I have also seen a small-mouth bass of good size in its lair of deep, though moving water, slyly watch a kicking crawfish pass along overhead, then in a leisurely way follow after, view it a few seconds, and return to its lair. Again it would swim down-stream, at a faster pace to reach the crawfish just before it began to touch bottom, when it would mouth but not swallow it, slowly moving to its accustomed abode in such an easygoing way as to make me exclaim: "Wake up, old chap, and stir around, so that I can strike with good effect." In the glassy water the whole proceedings were in full view. I was too wise to strike before the bait was properly pouched, but when it is and the strike done, the bass instantly shows evidence of the fighter beyond compare he surely is.
Small-mouth black bass Micropterus Dolomien.
Such observations give an opportunity to see exactly how food is taken in the natural way where there is plenty of it, in fairly deep pools several hundred feet in extent. In such places bass don't hunt; they simply take in from the abundant supply that surrounds them. I have on several occasions taken twelve or more nice bass from this place within a radius of twenty feet. The active rushes, and leaps above the surface, seem to have no effect to frighten the other fish, who would leave their particular abode beside a big boulder and in the same deliberate manner calmly take the bait, as if it were just the right thing to do.
Such fishing is quite simple, and it is bound to succeed if you give the fish time to pouch. But when I use artificial bait the procedure is reversed. I strike the moment I feel the bait is touched.
Even if I take it from the mouth it often happens that the fish in a testy humor will again make a dart and take it more securely. Then again, the fish may be scared and refuse to repeat the strike, so that after a while I cast to new pastures. My argument goes to show that fish go for my baits, live or artificial, in precisely the same way as they go for their natural food, which causes them to take it swiftly or slowly, or not at all. This also goes to show that if fish are not feeding on natural food they are very much less inclined to take a proffered bait, be it the real thing or an imitation. I have never found the stomach of bass, pickerel, or pike so full as that of trout. For one thing, bass are deeply engrossed in looking after their young through May and June, at the time insects are abundant and trout gorging. After June, trout feed about normal, like the bass. In large waters like Lake George and Lake Champlain there are several great rises of insects during July and August, sometimes later. Vast clouds of both duns and drakes appear during warm days, yet this remarkable abundance of insect flight over the surface does not attract the bass to any extent. Just a few may be seen, now and then, but nothing like the effect such a rise of insects would have on river trout, though not trout in lakes. This remarkable difference in the way trout may be seen feeding at the surface on a glut of insects in one water, and not in another, is entirely due to the effect their natural food has upon them. They don't rise when they have more than enough food at the bottom; they are not looking up, but down; enough to them is as good as a feast.
It entirely rests with the angler to meet this abnormal condition. The mountain and Mahomet fable fits it, so that if trout or bass won't come to us, we must go to them. Surely we have intelligence equal to theirs. We must find more seductive lures to get the best of the situation.
The question again arises: What are the most seductive lures? Here again my theory must be right, viz.: Give the fish what it most prefers, if you can procure it; if not, an exact artificial imitation of it. If its natural food is frogs, be obliging and give it frogs. Creepers, minnows, hell-grammites, any and every thing is at the angler's command to judiciously offer to the confiding fish. If the fish is too smart, and I confess it is so very often, and turns its nose up at our baits, the fault is ours. We do not garnish our dish to suit - we need consult Chapter XI. Another important matter concerning the subject of this chapter is that in all waters the fish food changes at different parts of the season. Nature provides restricted periods for various creatures to develop. In spring one kind of food is abundant, and absent in summer and fall. In winter the greater part of the food that fish consume lies dormant in mud or sand; for that reason it is essential to know what is best to choose for each part of the season. Minnows and the young of other fish do not appear in the shallows of rivers till after snow-water has run off. Temperature controls aquatic life much more than one would suppose. Very little food is taken in early spring, as stomach contents reveal, and what little there is seems to be entirely deep-water creepers. To this fact I attribute the attractiveness of the worm as a bait for trout at the opening season. Fly-fishermen seem to be fully alive to this condition, for they candidly confess that their efforts are best repaid on that sort of "fly." The popularity of the "dry-fly" has by no means taken the place of the "garden-fly" or plebeian worm, which in tackle shop talk is alluded to in the most disdainful manner, yet on the stream the fisherman's worm-box is well filled, though tucked in out of sight, and his hat adorned with an amazing selection of flies, both wet and dry.