The constant quest to catch the cannibalistic one that got away

John Liechty

There are all sizes and species of fish that roam the waters of New Melones Reservoir. But day in and day out, we target the black bass. On most days, we catch some decent sized fish, some tiny fish and on some occasions, an absolute giant. However, over the years, just a handful of times I have encountered a freak phenomenon.

While retrieving a smaller sized bass, a shadow emerged from below. It wasn’t just curious to watch the catch, but it was trying to find a way to steal our catch. Yes, bass quite commonly feed on their own and are cannibalistic. Many times these larger fish will just make an attempt, in the past couple months we have come closer than ever to incidentally landing a fish on a fish.

The first time I can remember having this craziness take place was about six years ago. My client for that day had hooked into a 10-inch fish and was bringing it along the edge of the boat. I reached down and grabbed the line to assist in the landing as a bucket-mouthed behemoth swiped the fish in a shark-like manner ripping the line from my hand. I let go and in a panicked tone recommended for my client to release the line. I did this in hopes that the small fish would somehow get lodged and we could land them both. Not having any clue what was taking place he did, but the giant bass spit the little fish and we were left stunned.

The same scenario would not present itself again until many years later. That is, until this past spring. Once again, while trying to boat a small fish, a giant came up swinging. On this occasion, contact was never made, but the beast showed itself multiple times.

Here is where the story takes a turn. Just about a month ago, I had scheduled a client for two days about a week apart. On our first trip, I was telling stories as I always do, and the bass-eating-bass topic came up. I mentioned these crazy encounters I had witnessed over the years and he was shocked and intrigued. He thought all about it for a week and on the following trip, with a stroke of random luck, it happened to him.

He made a cast up shallow and got hooked up. Understanding how to gauge the size of the fish by the fight, he stated, “It’s a small one.” He rushed it to the boat and we both agreed it was indeed tiny. Then almost simultaneously we let out an, “OH MY,” as we noticed a huge shadow with it.

After hearing the stories previously, he kept the small one in the water to see what would happen. I lost sight of the action in the glare and he said, “He’s got it!” The big one had broadsided the small one attached to the end of his line.

I asked, “Does he have it?” He responded, “Yes, but it’s sideway and the hook is on the outside.” Then again, to our dismay, the giant predator released his grip.

Now, you would think that was the end of the mayhem. But no, just this past week, with a different client, we almost completed the impossible. Once again, a fish took the bait, (which felt small) when all of a sudden, the line started peeling off the reel at an insanely rapid speed. It pulled hard and then harder.

My thoughts were that he hooked a giant and misjudged it in the first few seconds of the fight. I coached patiently as the rod was doubled over and the fish was leading us to deep water. The heavy pulling lasted for a solid minute, when some of the tension suddenly released. I thought we lost it, but my client insisted there was still a fish on the line. He was right as he pulled in a small little bass. There was no way in the world this little guy was pulling that hard. With a hunching suspicion, I examined the fish. He had teeth marks all down his sides, a freshly mangled dorsal fin and was looking pretty haggard.

My conclusion was this fish was head first in the mouth of a magnum fish, and was stuck by its dorsal fin allowing for the fight to continue. The moment the spines on its back broke from pressure, is the moment the beast was able to let go. That is the closest I’ve come to successfully landing one of these absurd cannibals.

I don’t know when we will ever get another chance like this. But each time we are getting closer and I will chuckle with delight if one day we conquer the impossible; accidentally catching a fish on a fish.

John Liechty is the owner of Xperience Fishing Guide Service in Angels Camp. Contact John at 743-9932.

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