The jump carried the bull frog out into the water 12 or 14 inches from the log, and for a moment after splashing into it he bobbed carelessly on the surface as he concentrated on swallowing a mayfly. It was the second major mistake the young frog had made since leaving hibernation.
A deep shadow, until now invisible in the shade of the log under the water’s surface, separated from its hiding place and drifted outward, revealing itself to be a largemouth bass over a foot and a half in length and weighing perhaps three pounds. The fish angled upward toward the frog, approaching almost casually, and not until it was eight inches away did the little bullfrog comprehend the danger and thrust himself frantically toward the log.
It was a futile effort. With a single flip of its powerful tail, the bass overtook the frog, engulfed it in its huge mouth as it broke the surface and splashed water all over the projecting portion of the log.
The fish arrowed away toward deeper waters, swallowing as it swam, and the swirl it had made on the surface spread out in expanding rings, which gradually faded away until the water was once again calm. The largemouth bass cruised slowly along the bottom into the deeper waters of the lake after swallowing the little bullfrog. That tidbit, coming on top of two crayfish, an inch-long bluegill and a large minnow, had satisfied her hunger, and now she would rest for a time.
She was a creature of habit, this bass, and the half sunken log along the shoreline was a morning feeding place to which she came on a relatively regular basis. By nature she preferred a rather sedentary existence, exerting herself in the pursuit of food to some extent in the morning and evening hours, but during the daylight hours and much of the night remaining motionless alongside some sunken log or rock or clump of water plants, or else slowly and more or less aimlessly cruising the waters of her lake domain.
She was, at this time, a bit more lethargic than usual, for within her were some 12,000 eggs in various stages of development. Not all of these would be laid at once, for it was nature’s way of protecting the species to have her lay only a portion of them at a time, spaced over a period of several weeks, thereby insuring the continuation of the species should one mass of spawn, chance to be wiped out.
Within a few minutes after devouring the bullfrog, she was moving along very slowly about 50 feet from shore in water 12 feet deep. Long, gently swaying fronds of water weeds, ribbon grass, various pondweeds, utricularia, and Northern water milfoil, rose from the bottom in surrealistic forests having numerous aisles and clearings through which the bass drifted casually. A variety of small water life, tiny freshwater shrimp, snails, insect nymphs, minnows, little sunfish and bluegills and other creatures, clung close to the protection the water growth afforded and stared at the passing bass fearfully, but the bass paid little attention to them.
The route she followed now was one she had taken often. Several hundred yards away the rotted and waterlogged hulk of an old rowboat was mired in the bottom, and it was beside this wreck that she spent much of her time, fanning the water quietly several inches off the bottom and rarely moving away from it unless something edible was so foolish as to swim within range and tempt her into an abrupt, slashing attack.
Two fishermen were camped near the hulk of the old rowboat. One unlimbered his fly rod and sent a popper gently out to the water, near the old boat. The bass at once alert to the disturbance on the surface, rose slowly and grabbed the popper and dove towards the bottom. After an intense battle, the fisherman netted the fish and took it to camp. It was quickly filleted, the remains tossed back in the water.
The frog ate the insects, the bass ate the frog and the fishermen ate the bass.
(This article is the first of a series.)
Peter Dring is a retired nature biologist and phenologist who lives in the Land ‘O Lakes area. To comment on this story, visit the “Outdoors” section of StarJournalNOW.com.