Spring in the Ozarks isn’t just about longer days, warmer temperatures, green buds on trees, turkeys, redbuds in bloom and chasing trout in shirt-sleeves. If you haven’t fished for White Bass, you are missing out. Springfield fly fisher Bill Butts is the man when it comes to Ozark Bass. He’s a passionate and erudite spokesman for these species, and he has spent enough time chasing these species to understand them intimately. So here is Bill Butts’ introduction to this feisty and fun native species.
Fly Fishing for Springtime White Bass in the Ozarks
By Bill Butts Springfield MO
The availability and catchability of White Bass is very well-known by thousands of anglers across the country, but particularly in the Great Plains, Midwest, South and Southeast regions of the U.S. Their reputation as a hard striking and fighting gamefish has been experienced and documented for many decades.
The Ozarks Region of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma is one of the very best overall regions for quantity and size for these great fish. Fly Fishing for White Bass, along with their larger Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass cousins, has been a personal fishing passion of mine for over 30 years. For years it was a seasonal pursuit mostly in the spring and a little in the fall, but now it is my focused pursuit year-round.
History and Biology
So, how did these prolific fish find their homes in so many lakes, reservoirs and rivers for us to enjoy? White Bass are members of the Temperate Bass family and are native to the Mississippi River and virtually all of its tributaries.
Stop for a moment and think about how geographically widespread that made them even prior to the construction of many dams on river systems that include the Illinois, Des Moines, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, White, Arkansas, Red and others. Yes, they once inhabited only rivers.
Today, these rivers still contain resident populations of Whites as do nearly all the lakes and reservoirs that have been constructed along their flowages and tributaries. White Bass are so prolific that some fisheries management biologists have stated that from their perspective the White Bass is about as close to the perfect gamefish as they could hope for.
In the spring, White Bass that inhabit impoundments make their annual spawning run up into the primary tributaries. In the Ozarks, the timing of a run is dependent upon a number of factors including water temperature and daylight hours.
You can sometimes find Whites in the mouths or lower stream channels as early as January and February particularly during stretches of unseasonably warm sunny weather. However, when the air temperatures drop back down the Whites will retreat back to deeper, warmer lake water temporarily ending the fishing excitement.
This activity is not part of the spawning ritual, but purely the result of White Bass constantly seeking forage. This “roller coaster” of excitement and water temperature fluctuation continues until the water temperature reaches the upper 50’s which is suitable for spawning to begin taking place. It is very important for fishermen that pursue White Bass in the spring to always carry a thermometer and monitor the water temps.
The peak of the spawning run will occur when water temps consistently reach the 60 to 65 degree F. range. Years ago, an elderly fisherman on Beaver Creek told me that he always judged the peak of the run by when the dogwood trees in the area reached full bloom. At the time, I thought that was just a good story, but that story proved to be true every year that I intentionally compared the timing of both. My advice is still to carry a thermometer.
For fishermen that are familiar with the spawning habits of trout or bass and panfish species that dig and clean a spot in the gravel called a “redd” to lay and fertilize their eggs, White Bass spawn quite differently.
A female White Bass that is ready to spawn is surrounded by a small group of males as they swim over a clean gravel area together. As the female releases her eggs the males release their sperm and the eggs become fertilized as they sink to the stream bottom. The eggs contain a slightly sticky substance that causes them to adhere to the gravel and stay in place as they continue their development to hatch. The adult fish have no further involvement in the process or in protecting the eggs.
White Bass will continue to actively feed up to the very hour they begin the spawning act, but many fishermen have experienced the frustration of trying to entice a strike from a group of spawning fish that are totally oblivious to anything but sex.