Every year across the Show-Me State, anglers head out for the white-bass run. (April 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
To say that 2007 will be another banner year for white bass may be an understatement. Many of our larger reservoirs are hosting good populations of white bass, with fish up into the 2- to 3-pound range. Anglers tangled with a lot of these fish last year -- and there are plenty more to go around.
When conditions are right, white bass start stacking up to begin their annual upstream spawning runs. In reservoirs, males arrive first where rivers inflow and break water for the first few gravel-bottomed riffles where the larger, egg-laden females soon join them. When the run is in full swing, anglers can haul white bass in as fast as they can cast.
Whites can be taken all year long with a little know-how, providing sport right on through the summer and into late fall. But springtime definitely holds out the best odds for limiting out. Show-Me anglers, of course, have to see it to believe it -- so here's the lowdown on where you'll find our best white-bass fishing this spring.
"In the Ozark Region, I'd have to say that Norfork Lake is the best white-bass run," said A.J. Pratt, fisheries management biologist. "The run is fast and furious up the North Fork of the White River and Bryant Creek during the first half of March and into mid-April. Although river stages and weather impact whether the run is earlier or later, the majority of the fish run up to and above the Udall area. The typical lures and baits work, and since the lake is usually clear, fishing at night can be very effective."
According to Russell Breckenridge of Breckenridge Guide Service, the bass also run upstream into the Brushy, Pigeon and other creek arms. Anglers that can time the run to catch females will find fish reaching up to 4 pounds.
"The whites will usually run up into really shallow, running water in March to lay their eggs and then head back downstream into the lake," said Breckenridge. "In the summer we'll catch them while trolling for stripers with three-way rigs, sometimes from 40 to 60 feet down."
Breckenridge doesn't see the white bass at the surface every year, but when he does, there's no mistaking what's going on. Early on August mornings is the best time to see whites herding shad up to the surface, where the predators can more easily catch them. Surface baits or shallow-running cranks are hot.
The lion's share of the 2,200-acre lake is in Arkansas, but Missouri residents no longer need to purchase a nonresident Arkansas fishing license to fish the Arkansas side. They do need the White River Border Lakes Permit.
Ramps are off Highway 24 near Calamity Beach and off Highway 551 at the Bridges Creek ramp. The lake lies in Fulton, Baxter and Ozark counties.
Breckenridge Guide Service can be reached at (870) 488-5555 for a spring-run booking. For additional information, contact the Ozark Region office at (417) 256-7161. The Lake Norfork Marina can be reached at (870) 488-5229.
"There are plenty of 12- to 14- inch fish, with the occasional larger one," said fisheries management biologist Todd Gemeinhardt, who declared Smithville to be his top pick for 2007.
Smithville's Little Platte River is the likely spot to start trolling or casting when the whites start moving. During the next few years, the size of the run may be increasing in proportion to the increase in the number of whites in the reservoir.
Anglers aren't limited to March and April for good fishing, said Gemeinhardt. Watch for the white bass to be surfacing early and late in the day throughout the open-water season as they chase down a meal. Rattletraps and Roadrunners retrieved through the boils will mean plenty of surface action, while heavier spoons trolled across the bottom points during midday will also cash in on active fish, especially on the deep points near the old Trimble Dam.
Mike Colvin, a resource scientist for the MDC who has studied white bass for years, gives the thumbs-up for Smithville. "Smithville's white-bass population is taking off," said Colvin. "For the last few years anglers are reporting that the white-bass fishing is excellent. The fishery is up and coming and looking good."
Trolling a three-way rig with small plastics or a spoon works well when the fish are suspended out in open water. Gravel areas over deep water are good spots to try; electronics can give you a sneak peek, but otherwise, you'll just need to experiment with various depths to fish.
Smithville, covering nearly 8,000 acres, is about a half-hour's drive from Kansas City. Ramp access is good, and a special dock for disabled anglers at the Crows Creek access provides access to the white bass when the fish are in the area.
Contact the Kansas City Region Office at (816) 655-6250 for additional information.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
If, according to fisheries management biologist Matt Mauck, you're looking for a good white-bass bite, Table Rock is one option you'll want to keep open.
During the spring run, bass move up into the James, Elk Fork, Roaring, Kings, Long and Salt Fork rivers. Well-placed anglers can catch all the fish they want if they hit it right. Stream flow, temperature and probably a few factors we don't know about trigger the reproductive instincts as if someone flipped a switch. In the summer months, the fishing gets a little tougher, but being in the right places can pay off.
"Anglers have waylaid some really big white bass right in front of the spillway structure near the dam during the summer," said Mauck. "If you're willing to troll or fish jigging spoons, you can take some bass. Gravel flats from 25 to 40 feet deep are the best areas to troll or spoon for these whites. This lake is a good one for white bass."
Local anglers like guide Tim Sainato of Go Fish & Company seem to have a knack for finding them. "Last year we had one of the best years we've ever had for both quantity and quality of fish," said Sainato. "In the summer we fished from 30 to 50 feet deep on the main lake flats close to the channels. From the first week of June until about the third week of August, the fishing was almost unbelievable, and we limited out every day. The bass would only bite for about an hour or two every morning when they were feeding on the shad, and then they'd move. We were catching 3- and 4-pound fish."
According to Sainato, the fall fishing on Table Rock can be fabulous as
well. "Everyone is deer hunting," he stated. "You can have the whole lake to yourself."
Something for experienced white-bass fisherman to remember is that these shad aren't the surface-loving gizzard shad, but threadfin shad, which prefer deeper water and a lot of the white-bass feeding takes place in deeper water rather than in the shallows.
Table Rock Lake covers 43,100 acres and is six miles southwest of Branson. Contact the Southwest Region's Hannibal office at (573) 248-2530 or the Table Rock State Park marina at (417) 334-2628 for more information. To book a trip with Go Fish & Company, call (417) 335-0037.
"I recommend anglers give Clearwater a try," said fisheries biologist Paul Cieslewicz. "Clearwater supports a good white-bass population. Every April the white bass migrate up the Black River to spawn. The best fishing that time of the year is upstream of Sinking Creek, and whites in the 1- to 2-pound range are common."
Jason Wilson, natural resources specialist with the Clearwater Lake Project, shares Cieslewicz's enthusiasm. "The lake is good for both numbers and sizes of white bass," he remarked. "Anglers come all the way from St. Louis to fish for whites. The reports I get from the locals are that the fishing is good."
Small spinners and crankbaits tempt these spawners into hitting angler's offerings. Also: Find the shad, and you'll find the bass. This can be in open water, or near the sunken brushpiles and trees submerged for fish habitat. Hundreds of cedar trees cleared from nearby woodlands to create secondary growth areas for wildlife have been dropped into the lake. Last year, numerous cedar trees were sunk off the Thurman Point Access.
"The brushpiles are better for crappie and bass, but occasionally the white bass will be near them, too," said Wilson. "Once we started adding fish structure about seven years ago, it seemed we were adding the missing component to Clearwater. It really helped the fishery."
Clearwater Lake, an impoundment on the Black River, covers 1,630 acres in Reynolds County. Boat ramps are off H Highway on the Webb Creek arm, off HH Highway on the east side of the lower lake and off AA Highway on the east side of the Black River arm.
For additional information, contact the Southeast Regional Office at (573) 290-5730 or the Clearwater Lake Project at (573) 223-7777.
POMME DE TERRE
Local guide Eric Prey rates the white-bass fishery on 7,820-acre Pomme de Terre as a good one, and not just in the spring. "Early spring concentrates the white bass in the Pomme de Terre River and Lindley Creek," said Prey. "Toss small crankbaits, Roostertails and 3-inch plastic grubs on 1/4-ounce ballhead jigs. Beginning in the late spring, move out onto the main lake flats and pea-gravel points with the same baits, and add some Rattle Traps. Summer is much tougher, and most of the whites are caught on main-lake flats and flat points clear up into the fall."
Pomme de Terre is known primarily for crappies and muskies, reported Charles Colvin of Mohawk Corners Bait and Tackle, but a lot of white bass are in there, too. "Most of the guys I know start out fishing for crappies with a minnow under a float and when a white bass takes it, they start fishing for white bass," he said. "Anglers catch white bass up around the bay that's off Highway 306, near the Bolivar Landing, about nine miles north of the McCracken Bridge off Pomme de Terre Highway and off McCracken Bridge itself.
"In the summer the whites like flats and points. Where I'd go to look for white bass if I didn't know Pomme de Terre, or any reservoir, are the long points that gradually slope out into the lake, no matter the depth. The fish like to hang on these points in between morning and evening feeding sprees. Humps in the upper ends of reservoirs would be my second choice."
Deep trolling is the ticket during the summer months along with spotting the occasional feeding frenzy on the surface. "When the white bass are feeding, it sometimes doesn't matter what you throw," said Colvin. "At other times they can be just as difficult to catch as anything else.
"I personally like to troll chrome-colored Wiggle Warts or Rattletraps. Up in rivers my personal choice is a lighter shad color, or in muddy conditions, a chartreuse bait."
For additional information, contact the Southwest Regional Office at (417) 895-6880. The Mohawk Corners Bait and Tackle can be reached at (417) 253-2141. The Pomme de Terre State Park marina can be reached at (417) 852-4567. Contact Eric Prey online at www.focusedfishing.com.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
At 61,000 acres the largest of Missouri's whopper-sized reservoirs, this venue barely needs an introduction. Boasting well over 1,300 miles of shoreline, the lake's well developed, and offers many amenities for visiting anglers.
The best fishing for white bass at this sprawling lake is found during April and May, when the fish concentrate in huge numbers to make their spawning runs. Typically, the best runs are up the Niangua, Osage and Gravois arms of the lake. Other rivers that get a fair share of whites every spring are the Turkey, Linn and Cole Camp streams.
Fall fishing can be good but the schools of fish are scattered and chasing their perennial favorite prey, the shad. From September up into November, fish can be taken with deep-running cranks, jigging spoons and vertical jigs.
Truman Dam, on the Osage, is a hotbed of activity. Bass can't go any farther, and tend to become concentrated -- the perfect choice for a shot at good numbers of fish.
Contact the Central Region office at (573) 884-6861 for more information. Boat rentals are available at the Lake of the Ozarks State Park marina at (573) 348-1233.
"Truman Reservoir has a nice population of white bass," said Charles Colvin. "It's a lake with a well-established fishery that anglers enjoy year after year."
The spring run is the draw for anglers. Water temperatures and water flows turn on the reproductive instinct and anglers can take loads of these fish as they congregate to migrate upstream, but every year it's a guess as to when the run will be. The fish will head up into where the river empties into the reservoir and congregate between this area and the first two or three riffles upstream.
"Whites will travel up rivers and creeks as far as they can go," said Tim Sainato. "They'll keep going upstream until their backs are sticking out of the water. The run usually starts in April and goes through May. Whites will spawn on the riffles in the creeks during the daytime and be in the deeper holes during the night, and little jigs, Rapalas and other small floating crankbaits will work well up in the creeks. The top bait up there in the springtime is the Roadrunner."
"In the fall you can get some exce
llent fishing on windy points," said Colvin. "Find a point with the wind blowing on it, and you'll probably find fish. The wind is probably blowing the young-of-the-year shad up onto the bank, where the white bass can catch them."
But even on the right waters, finding white bass can be sometimes be difficult. Locating white bass roaming main-lake basins means being mobile, and willing to look for fish that can be just about anywhere.
"White bass don't relate to traditional bass structure," said biologist Matt Mauck. "Spoons and trolling are the way anglers usually catch white bass. The bass swim in schools and chase the shad, so they're not keyed in on traditional black bass structure like trees and rocky points. Sometimes you'll find them around points, humps and dropoffs, but only if that's where the shad are."
Truman, which sprawls across Benton County, is a recent addition to the Show-Me State's impoundments, having been filled in 1979; at present it covers over 55,000 acres. Standing timber can present a real challenge to boaters trying to navigate the hazards.
For more information contact, the Harry S. Truman State Park marina at (660) 438-2423 or Kansas City Regional Office at (816) 655-6250.
Contact the Missouri Division of Tourism at (573) 751-4133, or online at www.visitmo.com, for information on lodging.