As outdoorsmen, we rely almost completely on animal’s natural instincts. Mating and reproduction are some of the most basic of those instincts that can be predicted.
Everyone knows the rut for deer is the peak time for whitetail hunting. The bucks throw caution to the wind as they search for a willing mate, even if it means exiting the protection of their thick cover during broad daylight at just a scent of a female or sound of a competing male’s grunt. But this is not limited to our most popular hunting pursuit.
Every year over the last decade or so I have watched a series of underwater cameras on the Wolf River in Wisconsin beginning in March. They are similar to the various bird nest cameras or zoo cameras that grace the news every now and then, except they show underwater life.
If you are lucky, you can catch a sturgeon hovering in and out of the view of the screen. Most of the time, when the activity heats up, it is because of the sucker fish spawn. There may be several dozen of the bottom feeders bouncing and rolling over each other. Within a few weeks the sucker fish begin their spawn here in the Carolinas as well.
When I first caught glimpse of a sucker spawn, I was amazed at the sight before me. I have never been to Alaska, but I imagined the suckers crashing the running water with their tails in the shallows were a miniature version of a salmon run on the Copper River.
During the same time span, another species begins their journey up the river basins. The shad, whether hickory or American, will populate the rivers quickly and chomp at anything small enough to digest. Their hunger is only fueled for the tiresome swim against the currents over hundreds of miles so they can lay eggs and fertilize them.
Of course, once the shad begin their track, the stripers follow behind. The stripers are a favorite amongst anglers on the Roanoke River. The significance to a small area in Eastern North Carolina is historical in context, garnering nationwide excitement at the peak. Traffic jams in Atlanta have nothing on the gunwale to gunwale occurrences from the boats lining the river’s surface.
As the stripers ramp up their spawn, our still waters begin to swell with activity as well. Pan fish such as bream fan the bottoms of ponds and lakes in what appears as an underwater lunar landscape. The crappies come from the depths and cover up to the shallow shorelines to prepare for their annual ritual.
The male largemouth, the predominate predator of the freshwater, begins his bedding process as well. He is hungry and angry and will attach anything that comes near the nesting area. The trophy though is the big female. She carries the eggs and has put on the weight. She may hover just off the bed out of sight until her confidence and safety allows her to re-enter. It all becomes a game of wits. Can the angler outsmart the prey? We can learn when, but we have to become wise to the tendencies and match the techniques.
Spring does not only bring the fish to a fevered pitch though. Neither is fish the only ones we have to outplay the game with.
The old gobbler begins his redundant calls announcing his dominance. His harem will feed and cluck; he will follow and strut. A smaller jake stands no chance against a beard dragging tom during the prime mating season.
Spring sets off a glorious sequence of events of what we would ‘humanize’ as love, and we humans love it.