Try Whitebass

A too often forgotten about species that packs a huge fight in a little package!
Late spring finds many of us with long ďTo-DoĒ lists and short on time. Spring yard work, all those winter tasks that have yet to be done, vacations to plan, and a multitude of other jobs to get done just leave most of us with too little time to hit the water. Couple this with season openers of some of the more glamorous species, these little white demons often get overlooked.

Cousins of grouper and stripers, Whitebass have much to offer. They are very easy to find and catch and offer especially great fishing for kids. With a range, thanks to extensive stocking programs, throughout the entire country you donít have to travel far to partake in this fishing.

Starting in early May, on the tail of most Walleye spawning, these fish enter almost all Great Lakes tributaries in mass. Keep in mind during this time of year the Great Lakes often receives itís heaviest and most frequent rains of the year. One good thing is that Whitebass are still catchable in very dirty water! Schools off river mouths preparing for the annual migration often number in the thousands and individuals can tip the scales at over 6 pounds. Unlike other species, these fish will continue to feed throughout their spawning run, are very aggressive, and do fall victim to competitive strike behavior. All these factors make this little fish a great species to pursue.

Whitebass can be found throughout the Great Lakes region, from Lake Superior to Lake Ontario and everywhere in between. Running the rivers starting in May these pint sized terrors are widely available to all anglers. Many Whitebass spend their entire lives in the lake and will never run the rivers to spawn, while others will return year after year to the same tributaries to fulfill their life purpose. While in rivers these fish are easily targetable by anglers with and without a boat.

When the fish first enter the river systems, they like most other anadroumous fish, will take a few days acclimating to their new surroundings. Often holding up in downstream reaches where deeper water and lower light levels are comforting. After a few days these fish will start their upstream migration and eventually find their preferred spawning habitat. Weather on the move or static these fish always seem to be hungry! Itís not uncommon to find a large school in the downstream waters and hit well over 50 fish in a couple hours time. Obviously, the larger the waterway, the possibility of a larger school being present. Now this isnít to say that small tributaries canít hold a ton of fish. It simply means larger waters typically hold larger numbers of fish.

Whitebass prefer to spawn on shallower riffle areas up to about 6í deep. Many of the shallower Walleye locations you may already know will typically hold Whitebass a couple weeks later. They donít build nests/redds, instead the male(s) and female will move towards the surface and release eggs and sperm at the same time. The eggs drop back to the bottom and stick to whatever they land on, rocks, vegetation, or even old cars.

While in their spawning mode these fish are often very aggressive and make for easy pickinsí. Just about anything that moves will often attract their attention. Good choices include jigs, small spinners, crankbaits as well as flies. Jig sizes should range from 1/64th to ľ ounce depending on water depth and color selection should include white, yellow and perhaps black for varying water conditions.

Spinners and crankbaits should also be scaled down as well. One issue youíll run into with anything sporting a treble hook is these fish take so hard and aggressive itís not uncommon for them to inhale the complete treble hook, making releasing difficult at times. Most times cutting all but one hook point off a treble is a good idea, even on crank baits. As well, if you leave only the tail hook on your crank bait you might be surprised how much more snag free itís going to be! One additional style of jig that works very well are Road Runners. A jig in combination with a small spinner blade is deadly at times, especially when the water is up and discolored. Just something about that thump, thump, thump that whites find irresistible.

Fly selection should consist of one patternÖanything white and about 2Ē long. Rabbit strip streamers are a great choice as these guys will shred lighter materials in no time flat. Of course, the old standby of a bobber and minnow will also work, but it seems like way too much work considering how readily theyíll take artificials.

Rods and reels should be pared down to match lure selection. This is a great excuse to break out that ultra light spinning rod thatís been in the basement collecting dust. 4-6 pound mono is common, but if youíre going to throw tandem jigs step up a bit and use 10. Running tandem jigs is a blast and is very effective. Double headers are not uncommon but watch out for line breakers. Two fish on at the same time often swim in opposite directions and will most often break lines lighter than 8-10 lbs. Fly rods in the 3-6wt class will adequately handle most fish. These little guys fight much bigger than they look and will surprise the unsuspecting angler.

Targeting these fish in rivers is a relatively straight forward. Start in the deeper holes to find the larger schools. A few casts through a hole will most times tell you if fish are present or not; if they are youíll know. More than a dozen runs through any location without a bite and youíre wasting your time, move on. Most times these fish will school up in key locations and will use these year after year unless the river structure changes. Keep these locations in the back of your mind for years to come, itís amazing how long some of these spots will produce. Donít forget to try a few casts through most riffle water as well. While not typically a place where these fish hold, there still may be a decent number of fish using some of these locations throughout the day. Any water deeper than 3í is always worth a cast or two. Don't be surprised as well if what's on the end of your line isn't what you were expecting. This time of year sees many other species sharing the same water!

Do yourself a favor, pack up the ultra light and take a day in early May to hit the nearest Great Lakes tributary. I promise you just might be surprised how addictive these little pint sized devils can be!


    A Few Current State Records:
  • 6.74 Lbs. Michigan - Saginaw Bay
  • 4.18 Lbs. Indiana - Lake Freeman
  • 4.37 Lbs. Wisconsin - Okauchee Lake
  • 4.87 Lbs. Illinois - Kaskaskia River
  • 4.00 Lbs Ohio - Gravel Pit
  • 3.87 Lbs. Pennsylvania - Conneaut Lake
  • 3.37 Lbs. New York - Furnace Brook