When it comes to fish species that are tailor made for youngsters, the white bass (nicknamed ‘sandbass’ in many regions) and channel catfish come to mind. Both species are often plentiful and, at the right times, easy to catch. In a month or so, channel catfish will move into the shallows to spawn, where a bit of catfish bait under a floater easily entices them to bite but right now, the white bass is stealing the show across the state and much of the country. White bass can be caught in creeks and rivers above reservoirs during their annual spawning runs but timing these runs can be tricky. Flow in creeks and rivers trigger the white bass to move from the reservoirs to deposit their eggs and then fertilize them in the current. Some fish species eggs are laid in nests or beds but current and movement is necessary for white bass eggs to hatch. A big misconception is that all white bass lay their eggs in streams and rivers. As Richland Chambers guide Troy Spruce with Guaranteed Guide Service says, “I would bet half the population of white bass in a given lake spawn on windblown clay points or humps”. I couldn’t agree more.
This past week, my son in Law Phillip Zimmerman and grandson Jack and I joined Spruce for a few hours fishing and the first spot we stopped was the mouth of a feeder creek. “There are fish up in this and all the feeder creeks right now and they are in various stages of the spawn, but we can catch all the sandbass we want right here around the creek mouth. “ says Spruce as he buried his face in the graph, which was plotting a long, submerged hump about 18 feet below the surface. “Look at all these marks holding tightly to bottom on the downwind (sheltered) side of the hump. Those clouds shaped like inverted V’s are shad and those are white bass laying right on bottom. They should nail these half-ounce slabs.”
We began our drift just upwind of the submerged point and as soon as our baits began to bounce along bottom on the leeward side of the structure, our rods began to bow; white bass were staged on the structure in large numbers and they readily nailed the brightly painted pieces of lead they mistook for dead shad that had drifted to bottom. Technique and bait presentation is important and these prime elements of a successful fishing trip often change daily. These ‘bottom hugging’ whites were hitting baits within inches of bottom. Spruce instructed us to simply make contact with the bottom, then lift the baits vertically a foot or so, then allow them to flutter down. I am convinced it’s that fluttering motion caused by a falling slab of jigging spoon that triggers strikes. It’s important to remember to ‘feel’ the bait as it falls, this is when most strikes occur. The trick is to give the line enough slack to allow the bait to wobble and flutter on the fall but not so much tension to hampers this action.
When white bass are actively schooling, chasing schools of shad in open water, they prefer a fast moving slab or soft plastic shad imitation bait. They are on the move, catching their meal on the run, and in order to catch them, one has to mimic their prey. During these periods of frantic feeding activity, it’s impossible to work a bait to fast. White bass can catch a bait ripping though their midst as quickly as the fisherman can crank the reel handle. How they can locate and attack a lure moving quickly in murky water is a mystery to me but this gregarious species is genetically programmed to eat on the run.
The fish we were catching were staging at the mouth of the creek, some that we landed were packed with eggs and milt, and others had obviously ‘spawned out’. Regardless their stage of the spawn, they were holding near the mouth of the creek, a fact that once learned, can help the white bass angler put fish in the boat during the spawn. Obviously, when rainfall causes current, the majority of these spawners would move into the creek, possibly traveling several miles up the stream to find the perfect combination of current and water clarity before deposition their eggs. With no rainfall/current, they obviously were here to take advantage of the current moving along the long point, caused by March’s steady winds.
Creek mouths are definitely good spots to target whites now but as we learned later in the afternoon, there are already plenty of post-spawn fish chasing shad in open water. On the way back to the marina, we stopped and graphed an old submerged roadbed where big schools of shad and accompany white bass plotted on the graph. We managed to entice strikes from a few of these fish, which were holding right on bottom but the bite had definitely slowed. About thirty minutes before dark, something triggered the dinner bell for this big school and they pushed the shad near the surface and the feeding frenzy was on.
The white bass spawn is at its peak now, but will wrap up in a few weeks, and then widespread schooling action will be the name of the game; time to tie on small top water plugs and enjoy an entirely different approach! Regardless which lake you choose to fish for them, chances are very good you live close to some very good white bass waters. Hopefully some of the tips we gleaned from this recent trip to Richland Chambers this recent trip will help you collect the makings of a mighty tasty fish fry on your home waters.