To some, scenes like this can be summed up in one word: weeds. Aquatic plants are more than just a nuisance to boaters and swimmers though; they provide important habitat for a variety of insects, snails, other invertebrates, and — of course —
fish. Plant growth provides cover for many species, concealing predators lying in ambush as well as their prey. Young bluegill don’t stray far from the cover provided by dense vegetation. You must look closely to see the small fish as they blend in almost perfectly against the green stems and leaves. These young bluegill are slightly larger. They are patrolling the tops of water celery leaves along with other fish like rock bass and yellow perch. The fuzzy growth on the leaves is epiphyton, algae that grows attached to plants. Bluegills sometimes feed on it directly, but more commonly feed on the invertebrates that graze upon the epiphyton. (underwater noises) Larger bluegill and other sunfish can often find more food in plankton-rich waters away from vegetation. But foraging here is risky because predators like largemouth bass hunt most effectively along the weed edges. In open water, bluegills are skittish, fleeing at the first sign of danger. But bluegills are curious by nature and seem compelled to investigate almost any novel object that appears in their environment. Even a camera. These suspended bluegill have every reason to be nervous. They’re not quite big enough to avoid the jaws of hungry bass. There’s nowhere to hide in open water and a group of large bass lurks just beneath them waiting for an opportune moment to feed. The deep body and sharp spines of the largest bluegill protect them from the mouths of even the largest bass. The mid-size bass can sometimes be found mixed in the schools of jumbo bluegill. While bluegill may begin their lives dependent upon the shelter of vegetation to hide them from predatory bass, a balance between shallow weed growth and open water tends to encourage a healthy balance between predator and prey.