It’s the mighty mouth of game fish

Published in The Sault Star July 14, 2021

When I moved here, it seems like centuries ago, I assumed Algoma would be an angler’s paradise.

That held little allure for me, because I am not a fisherman.

Don’t tell my grandkids, although I suspect the oldest are becoming wise to my angling inadequacy.

Case in point: The first thing I pulled through the ice of an area lake was a stubby beer bottle, an initiation rite that set the stage for a skunky fishing career.

A particularly buff rock bass flexes its dorsal fin

Another time a friend took me way up in the bush, dodging homicidal logging trucks, to a “can’t miss” lake he knew. Turned out both of us could miss. Apparently my angling impairment can spread easier than the Delta variant.

Actually, I can and have caught fish, a couple of them large enough to grace a cabin wall. Well, maybe an outhouse wall.

But I haven’t taken a serious lunge at a lunker since a few springs ago when a loon surfaced with the smelt I had cast. The big, beautiful bird spit it out, but the notion of serving him or her on a platter while loon-lovers hurled cutlery at me put an end to casual casting.

I haven’t given up the beer-drinking part of fishing, though.

Most Algoma anglers won’t reveal the location of Secret Lake but are quick to tell tales about their favourite fish: lakers, specks, walleye-pickerel (known as pickeral if the fish flunked spelling in Grade 3), pike, salmon, muskie.

Even lush, or losh, get a little respect, especially if the angler has drunk enough to share the moniker of that species of bottom-feeders.

Whatever bends your rod, I guess.

But I’ve never heard a fishermen celebrate what, pound for pound, is the fightingest game fish in Algoma waters,

The rock bass, of course.

Even walls that boast Billy Bass and the fur-bearing trout can’t seem to find a little space to display a trophy rock bass. That’s a shame, especially if taxidermists charge by the inch.

I hail from sunfish country — they’re a poor relation of the rock bass — but the first rock bass I caught made an instant impression on me. At least, its spiny fin made an impression on the palm of my left hand.

One thing that distinguishes rock bass from other fish is they have double the anal spines, six in total. So resist the temptation to pat a rock bass on the butt after it hits a grand slam.

Another thing is their size, which Wikipedia pegs at six to 10 inches. Probably that exaggeration was written by a fisherman. I’m absolutely certain it was not written by a woman. 

Wiki adds that the world record rock bass came in at 43 cm (17 inches) and weighed 1.4 kg (three pounds). I suspect that giant was caught by a three-year-old in his dream.

Anyway, I was even more impressed with rock bass when I learned they’re responsible for the absence of leeches in our lake. I’ve seen just one leech here in about four decades on the lake, and since I lectured the rock bass on their duty I haven’t seen another.

A rock bass looks like the mini me of a smallmouth bass. But rock bass have evolved to grow a substantial hole in their bottom jaw. That allows them to be caught over and over again without any great inconvenience to fish or angler.

Since a rock bass can live up to 10 years, the average rock bass is caught and released approximately 973,524 times, by my estimation. 

The only thing that might bring a premature end to a rock bass’s life is for a toddler to collect his day’s catch in a pail and then run off to play with a plastic truck.

The best way to land a rock bass is to go fishing for a more desired species. They little biters will be all over your hook like politicians on pork.

Worms or leeches are the preferred cuisine of rock bass. But they’ve been known to strike at bacon, hotdogs, pieces of leaf, remnants of worm from last summer, every one of those gaudy plastic imitation baits that kids love to fish with — even empty hooks.

And if a little kid’s line is tangled (If? Ha ha ha) and the fish can’t be reeled in, a rock bass might obligingly flop into the boat or onto the dock.

I’ve seen videos online that show how to fillet a rock bass for cooking. My advice is to throw back the fish and fry up whatever you’re using as bait instead, especially if it’s bacon.

But I let every kid have a single feed of rock bass once in their lifetimes.

After all, rock bass are the gateway drug of angling. Once the thrill of catching the same fish over and over and over no longer satisfies their cravings, children seek out other species.

That’s why I gave each of my kids and grandkids one feed of rock bass: If my fishing luck is hereditary, I want them to know what their shore lunch is going to taste like.

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