7 Tried-and-True Tips for Targeting Wintertime White Bass
To be successful at catching a mess of sandies during the cold months of the year, anglers must be willing to abandon their warmer-water tactics
Duringspring, summer and fall, white bass are nomadic, sometimes roaming miles whenfollowing schools of shad and other baitfish. In winter, however, cold waterreduces their metabolism and the need to feed. For a few weeks, the roamingurge is quelled, and whites gather in stationary schools in deep water.
In deepreservoirs, they may be 40 feet down, holding in open water around prominentstructure like a hump or fast-dropping point. The same behavior is observed onbig rivers, with whites near deep structure like river-channel edges andplummeting holes at creek mouths. Sand structures like bars and flats areespecially attractive, hence white bass’ common nickname “sandies.” Rarely arewhites found where brush and big rocks cover the bottom. Smooth-bottomed,open-water areas provide the habitat they prefer.
Scan and Mark
Invaluableequipment for fishing deep structure includes bottom contour maps of the lake,marker buoys to keep you near structure or schools of fish and a sonar unitthat reveals structure as well as fish. Because white bass spend most of theirtime over clean bottom, it’s easy to locate them with electronics. Check thespots where whites should be, and when you see returns, mark the spot with abuoy and start fishing.
A smalljigging spoon worked vertically beneath the boat is an excellent lure fordeep-water whites. Fish the spoon straight up and down. Jerk it hard, raisingit four or five feet, and let it flutter down on slack line. Most strikes comewhile the spoon is falling, and you probably won’t feel the strike. That’s OK. Whenyou jerk the spoon again, you’ll set the hook. That’s why you jerk hard.
Try a Road Runner
Anotherpopular lure is the Blakemore Road Runner, a horsehead spinner. It can beworked up and down points, over and around humps and along deep sand bars andflats. It has what I call a double whammy: the flash of a spinner and theseductive dance of a marabou or rubber-skirted jig all wrapped up in one deadlylittle package. Work the lure just above bottom where the big sows lurk. Use avaried retrieve—sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes smooth, sometimesjerky. Occasionally, it should fall to the bottom and be ripped upward again. Suchshenanigans are usually more than white bass can bear.
Yetanother method of taking whites on deep winter structure is to troll withdeep-diving lures, or better yet, to troll with downriggers and small jigs. Trollingcovers lots of water and produces fish on those rare days when whites won’tcooperate. Trolling may also be the best method for taking suspended white bassholding at mid-depths between the surface and bottom. Suspended fish generallyare hard to catch by casting or jigging.
Pump Your Rod
Whentrolling at these greater depths and the fish are not responding, try pumpingthe rod with a long sweeping action. The lures crawl along, then hop a few feetabove the bottom and fall back. This constant series of swimming, diving and jiggingactions incites whites to strike.
Mark for Proper Depth
When youget your first strike, take a waterproof felt marker and dab it on your linejust ahead of the reel before you crank in the fish. On your next pass throughthe area, release your line until the mark shows just ahead of the reel and youknow your lure will be traveling at the right depth.
Power Plant Action
Ifan electrical power plant is adjacent the body of water you’re fishing, be sureto look for white bass in the vicinity. These facilities are hotspots in theliteral sense of the term. Lake or river water is used to cool internalmachinery, and when the water is returned from whence it came, it’s warmer thanthe surrounding lake or stream. Baitfish congregate in these warm environs likebathers on a Caribbean beach, and white bass move in to gluttonize the schools.Warmer water raises the metabolic rate of cold-blooded bass, meaning morefrequent, active feeding periods during winter. Savvy anglers take advantage ofthis unique situation.
Watchthe surface in these areas for skipping shad. Whites are likely to be afterthem and can be caught by casting jigs, spinners or small shad-imitationcrankbaits near the edge of the disturbance. If there are no signs of surfacefeeding, try a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jig cast across or up the current andretrieved at different depths. Let the lure sink three or four feet, and ifthis doesn’t work, go deeper and deeper until you’re working it just over thebottom.
Winterfishing isn’t for everybody. For most of us, a warm fireplace is much moreattractive than a frigid outing on a river or lake.
Ifthe fishing itch gets too intense to bear, though, give winter white bass atry. Fishing for these sassy panfish is a sure remedy for what ails you.