In Pursuit of Rock Bass

February 2, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson


Rock bass fishing doesnt carry the history as most freshwater species, but has its place in fishing

Rock bass fishing doesn't carry the history as most freshwater species, but has it's place in fishing

Recently, my fishing buddy Einar came for a visit, and in between largemouth and smallmouth bass, rainbow trout and walleye, there was one fish he hoped to tangle with that he had not landed in the states before and was not available to him in his home country of Norway.

Muskie? Nope. Catfish? Uh-uh. Rock bass? You guessed it.

So despite the usual runs for more popular game fish, my friend and I set out on an afternoon trip to some rubble-strewn water to find this under appreciated fish to add to his life list. The adventure proved once again that a person only needs to be young at heart to enjoy this scrappy species.

It seems that old goggleyes is a fish long forgotten after childhood. A fun outing on the shores of a Minnesota lake, or even a trip into the “wilderness” of southeast North Dakota, may produce memories of young anglers catching rock bass. Soon after that, should the young anglers be serious enough to advance into the so-called higher forms of fishing, the rock bass is returned to the crevices of the rock shoreline, or the shade of a dock. In suit, the memories of these fire-eyed fish are stored in the shady little corners of childhood memories

However, the rediscovery of a memory from youth may happen completely on accident. That is how many anglers come across the rock bass once they have moved on to targeting other fish. Nevertheless, the rock bass, even for grown-up anglers, can provide consistent action and oftentimes can help an angler avoid a goose-egg when conditions get tough.

Big bite

The rock bass has about one-tenth of the aggression of the smallmouth. Fortunately, that aggression all comes out in the strike of the pint-sized powerhouse. Some hits have been known to jar rods from iron-tight grips and put a bend in a cane pole comparable to the St. Louis Arch. Certainly the strike is the most notable aspect of the rock bass’s repertoire.

This fish’s name alone gives anglers a great clue on where to begin the search. However, not every rock holds a bass.

Usually where there are medium sized rocks piled together, there are rock bass. The small fish hide in the cracks and crannies created by the pile or shoreline made of rip-rap or cement dumps. Here the rock bass awaits a morsel of food, such as a minnow or small insect, to come looking for shelter. Rock bass also target crayfish, dragonfly nymphs and other underwater creatures that make their homes near shoreline or rocks.

Perhaps the best way to access rock bass in these tight quarters is to use a long rod or a cane pole with suitable line and a small jig. Drop the lure in front of a likely holding spot, and jig it. It won’t take long to know if a rock bass is around. A quick and violent tug signals the strike of a rock bass, and although the fight is rarely as powerful as the take, the fish does put up a noteworthy struggle for a panfish.

Red means stop

Once the fish is near the surface, it is an easy lift out of the water. Take a moment to admire the camouflaged sides and bright red eye of the rock bass. Well adapted and adjusted to its surroundings, the rock bass is a fearsome predator, though out of water it may not appear to be so.

The bright red eye is perhaps the most noticeable feature of the rock bass. It brings to mind all the fury of the smallmouth, yet in a compact package. Note too, the big mouth, far superior to that of a bluegill or a pumpkinseed. Inside are teeth designed to handle hard-shelled prey such as insects and crayfish.

Indeed, the rock bass has a place all it’s own in the ecosystem of area lakes and rivers.

So the next time you are out angling and things are tough, try looking for rock bass. Better yet, take someone who has never caught one, and let them experience the excitement of another great species found…in our outdoors.


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