THERE AREN’T many creatures that practice cannibalism in the natural world, and I think we can all agree that it is a good thing. It is, after all an uncomfortable notion that something might consume a member of its own species. The whole premise seems to go against procreation and the overall survival of a population.
As a lover of fish, a dedicated angler, and a writer who strives to promote a positive image of both, it troubles me to discuss this week’s topic. Fish eat fish. They will prey upon and consume members of the same family, the same cohort, and the same genetic makeup. In addition, they will eat fish from other species, age classes, and taxonomic groups.
In their defense, all fish have evolved to make the most of the conditions that they live in. Those organisms that best exploit the resource will thrive and reproduce. In the sometimes desolate conditions of aquatic life, the food source with the most nutrition, protein, or overall bang-for-the-buck, is often another fish. One can’t blame a predator fish like a bass, pike, or trout from selecting a tasty minnow from the menu while overlooking the tiny insect, slimy worm, or muddy snail.
Some groups of fish are so prolific, dense in number, and seemingly dim-witted in the art of self-defense that they appear designed by nature to become food for other fish. Often referred to as “forage fish,” these sacrificial swimmers are gobbled up in large numbers as they swim in dense schools among the preferred habitat of those creatures who are hunting them.
Among fishermen, the distinction between lucky and good is often achieved by those who effectively understand the feeding habits of those fish they are casting at. A fly fisherman tries to match the hatch and bait fishermen are constantly looking for the right size or color. Of course, fish are opportunistic feeders and will strike at something they have never seen before, but my humble advice would be to give them a familiar option — another fish.
Many of the flies that I tie are streamers that are designed to imitate small fish. While most patterns call for natural coloration, some dance around the absurd. They all imitate bait fish and are gobbled up furiously when presented to the right predator. Some are light, some are heavy, some are big, and some are small. Regardless of what is going on in terms of hatching insects, I always catch fish on streamers.
When I’m bass fishing in the warm, summer months I have two or three rods rigged up, laying like an arsenal on the bow of my boat. One is always equipped with a soft plastic, one has a top-water bait, and the one that I use the most has a jerk bait, which is a big, fat fish imitation. When I swim these baits into the correct depth, bass eat them with the same enthusiasm that my kids show for ice cream. They simply can’t resist it.
No conversation about predator fish would be complete without including the Northern Pike. Not only will they eat another, less-fortunate pike, they will do it without remorse. I try not to instill human characteristics to fish, but pike are the exception. They will eat other pike in an evil way that Stephen King may someday incorporate into a new novel. I have found the most successful baits for pike are, you guessed it, other pike. The whole scenario may be troublesome but when fooling, catching, and landing a monster fish of any species, I can get over it.