KW Morrow, White River

May 28th, 2007

White Before Easter
By Ken Morrow

Angler Another White Bass season in the Ozarks seems to have drawn to a close. Every spring, these hearty bass the "ugly stepsister" of the freshwater bass family go into a spawning frenzy in many Ozarks streams, rivers, and lakes. Generally speaking, the combination of spring rains and water temperatures climbing into the sixties triggers their procreative instinct and the spawning runs begin. White Bass spawning runs on Ozark streams vary based on the weather and from fishery to fishery over a couple of months, but generally occur in March and April. And they rarely happen in more than one or two of our rivers at the exact same time. They do tend to overlap, but each fishery peaks independently. Ozarks White Bass are caught mostly in the one to three pound range, but four pound Whites are not unexpected, and I got a very credible report of a six pound White being caught this spring. But that would be a huge White Bass!

Pound for pound, White Bass fight harder than most other bass species. They also become incredibly aggressive feeders and are heavy schoolers during the spawn. This makes White Bass fishing pretty exciting stuff. When you factor in the sporadic and unpredictable nature of the White Bass runs in the Ozarks, spring becomes an intoxicating time of year for serious Ozarks fly anglers who know that you can catch other fish than trout on a fly rod. All of our devoted trout fishing buddies wonder where we disappear to. When the runs end and we return to the trout streams, they always ask us why we haven't been fishing. If they only knew!

During the runs, it is not uncommon to land twenty to fifty White Bass in a day of fishing in the right place at the right time... sometimes even in half a day of fishing. If you find them on one of the waters known to hold bigger fish, 20 or more bass in excess of three pounds each is a spectacular day of fishing! A fellow fly angler I introduced to the White Bass world this spring caught ten such fish in three hours and was worn out. He quit fishing completely sated. His big fish was over four pounds.

Fly anglers have to think a bit differently when fishing for White Bass than they do for trout. Muddy water is not a bad thing with White Bass during the spawn. Tie on a Clouser Minnow or big, heavy chartreuse, blue, or white Woolly Bugger and have fun! The best Clouser colors are gray/white, chartreuse/white, and blue/white. Size 8 or 10 streamers are best. And you can catch them with a 3X leader and a floating line in most streams. In lakes, you need an intermediate line or about a 300 grain sink tip. You will catch most of these fish at less than three feet deep in water up to ten feet deep. But during spawning runs in shallow streams, most strikes occur in less than three feet of water on a suspended streamer. Jerk-stripping the fly works best. You can also catch White Bass on 1/100th ounce micro-jigs in white, gray, olive, blue, and sometimes pink. These can be thread jigs, but Marabou works best. Dead drift these under an indicator in swift water. On slower water and lakes, you can also catch them on mostly white pencil poppers and other similar popper flies. And if you find them feeding on the surface like that, Katy bar the door!

Don't chase White Bass in the Ozarks on anything smaller than a five weight fly rod. I prefer rods in the six to eight weight category. These are spawning fish. They are very, very hearty fish and their spawning activity really isn't damaged by being caught during a spawning run. Nonetheless, they need their energy. So unless you are keeping them for the fryer, you don't want to play them out to exhaustion. And the heavier rod helps with windy spring days following rains and the heavier flies, but it also helps you land these bass more quickly. The Ozarks sees a very heavy harvest of White Bass every year from bait and spin fishermen. And this doesn't seem to harm the fisheries at all. White Bass are extremely plentiful where they occur. Personally, I release all of mine. I'm not fond of eating bass.

Historically, some of the best White Bass fisheries in the Ozarks are the Little Sac River North of Springfield, Missouri, the lower James River upstream of the James River arm of Table Rock Lake, the Kings River branch of the same lake, the White River below Beaver Dam in Arkansas, and the far upper end of Bull Shoals Lake just below Powersite Dam. Feeder creeks and their associated coves in these areas are important not to overlook. Fishing behind rains that swell the creeks is the best bet, but ideally you want to catch the water as it begins to clear and slow down again. Fish the fast water just upstream of where it slows at the confluence. But this is by no means the only place you will find spawning run Whites!

We had a weird spring this year, and this disrupted the spawning pattern. We had a very warm March followed by a very cold April. We actually had hard freezes in mid-April. So the runs began early in some places, but then shut down as water temperatures dropped back into the fifties and even forties in most streams and lakes. Toward the end of April, the weather abruptly warmed back up and the White Bass went berserk! But they were very bipolar. They were either going crazy or completely dormant. So timing became as much a function of luck as it ever has been for experienced White Bass fishermen. We heard a lot of "you should have been here yesterday!"

Author Ken

So, in early spring, when your options are to stay indoors a bit longer or try to fish to lethargic northern trout in ice-cold waters to our north, don't forget the White Bass runs in the Ozarks. The weather can be very balmy and it can be rainy and windy with highs in the forties. But our waters never freeze and the Whites always spawn in March and April. It is always over by mid-May. Tie up some Clouser Minnows and micro-jigs and pack your bass rods. Come prepared for cold, wet weather and for dry warm weather. Bring a few dollars to spend in our local fly shops and at Bass Pro Shop in Springfield or Branson. Eat a few meals in local mom-and-pop cafes. Rent a cabin, cheap motel room, or a spot in an RV park for your motor home. They're everywhere down here. And try your hand at one of the less known high quality early spring fly fishing experiences in the country. ~ Ken

About Ken:

Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1988, and spent the next several years serving in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the nation's service in 1993.

Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian, having penned articles and stories that have appeared in several national hunting publications like North American Hunter magazine, on, in regional and local newspapers, and historical and literary journals. He has also provided hunting and dog training seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other sporting goods retailers nationwide. He volunteers his time to Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited, as well as several local charitable organizations. He is also a REALTOR with Coldwell Banker in Springfield, Missouri; where he lives with his wife, Wilma, and their Weimaraner, Smoky Joe.

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