nice work, Joe!
Here is the link to the full article:
Here is a rare Fossil Friday post: on Sept. 21, 2008, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review printed an article about a Bowfin that was caught in the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, PA. The newspaper still ran a print edition then. Hence, the digital copy below is the fossil, a crude impression left by the extinct print copy. The print edition also ran the attached photograph; I include it here for historical reasons. That photo is everywhere now, and I want people to know where it first appeared in print.
The article’s history: it began when Bob Frye, the outdoors writer for the “Trib,” contacted Chuck “BAGman” Meyer at the old Bowfin Anglers group site. Chuck sent Bob my way, and Bob and I had a nice long chat. We spent a good part of the time talking about Myron Cope and the Steelers.
Bob somehow managed to turn my ramble into a great article – Bob is a professional journalist, after all. Looking back on it now, I was happy to draw some attention to my favorite fish and invite some folks into Bowfin Country.
A side note: the tackle shop mentioned in the article apparently had so many requests for the mount that they took it down, or so I was told by a friend who went there.
Here is the article, for your paleontological reading pleasure: