They spawn in May and June with the male moving into the weedy shallows after dark to build bowl shaped nests of plant material among tree roots. A single male may try to mate with more than one female and sometimes several pairs of bowfin will use the same nests. The spawning colors of the male are brilliant--the belly is yellow to orange, the body sides are bronze and green and the fins are a vivid turquoise. When the male finishes nest building, the male approaches the female from the front, opens its mouth and protectively seizes the female’s snout as if he wants to kiss her. He attempts to nestle her by head to head contact. If the female is not prepared to spawn, she turns away and the chasing begins all over again. This pre-spawning behavior may last for hours but finally the female lies on the floor of the nest waving her fins lightly and with bodies twitching, the eggs are laid in 15-20 seconds. Again, it is the male who guards the nest and protects the babies. He supplies the eggs with fresh water, keeps them free of mud and drives off approaching bluegills, which feed on bowfin eggs. When they are 10 days old and a half- inch long, they can swim, and forming a dense school, they are led by the father through the water in an impressive display which is called “walking the cloud”, as they look like a big black mass moving through the water. As I discreetly followed them, the male became aware of me and became even more protective, herding them to a place I could not reach. I followed a safe distance behind, wondering what hiding place would make him feel secure. I knew he would never drive such tiny babies into deep water. Instead he found some very stiff reeds in a small area near the shore where his progeny could not be reached. He then abandoned them and I felt great concern that I had created a thousand orphans. I was immensely relieved the next day to find they had been reunited. Bowfins are found in a great many lakes in Michigan, and with their very individual markings, I am able to revisit my old friends year after year.
Next to the bluegill, the fish you are most likely to see in the greatest quantity is the largemouth bass, the most popular sport-fishing target in North America. It is easy to recognize, with its large mouth and long lateral stripe. Color depends on the clarity and color of the water, but it is usually creamy with a black stripe the width of its body. Size ranges from 10-16 inches, and they can live up to 15 years, though the average age is 10. They can tolerate warm temperatures and so are found in the shallows under weed cover all summer, providing the snorkeler with many opportunities for encounters. They are a curious fish, and on many occasions I would find myself facing 4-8 largemouths forming a a circle around me, unabashed in their blatant curiosity. Once I had 9 big ones facing me while over my shoulder two men in a boat only 2 feet away were grumbling “well, there’s certainly nothing around here!” Fortunately, the bass fishing culture is such that most avid bass anglers release even those of trophy size. Their favorite haunts are among lily pads--I once watched a group of 44 bass emerge forming a line one behind the other, an amazing and definitely unusual sight, since they are not a schooling fish. They love all cover, be it logs, stumps, rocky shores, boulders, weedline, edges and dropoffs.
Bass spawn in May with the males preparing a nest in very shallow water and guarding the eggs and newborns for 1-2 weeks. I can always spot the large groups of newborns by the lone male patrolling the area and viewing me with suspicion and concern. I obviously don’t hang around to irritate him. Their life is simple--eat, ambush and then eat some more. They are not roamers; their area is fairly small and they don’t migrate. Like the pike, they are sight feeders when the water clarity permits; otherwise, they use their lateral line to detect vibrations and locate prey. They’re a very gentle, non-aggressive fish that moves slowly, making for very easy and relaxing viewing.