If you like easy fishing and fast catching, a white bass trip is just what you need over the next few weeks.
Currently, white bass spawn in the tributaries of all our lakes and large rivers. They are concentrated in narrow, shallow waters and they will hit a wide assortment of artificial lures. If you can cast and retrieve, you can catch white bass just about anywhere.
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In Arkansas, a very large white bass weighs about 3 pounds, but averages about 13 inches long. High or low, they are the ideal size for light or ultra-light tackles. On a 6 pound test line they will give a light and flexible rod all it can handle. For even more fun, use a 4-pound test line.
A spinning rig with a 6 foot rod is ideal. A white bass hits fast and hard, and even a small one can break the line of light on the hit if your drag is too tight. The fish will cling to the strike, then pounce with even greater force than the strike. Your drag should be solid for hitting, then slightly loose for running. Since the white bass is pelagic, you don’t have to worry about it interrupting you from cover. They will remain in open water, allowing you to fight them freely.
A white bass will bite anything that remotely resembles a threadfin shad or minnow. Select a heavy lure that you can cast a long distance. Prime selections are Blue Fox and Vibrax online spinnerbaits and small spinners. Spinners and line spoons twist when retrieved, and they will eventually twist and foul the line. You can avoid this by using a 12 inch swivel and leader.
Small swimbaits or soft plastic shad type lures are excellent for white bass. A 1/8 or 1/4 ounce ball head jig head or bait head will allow you to cast sufficient distances. A simple recovery is enough.
A variation of this technique involves twist tail larvae. A tandem rig works best with a white larva on one line and a yellow or chartreuse larva on the other line. White bass often ignore a single twist tail, but they won’t ignore two. You might even catch two fish at once.
Surface water fishing is the most exciting way to catch white bass. When schooling, the white bass will slam surface lures fiercely. Any small topwater will work including the Heddon Tiny Torpedo, a small Rebel Pop R or an Excalibur Zell Pop. Retrieve cigar-style lures, like the Zara Puppy, in a serpentine fashion and walk the dog. Quickly retrieve chugger-style lures to spit water. The spitting action excites the fish, and you can sometimes catch two at once.
Trolling is another great way to catch white bass when fishing in thin water. A 3 inch stickbait is excellent for catching all sizes of white bass. It will also catch striped bass, but you can land massive stripers on a superlight tackle with proper drag control.
Fly fishing is a fantastically fun way to catch white bass in the spring. A white bass will bite any white streamer or even an ultralight jig and give you the fight of your life on a 3 weight fly rod.
Finally, you can also catch white bass on bait. Baby crayfish are excellent, as are thawed popcorn shrimp and canned baby clams.
In central Arkansas, Upper Maumelle Lake offers excellent fishing. The action begins at the highway. 10 Bridge and progresses upstream into the Big Maumelle River. The spawning ground peaks in skinny water at public access on Arkansas 10 above the bridge.
Good fishing is available from the bank at the top of the spawning ground, but is best by kayak or even canoe if the current is not too strong.
Although best known for trophy largemouth bass, Lake Atkins is home to a large population of white bass. The water is so clear you can actually see the schools moving along the flats. They look like big shadows. It’s the best time to fly fish for them, but it’s always good to have a spinning rig ready when they get the idea of chasing bait on the surface.
Go as far up the Fourche La Fave River as possible to enjoy the top of the white bass spawning ground at Lake Nimrod, but don’t overlook the small creeks that feed the lake. The white bass will advance to the fall line, where it will concentrate in ridiculously thin water. It’s as close to fishing in a barrel as it gets, and when they’re feeding frantically, you can catch them as fast as you can cast.
Choose any tributary you want on this giant reservoir between Hot Springs and Mt. Ida. The white bar is in each of them.
At present, they are still in fairly wide waters following the channels of rivers and streams. On March 13, 2020 I fished with Stephen Dunlap in a main arm and caught dozens of white bass. They learned in spurts as they walked back and forth from the canal to the apartments. We caught them half a dozen at a time. They disappeared into the channel and then returned 15 to 20 minutes later. None were big, but they kept us busy all afternoon.
The second reservoir in the White River Range is home to one of Arkansas’ most prolific white bass runs. They behave similarly to Lake Ouachita in War Eagle Creek, Hickory Creek, Indian Creek, and the White River Arm. If the water gets high enough, you can catch white bass almost all the way to the War Eagle Mill dam.
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White bass is delicious to eat fresh, but it takes a lot of work. Even a large white bass results in a very small fillet which shrinks considerably when you remove the blood line. Leaving the line gives the fish a very strong flavor that many consider unpleasant.
My experience is that white bass fillets don’t keep well frozen. Keep just enough to eat fresh and come back later.
Fried fillets are very tasty. They are also very good sautéed in butter.
The spawning pattern lasts until April, but the fish will quickly return to the lakes. The best surface action takes place in the summer in open water.