White bass are running up creeks right now. This means you need to drop what you’re doing, find a buddy with a boat small enough to navigate shallow water, and head to your favorite feeder creek at dusk. All you need is a good light action rod, a few jigs and a strong arm.
White bass are migratory. They spend most of their life in open-water chasing shad. Each spring, they run up tributaries to spawn. At the peak of this event, the best creeks can become so crowded with white bass you expect to catch one on every cast.
The average size of a white bass is about 12-inches long and weighs around a pound. Big ones can be closer to three pounds. The world record, which is tied out of Virginia and Louisiana, is 6 pounds 13 ounces. Most states have liberal limits on white bass. In Indiana, the daily limit is 12. Only two of those may be longer than 17 inches.
White bass are found across much of North America. They can be caught in Canada and all the way down to the Rio Grande River. Yet, right here in the Midwest, we have what I suspect is the best white bass fishing available. With so many reservoirs that have many feeder creeks and larger tributaries, we have plenty of places to target this tough fighting, tasty table fare species of native fish.
Nathan “Shags” McLeod and I recently joined our good friend and outfitter, Kris Nelson for a white bass adventure on Stockton Lake in southwest Missouri. I’ve written about Nelson a number of times and the incredible crappie trips we have taken with him. This white bass run helped shine some light on his expert prowess as an angler.
“I’ve been coming up this creek to catch white bass for as long as I could walk,” Nelson said. “It’s over a mile to get in here by foot. That’s a long way to walk out when you’re eight carrying a 20 to 30 pound stringer of fish.”
On this trip we were using a jet boat to navigate water that at times was less than 6-inches deep. At one point, we all had to get out of the boat to pull it over a gravel bar. The extra effort was worth it. While a few dozen boats were stacked up at the mouth of the creek, we had the backwater all to ourselves. Nelson learned about the place as a boy, and today uses that knowledge to put clients on fish like you wouldn’t believe.
We showed up a couple of hours before sunset. During that time, we didn’t catch a single fish. Even with Shags fishing like it was the last time he’ll ever go. The man has a motor for fishing like few others I have ever met. Nelson assured us not to worry, the bite would turn on right at dusk. He knew what he was talking about. After hundreds of fruitless casts, I caught the first fish of the night. Then I caught three more on three casts. Before long, the bottom of our boat was filled with fish. Within an hour, we’d caught what we came for and peeled out to head back to the lodge.
I’ve heard people say they don’t like to eat white bass. I don’t know where they went wrong, but when cleaned properly, I find white bass to taste as good as any panfish. Well, maybe not yellow perch, but they’re right up there with crappie and bluegill, in my book. There is some red meat, like you find on walleyes. Trim that off for a less fishy taste. I’ve been a loyal fan of Shore Lunch Original Recipe fish batter for as long as I can remember. I coat my fish in it, heat peanut oil to 375 degrees and fry my filets for seven minutes. I like mine a little crispy.
See you down the trail…
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Brandon Butler is a syndicated outdoor newspaper columnist and freelance magazine writer. His column, Driftwood Outdoors, has appeared in over 50 different newspapers and magazines, and currently runs in over 30 publications. He has won many awards for his outdoor communication work.
Butler has established himself as a conservation and outdoor media leader of his generation. He is currently Director of Communications for Roeslein Alternative Energy, a renewable natural gas company dedicated to conservation. He spent five years as the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. He created and taught Conservation Communications at the University of Missouri.
Butler is actively involved in conservation organizations. He is a life member of CFM, NRA, Boone & Crockett Club, Trout Unlimited, Fly Fishers International and Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation. He holds a B.S. in Organizational Leadership from Purdue University, a M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University and is currently completing an Executive M.B.A. at the University of Missouri.