BASS LAKE – When Jason De La Cruz began his regular workout swim at Bass Lake on Sunday, the last thing he ever expected was to be attacked by a fish.
But during his swim from Marina View out to the island near the dam, Jason says that is exactly what happened.
The North Fork resident, who is a Sierra High School graduate and heavy equipment operator for the Forest Service, was at the lake with his wife Devon and their kids on Sunday, June 2.
“My family and I go to the lake when I get off work to spend some time and do some swimming,” said Jason, who generally does a long distance swim as part of his excercise routine.
Jason says that at about 6 p.m., he was doing the first part of his swim out to the island and was about 20 feet from shore when he started looking under the water to make sure he wasn’t going to kick into any rocks.
“Just as I stuck my head out of the water, I felt like I had kicked my leg into a rock,” he said. “When I turned around, I realized that I was being attacked by a fish.”
Jason says he didn’t realize at the time that he had been bitten by the 2-1/2 foot long fish, and that the whole thing was like something out of a weird movie.
“It was like in the movies where you see someone looking at something moving in the water. And I’m thinking, I can’t believe this fish is coming at me.”
Jason says he put his hand out to push it away, and the fish made a little circle in the water, and came right back after him.
“It just kept coming at me,” he said. “I literally had to punch the thing and finally it took off.”
He climbed up out of the water and tried to get a passing boat to stop, “but they just kind of ignore me,” he said.
Jason saw a Sheriff’s patrol boat nearby, so he flagged them down and told them what had happened.
“While I was talking to them, I saw the mark on my leg and realized the thing had bitten me,” said Jason. “I wanted to finish my workout, so I asked the Sheriff’s patrol if they would pilot me back to the other side to my family, and I swam back. Then my son took the picture of my leg.”
They also measured the bite, and say it is 6″ long and 3-1/2″ wide.
Eric Guzman, Department of Fish & Wildlife District Inland Fisheries Biologist, says that bass can get very territorial during spawning. They spawn in the late spring, and the male guards the nest, attacking anything that is perceived to be a threat. But it is rare that they would go after a human.
“It would make sense that a big enough fish could strike at someone if the conditions are just right,” he said. “If the water is murky, and the fish can hear the splashing, but can’t see what’s causing it.”
Guzman says that bass don’t have teeth, but they do have a very rough material inside their mouths that is rough and uneven enough to leave a mark, though they’re unlikely to do any major damage.
“I certainly wouldn’t consider the lake to be a threat to anybody,” says Guzman. “Sometimes people hear stories like this and think there are killer fish in the lake. This is a very rare incident, and there is absolutely no reason for anyone to stop enjoying taking their families to the lake.”
As for Jason De La Cruz, he says he’s not going to stop swimming in the lake because of this incident.
“It wasn’t a shark that bit me. I’m pretty sure it was an aggressive, very big bass, and I must have gotten into his area,” he said. “It’s just one of those things.
“It’s still hard to believe, though, that I was being attacked by a fish! I’ve often thought, man, how great is this that I live where there’s a lake, and there’s no sharks or alligators or snapping turtles – and then this fish comes and bites me.”
Jason’s story has attracted a lot of attention since his wife posted the photo on Facebook, and when we spoke to him he was waiting for Channel 30 to come by and interview him.
“It’s just a crazy story,” he says. “Just life here in the mountains!”