You may be wondering about the title. “Bucketmouth” refers to a Largemouth Bass, a big Largemouth Bass. A “Bucket List” is of course something we keep, checking off an item or two if we are lucky, or we endure. But there is more to this title. There were many options to consider as I drove through the scrub forest, swamp and farmland, watching the horses on ranches run and the slow rivers roll. And it came to me then because I started thinking about the great Western films in history. I was thinking specifically of a little known Spaghetti Western by an Italian director named Damiano Damiani, a film called A Bullet for the General (1968). Set during a revolution, it is a film loaded with counter-revolutionary plots and surprises of all kinds. Damiani’s film is one of the best Westerns of its time, and it ranks high on my list of favorites. It’s a complicated film about complex people in crazy times, and as I came to the trail head of a complicated trip, it seemed to point in the direction I wanted to go as I tried to answer the question “How do I explain what happened on that lake?”
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 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:
My essay about tournament kayak fishing, from the Fall 2016 issue of KBF Magazine. Click on the 1st link below for the pdf file of the article only. The 2nd link contains the full magazine (the article begins on page 73).
Thank you for reading!
Here is my article on the state of my favorite sport, courtesy of Pacific Standard magazine:
Here is the link to my article about topwater fishing on Kentucky Lake, courtesy of Kayak Bass Fishing magazine.
- Click here for a pdf file of the article only: HV March KY Lake KBF Mag
2. Click below to download the entire magazine as a pdf file (it’s free!); the article is listed in the contents index.
Decorous Techniques: A Review of Largemouth Bass: An In-Fisherman Book of Strategies (1990)
Look at the photograph below. It was taken by Dr. Solomon David, a biologist at the renowned Shedd Aquarium. Dr. David is not a scientist to miss the significance of this grouping, which he caught with his eye and then his camera. The fact of the matter is that it represents something many bass anglers wouldn’t easily admit: the Bowfin (Amia calva), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) and Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) co-exist in the wild. They share waters where they are born, they share food they chase, and they share graves. And here they are, hanging out like three old friends. Very old friends (well, at least the Gar and Bowfin are).
Why the photo, you ask? I posted it because I’d never seen the Bowfin mentioned without scorn in a book about Largemouth Bass. If you listened to Bass anglers, many argue for the eradication of the Bowfin (to be fair, others secretly confess they prefer catching Bowfin, but they chase Bass for the money). Anti-Bowfin-scorn is simply inherited ignorance. And that is where Largemouth Bass: An In-Fisherman Book of Strategies stands apart from the crowd….
Perceptive anglers know that a successful day on the water requires a nimble mind. “Successful” in this case refers to the art of figuring things out; a raised fish, a hooked fish, a lost fish, or a landed fish are all better than the alternative. Nimble anglers are the ones who adapt tactics to conditions. Yes, the bite’s been good, and this lure has worked. But now the weather changes, or you lose the lure, or the fish have moved on. What do you do then? Bad anglers continue forcing the same pattern into the water. Good anglers adapt, with mixed results. Great anglers are struck by a figural bolt of lightning, and do something brilliant, eccentric, or simply crazy.
I put myself in the middle tier. Take for example a good late summer bass bite I fished on the Haw River not long ago. Early September is when the shadows hurry to grow long, and the water, clear from a dry summer, moved in a cool, unhurried flow. Topwater action had been hot all summer long so I reverted to habit: poppers and plugs. But this was a section of river notorious for its deep, narrow channels and fish that hesitated to rise. After an hour of failing to persuade the fish, I switched my bait from a noisy topwater plug to a jointed sub-surface lure. The tactical change obtained the desired result, and fish that were in no mood to strike at the surface chase down a lure that swam a foot below the air. Stubborn adherence to established pattern – out. Largemouth Bass on every other cast – in. Granted, this was not the grind of a tournament event, where pressure and exhaustion come into play.
Monte Burke’s engaging and well-written Sowbelly offers the literary analog to the versatility I have in mind. Mind you, I refer to the book. Most of the anglers depicted in it are another matter. Continue reading