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CSI: The Case of the Floating Fish

Posted: July 15th, 2015 by Bill Dance

A fellow angler and longtime fan of Bill Dance Outdoors once told me he found a “friend” suspiciously floating in their small lake. And just when I was about to ask him if he had ever considered putting up no-trespassing/swimming signs, he mentioned that the floating friend was a dead bass–a really big one. He said the bass measured 29 inches in length!

He did not believe the bass had been caught and released, and figured if the bass had died of old age, it would not have floated to the top. This fisherman pondered whether this was true. And asked if I knew how long bass normally survive in a healthy small-lake environment. Had the fish choked when trying to eat something as large as a baby duck or a bream, which they suspected the bigmouth had done successfully on many occasions? He reported the bass to be 12 years old.

Well, I told the guy I was sorry for his loss, and I bet there wasn’t a dry eye in the lake when that big ol’ bass died. Of course, more than likely, judging by the fish’s reported size it was a female. And, honestly, as for the other fish species mourning, well, you have to really think the other critters were actually more than glad it was gone–what a predator! She had to be a force to be reckoned with.

Biologist Terry Goldsby, who founded Aquaservices, Inc., once told me:

“Bass that die naturally from old age or other natural causes will float like any other dead fish — whether or not a dead fish floats depends more on time of year and the decomposition rate than anything else.

“During summer, when the ambient water temperature is elevated, decomposition is accelerated and floating will often occur before turtles and other fish have time to eat the carcass. The general consensus here in our office is that if a bass lives 10 years, it is very old and unusual,” Goldsby told me.

“Certainly, a 12-year-old fish has lived far longer than average. And a 29-inch long bass is absolutely HUGE! We haven’t had time to consult the record books, but none of us believe we’ve ever heard of a fish that length–I do think in all probability the bass died of old age,” he said.

Terry also said that although fish do occasionally “choke” on large food items, it would be very unusual. And besides, it sounds like this monster bass could have swallowed a University of Tennessee football without blinking.

Here’s something else about the management of small reservoirs. There is a balance that must be achieved. Harvest (keeping some fish) must take place to maintain this healthy balance, especially with the prey fish like bream and crappie.

It would seem very difficult to maintain this balance, even more so with the prolific crappie. Then too, the angler’s deceased and finned friend may have been working overtime to keep things in check. Let’s hope she left behind some other large members of her predator family.

As always, catch one for me!

Bill Dance


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