Fish are funny creatures. There are never any guarantees when it comes to fishing, but one thing is certain: Our finned friends always find new ways to surprise us.
Usually, it’s a pleasant surprise, like catching a big trout on a panfish lure, or hooking a tasty tilapia where you least expected to find one.
Sometimes, it’s less fun, like when the bass of a lifetime turns out to be just a huge pikeminnow, or when a crafty kokanee invents a new way to spit your hook just inches from the boat.
This year, the surprise I keep bumping into is the “What was he thinking?” fish.
This is my term for a small fish that attacks a lure it has no earthly chance of swallowing. There’s something amusing and even endearing about it — on one hand, it’s a risky move that could lead to the fish choking to death, but on the other hand, you have to admire the fearless ambition.
“What was he thinking?” fish come in many shapes and sizes. The most common culprits are bass. Their big mouths and apex predator attitudes makes for some funny moments. There’s just something comical about a four-inch fish trying to gobble a top-water plug that equals its own body length.
And it never seems to fail — when you size up your lures to go after the big one, the smallest fish of the day will be the first one to grab it.
Bass aren’t the only species with eyes bigger than their stomachs. This summer, I was throwing a large, bluegill-colored crankbait and catching some nice largemouth bass ... until I got a strike that felt different.
It was a hard fighter, but I could tell it wasn’t a very big fish. Sure enough, I lifted a cannibalistic bluegill into the boat. He was a decent size for a bluegill, but he couldn’t even fit the tail end of that crankbait in his tiny mouth.
So, what was that fish thinking? There’s no way to know for sure. Maybe he has grand plans of moving up the food chain, but he could have had other motives. Fish of all species can be aggressive and territorial, especially during their spawning season. So maybe that bluegill was nipping at the tail of what he saw as a smaller, annoying competitor.
Or maybe he was trying to eat it, as physically impossible as it seems. Fish — like most animals in nature — make most of their feeding decisions based on a simple calculation of effort vs. reward. So if they see an easy chance for a high-calorie meal, they just might bite off more than they can chew.
I’ve caught fish with bellies and throats full to capacity, and yet they still tried to eat my lure. And the internet is full of pictures and videos of fish found struggling — or already dead — with a too-big prey item lodged in the throat.
If you fish often enough, you’ll likely bump into some “What was he thinking” fish of your own. We may never know the answers, but it’s hard to complain about having a fish on the end of your line — even if he’s smaller than your lure.
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.