The one problem with the overwhelming catch and release ethic in bass fishing is that we don’t always know exactly what the fish we catch have been eating. Of course we occasionally find a shad tail sticking out of the throat of a freshly-caught largemouth, and many of us have found crawfish or small, partially-digested bluegills in our livewells, but even when one forage is dominant, it’s not always what they’re chewing on. In my many trips to Mexico, we’ve always assumed that the big Florida-strains are gorging themselves on tilapia, but we’ve frequently seen bloated bass spitting up mouthfuls of pinky-sized shad as we reeled them in.
That was a fascinating part of this past weekend’s trip to Venice, Louisiana. Forty mile per hour winds on Saturday and slightly lesser gusts on Sunday prevented us from going where the big pods of bull redfish reside, so we stayed back in the marsh looking for keeper-sized reds to be cooked “on the half shell” (i.e., with the skin still on to hold the juices in on the grill).
We caught and kept our limits, and one of the mid-range keepers had a protruding belly. We looked forward all day to slicing him open and find out what he’d been eating. Our guide speculated that it might be a softshell crab or two. If not that, then perhaps some of the omnipresent shrimp or some sort of saltwater baitfish. When we got back to the camp and sliced him open, though, it quickly became apparent that the reds have the same favorite food as the locals – crawfish. We removed at least 20 undigested craws from his belly and I’m sure there were more. Clearly he was still hungry, and fell for shrimp, but next time I might have to pack some fire red soft plastics.