BioHavens and Bucketmouths
BioHavens are magnets for largemouth bass, or “bucketmouths”. The shade, the temperature, the overhead security, the constant presence of food options, all of these fit perfectly within a largemouth’s ambush predator life model.
Imagine casting a twelve inch plastic up against an overhanging bank, in a pocket flanked by lilypads. You watch as the worm sinks in two or three feet of water. Then there’s that telltale twitch of the line floating on top, signaling that the bait has just been sucked into a mossyback’s gaping maw. You give it a second, allow for just enough slack, then slap the long shanked 3.0 hook hard into its jaw, and the battle begins.
Islands biomimic that overhanging bank. They do this easily, and can be positioned and tethered and spaced just right. If they are, there’s always an optimal cast just ahead on your water. Like Pondmeister Bob Lusk says, ninety percent of the fish occur in ten percent of the water…well now you can design for that ten percent. In fact, now you can bump it up, and make your water exceptionally productive and fishable.
Islands draw largemouth bass in deeper water too. When I snorkel up to BioHaven on Fish Fry I like to dunk under it, check out the plant root understory, and frequently will see forage fish. Big bass will be hanging back, just barely tolerating my presence. They usually let me approach to about six feet. Water clarity on Fish Fry is now sometimes as much as 19 feet. At times I might see a half dozen nice three pounders under a single 350 square foot island. But in this setting they don’t seem to be in hunter mode…I think it’s mostly comfort and security, until they move into the shallows. But no surprise if the occasional three inch bluegill disappears into one of their mouths as these ambush predators just hang there patiently.
The other evening we were fishing out of a canoe, moving around Finger Draw Bay. I cast right up against a small island tucked in a corner. Water couldn’t have been twelve inches deep. Then the familiar twitch of the line. I set the hook, and was into a nice northern bass. Had to manhandle it, as best I could because of the snag potential, but it worked. I landed and released an 18” football. Probably a four or five year old fish, in great shape.
We slot limit on largemouth bass, and keep those 10 to 15 inchers which make a reasonable fillet. The bigger ones go back. We have massive forage fish production in the form of yellow perch, bluegill and black crappie. The big spawners of these panfish are almost always put back, as they generate huge egg volume.
It’s a winning combination, complimented by the unique structure islands provide. The standing dead timber, some rock and cobble slope, and a relatively high ratio of shallow, uneven bottom contribute to the structure effect. Today there’s also weed beds of northern milfoil, a native form of milfoil, and chara, which really works for the perch. The small, young of-year panfish are everywhere. I consider the fry and the of-year of these panfish a form of forage fish, along with an active population of fathead minnows and some five prong stickleback…another native.
They are all complimented by a strong population of American bullfrog. The frog component of which does frequently end up in big bass. The tadpole portion of the bullfrog’s life model seems to get a free ride, as nothing seems to eat it other than garter snakes. Crawfish and leopard frogs are also present, as is a very large damsel fly and dragon fly population. These guys, in both their nymph and flying form, explain why mosquitoes are essentially a non-factor on and around Fish Fry.
Anne is new to bass fishing. She was spin fishing with a ten inch plastic worm the other evening and connected with a fourteen inch fish. Tremendous! The fish went airborne first but she managed to throw it off balance and turn it towards deeper water, then it made a fatal mistake. It dove and wrapped in milfoil. Anne was able to work it up and land it, with the vegetation helping subdue the fourteen inch, 2.5 pound fish. I remember lots of 14 inch fish that didn’t weigh 1.5 pounds from where I started bass fishing in northern Wisconsin!
The lake is always transitioning, changing. The largemouth bass are newcomers, and came in on their own probably via a surge of overflow irrigation water that happened about six years ago. Today they fit right in and have added a spectacular element to the fishery. Combined with islands, which we strategically tether all over the lake, we can offer them that overhanging bank effect that appeals to their ambush predator life model. We also position islands right over a weed bed. Shade from the island eventually makes for a pocket of open water right under the island. It takes precise casting, but you can bet that kind of setting appeals to a boss bass.
One of our favorite island structure designs is what we call the “archipelago”. This is a combination of three or five smaller BioHavens, tethered together with about two feet of open water between each. This generates a dappled sunlight effect underwater, and also seems to be a magnet for frogs. The bass have sure picked up on it!
We have some islands designed as docks, so no plants, just decking on top. Initially I wondered whether bass would tolerate the noise and disturbance of people walking right above them. I can state unequivocally that they do. As do black crappie, bluegill and sunfish. We frequently fish off of these islands, so literally, we are just a couple feet from the very fish we are after.
There are endless variations on how islands can be positioned or varied to enhance for bass. Let us know what you come up with!