Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bass Surgery

"If our father had his say, nobody who did not know how to catch a fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him"

                                                                      Norman Maclean, "A River Runs Through It"

"If I had my say, any dickhead who had no respect for a fish, and would kill it for no good reason, wouldn't be allowed to disgrace a fish by even picking up a fishing rod, much less catching a fish."


 Eating fish is a damn good reason for killing fish, to a point, and when my wife asked me this morning if we happened to have any fish in the freezer, I thought it might be a good excuse to run over to our nearby park pond, which I hadn't fished at all this year (in fact I've been fishing exactly once so far this year...) to see if I could surprise the family with a few perch fillets.

So I grabbed the three-weight fly rod, and almost as an afterthought, also grabbed the baitcaster I use most often for throwing light jigs (for you gearhounds, it's a Shimano Calcutta 50, the best small round baitcaster ever made, spooled with eight-pound Trilene XL and paired up with a G. Loomis GL2 PR 844C medium action saltwater popping rod). I thought if I couldn't catch any perch I might try to catch a few crappie.

I gave myself a strict 45-minute time limit, which means I had to be back to the house by 8 a.m. to get to work. As luck would have it, the pond is already starting to moss up with weeds and algae, so flyfishing was largely an act of frustration. So was casting jigs for crappie, and after a mere thirty minutes I was done and walking back to the car. The bass are spawning right now, however, and as I walked around the pond I noticed a decent-sized female sitting on a bed, shadowed by a smaller male. I hadn't brought any bass tackle with me, but rummaging around in the bottom of the tackle bag produced exactly one loose worm hook and exactly one mangled plastic lizard (which, coincidentally, is my all-time favorite plastic bait for pitching to bedding bass).

I thought what the hell, tied it on, cast past the bed, and slowly twitched that lizard right across her nose. It disappeared, I set the hook and I was fast on to six pounds, 12 ounces (I weighed her later) of pissed-off bass. It was fun. That tiny little Calcutta handled her like a champ, and as I brought her out of the water I realized that this was the largest bass I'd ever caught on that reel. No camera, of course, and no scale, either. I very rarely kill bass, and never kill large bass, so I figured this one would just have to live on in my mind. I opened her mouth to extract the hook, and that's when things started going to hell.

The hook had penetrated the area directly in front of her gullet, way back in the very back part of her throat, and it was deep. It was basically as far back as it could physically be without being swallowed. I tried, repeatedly, to get it out, but there was simply no way I could get enough leverage with the pliers to loosen it. I could either cut the line and let her take her chances with the hook, or kill her and take her home. If I cut the line, she'd probably live long enough to spawn, but the way the hook was situated in her throat, every time she tried to swallow it would come up almost like it was on a hinge and block whatever she was trying to swallow. She'd eventually starve to death long before the hook rusted out. So that wasn't a very attractive option.

Then again, neither was outright killing her. I've never kept a trophy bass, and certainly didn't want to start now. I was in a quandary. If I could just get to a pair of wire cutters I could cut that hook, but my wire cutters were at home. Home was, literally, only two minutes away. If I could keep her alive until then, I just might be able to save her. So I took out the one tackle box I had thrown in my big tackle bag, filled it with water, laid her in it, grabbed my rods and started running like hell for the car. I looked a sight...

I threw everything in the car and took off, hoping not to run into the park ranger as I sped through the park. I wondered what he'd think if he stopped me and found a live bass sloshing around on my floorboard. Some eighty seconds later I pulled into the driveway, grabbed the tacklebag (technically a waterproof gear bag, so it still had most of the water in it), ran to the back yard and put the big female into our water garden.

I slowly moved the old girl back and forth, and was greatly relieved to see that her gills were moving, she was staying upright and overall seemed to be as well as could be expected under the circumstances. I let her go and she immediately disappeared into the water lillies. I gave her an hour to make sure she wouldn't die, then grabbed a pair of wire cutters and a big-ass dip net...

The hook was still there, obviously, so I grabbed the wire cutters and went to work...

I pushed the barb through, then snipped the shank of the hook, took it out, and then eased out the rest of it. It only took a second, and she was good as new...

I weighed her, held her for a few seconds, then let her swim back down to the bottom of the water garden...

And here's the offending object, post-surgery...

Right now she seems to be doing well. My wife's goldfish, on the other hand, are terrified. I'll keep her in the pond for a little while to make sure she doesn't end up a delayed-reaction  floater, then take her back over to the pond and release her.

I just hope I don't go through all of this trouble only to have some asshole catch her again, probably on a big hunk of bait hurled out there with some Wal-Mart bubble-pack rod and reel combo, and kill her for good this time.


  1. Amazing post Chad and great photos too

  2. The image of you putting the fish in your tackle box will stay with me.