A Struggle to Survive

A female bass has a dangerous encounter with a couple of humans

BY Ed Hearn


The warm, clear waters of Central Florida surround me. This is where I’ve lived all my life. This perfect place allows me to catch small crawfish, worms, and unsuspecting minnows for my food. I’ve known for some time that things are good for me.

Everywhere, there are large areas of loose grasses and reeds through which I navigate with great ease. This skill has been developed over many years. I’m a hunter to be feared, and I control my own destiny.

When growing up in this lake as a young female bass, I had to fight often for a place to live and a place to hunt for the best food. Frequently, I was chased and pushed by others, but always knew that one day everyone would respect my wisdom and strength. Now, I choose where to live, and my large reed bed of cattails is a spot of envy. Any fish that approaches this area receives an aggressive reaction from me.

Today is not like any other day. The time has come. Roe inside me must be deposited in a bed made at the edge of the reeds. Over the last few weeks, I have grown fatter and slower, anticipating this moment.

My mate challenges me to enter the depression in the sand and puts on a display that is unnecessary. I’m ready, and his efforts are to please himself. Settling in the nest and pressing against the bottom, there is a warm sensation as the roe begin to flow from within me. It’s a feeling of relief. The pain is small considering how uncomfortable I’ve been for weeks.

I move away from the eggs and my mate takes my place and deposits his sperm over them with care. I am proud. The job is done, and I feel much better. All that fills me now is the desire to remain over the eggs and fan them with my side fins to keep them clean and healthy.

Off in the distance another one of those strange objects can be heard moving across the water’s surface. It seems to be approaching my territory. I need to remain still and cautious. Hopefully, it will pass like all the others. Behind its flat bottom, showing through the water above is the churning device that propels it forward. It comes closer, then is silent. I continue to guard my precious clutch until my mate brushes me aside so he can fan the eggs and give me some rest.

It has been a long time since I’ve eaten. My hunger is intense. There must be an easy meal lurking somewhere nearby. I move forward. There is no doubt I must eat soon.

There are no other creatures moving in the sand and reeds around the outer edges of my home. Farther away where the light is not as bright, minnows dart back and forth, but they are too small to be worth the effort. I’m looking for something bigger.

Suddenly, there is hope. A small fish that seems to be restrained in some way appears on the surface. Can this be true? This seems too easy.

Slowly, I move toward it. My desire to eat is overpowering. This fish seems to be about 7 inches long and healthy enough. Why doesn’t it swim away from me as usual?

Dismissing my fears, I speed forward and grab it in my mouth. Instantly, it’s obvious something is not right because the fish quickly jerks away from me. Then, I see it again near the surface in brighter water. This meal will not get away.

With all the strength I can muster, I move up and over the fish and engulf it before rolling and heading back toward the reed bed. I have my meal. I’m headed home to check on the little ones.

Upon approaching the outer edge of the reeds, my head is suddenly jerked backward with a force never before experienced. There is a sharp pain in my jaw. Something is seriously wrong. I can’t figure it out.

My instinct tells me to run.  My efforts carry me to the far end of the weeds. I leap above the surface to try and rid myself of the hurt in my head. When I leave the water, I see the source of my problem. Humans are in a boat not far away. They are screaming and waving. I realize I’m in a fight for my life. My thoughts go quickly to the eggs just laid on the bottom and whether they will survive if I cannot return to guard and fan them. I must escape, or they will not make it.

Back and forth I race. If I can leap into the sky again and give one more violent shake of my head, the thing will surely fly from my mouth.

In the air, I shake like crazy. It isn’t working. I am quickly running out of energy. I have just enough strength for one last rush. Heading toward the bottom with everything left in me, I’m suddenly blocked by an interwoven wall of cords and lifted upward. My heart is pounding. I’m exhausted. All seems to be lost. I have been caught by a foe that is stronger and more powerful than me.

There are shouts from within the boat. Two humans are patting each other on the back like they have done something incredible. How foolish are these creatures? Don’t they know what they have done? My babies far below in the nest will never survive without me.

One of them says, “Weigh that sucker. She must be at least 10 pounds.”

I’m lifted by my lip and my entire body is hanging, supported at that one spot. There’s nothing but total pain.

One of the men exclaims, “She’s 12 pounds and 1 ounce according to these scales. Let’s measure her.”

All I can think of now is my need to breathe. Something is pressed against my side, and the two men are standing close to get a look. Again, I hear a voice, “She’s 29 and ¾ inches long. Man, that’s the biggest bass I’ve ever seen.”

Then, there is another pressure around my belly. What are they up to now? The biggest guy shouts with excitement, “Eighteen inches! She’s a full 18 inches. That’s massive.”

The other one grabs a device he calls a camera. I’m held up again by my strained lip. Not just one, not just two, but many times they snap photos of me in my misery.

My world is getting dimmer and dimmer. I will not make it much longer. The surface of my skin is beginning to dry out, and my scales are beginning to rise into the air.

Just as I’m about to give up, cool water surrounds my body. I’m being lowered into my world, but I am too tired and exhausted to move. Gently, they move me back and forth through the liquid and my lungs begin to fill with oxygen. I can now breathe.

“We had better let her go,” I hear. “I don’t want this one to die. There aren’t many this size, and I want to have the opportunity to catch her again in the future.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Suddenly, and without warning, I’m released. At first, I don’t move. Not sure what’s about to happen, I proceed with caution. Then, with one quick flick of my tail, I move into the darker depths near the thick reeds that offer safety. Advancing toward the nest, I see my mate still busy fanning our little ones.

There is a loud noise from above, and the boat begins to move away. Shouting and laughing can still be heard as the humans continue to celebrate.

I feel relief. My world is slowly beginning to return to normal, and my energy is increasing. My jaw still hurts, but that can be lived with. I now know my babies will survive, and that’s all that matters.

I’m again at peace.

Editors note: This story told from the perspective of the fish was inspired by a Central Florida freshwater, spring fishing trip by the author and his brother. The story is unique in several aspects: first the size of the bass was estimated between 13 and 15 pounds and close to 30 inches in length. The fisherman knew she had already spawned and was starved or she would not have come back up from the bottom to attack the live bait a second time. The humans could see through the clear water to the bottom where the bass had spawned and was fanning a nest of eggs.

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