We bass fishermen tend to think of the largemouth as a top level predator. They tend to be feeding generalists and are often portrayed as willing to eat anything they can fit into their mouth. Our friends to the north would probably identify musky and pike as the top level predator in their waters. Not many studies have ever substantiated bass as a regular diet item for either of the two, though most everyone who has ever fished up there has a story or two about the little bass that got grabbed by a giant musky while trying to reel it in (it happened to me). Even so, more typical is that the pike and musky will patrol and control the deep weed edges and force the bass further into the weeds, often to the inside weedline or even into the "slop".
There is one fish that is often overlooked as a top line predator though, one that is available in many of our more typical river and reservoir environments we encounter, and one that has been documented to regularly consume centrarchids (the sunfish family) including largemouth bass. I was reminded of this when a friend posted a series of pics on another board of a "beast" he caught from my home lake last weekend. Check out the pic below to see this fish of which I speak.
Behold the flathead catfish! This guy weighed an estimated 45-50 pounds and was caught by Andy Patterson on a jig with 6# line. There has been a lot more interest and research done this past decade on members of the catfish family. Flatheads in particular are almost strictly live bait feeders. Crayfish make up an important secondary component of their diet, especially of more middle-sized specimens. However, various sunfish and gizzard shad tend to be the two most abundant items in their diet when available. Depending on the water in question there can be some selectivity, but other waters show its a matter of whatever is abundant and in the wrong place at the wrong time (LOL), largemouth bass being no exception. And poor bullheads are just like "gummy bear" candy to a big old flathead. In fact, outside of their normal range they are even considered invasive in some waters and believed to change the species composition in a given body of water.
For a bit more reading on the subject, including diet analysis I give you these selected links:
- Trophic Relations of Introduced Flathead Catfish in a North Carolina Piedmont River
- Food Habits of the Flathead Catfish, Pylodictis olivaris (Rafinesque), in Relation to Length and Season in a Large Kansas Reservoir
- Diet Selectivity of Introduced Flathead Catfish in Coastal Rivers
Don't be surprised next year if you see me post a trip or two about chasing after these freshwater eating machines.