Finding 'Silver' in Indiana Streams
About this time every year, I suffer from the fever that has affected anglers since our forefathers first began pillaging the streams of North America. The fever is the impossible lust for silver- though my kind of silver would only smell up a bank vault if left out of water for a few hours. The object of this April obsession is the white bass, otherwise and commonly known as the “silver” owing to its platinum sides.
When water temperatures hit the mid-50’s, the first silvers begin ascending streams in search of spawning grounds. The mere hint that the run has commenced is enough to make folks forgo appointments, commitments, weddings, food and the other minor trifles of life. It has been said that I am full of wild and terrible enthusiasms and this is undoubtedly one of the worse. When the white bass run is hot, there is only fishing.
Considered a panfish, it is abundant in amazing numbers so there is no guilt in keeping a stringer full (the Indiana limit is 12 fish, with no more than two over 17” to prevent inadvertent over-harvest of juvenile hybrid striped bass that look very similar). While three-pound fish are not unusual, even the average-sized keeper could whip any other local panfish in a barroom brawl. They hit artificial lures like Mike Tyson’s right hook and are beautiful to watch slashing through the water while trying to throw the hook. White bass are also quite tasty though not necessarily on par with walleye or cold-water bluegill.
Regardless, I simply love them.
White bass are abundant in every large artificial impoundment throughout the state. Originally a native of the major river systems, white bass found reservoirs very much to their liking once the dams were closed and shad populated the open waters. Throughout the year, they roam the lakes feeding until their lives are interrupted by the yearly spring spawning dance.
When the urge strikes sometime in April (depending on current, light intensity and water temperature) the fish charge upstream from their year-round home to find gravel and sandy stream bottoms to scatter their eggs, then disappear back into the lake for another year. For fishermen and unreconstructed outdoor writers, this epic gathering of fish that lasts into early May is one of the highlights of the entire angling season.
To be successful, you will have to ascend the streams along with the fish. In larger rivers above some reservoirs, a boat can be used to cast or troll up a livewell full of the feisty fighters but my personal favorites are the small streams that can only be fished by wading.
To find white bass during the spawn, you should find three things: shade, wood and deep water. While fish can be found elsewhere, a deep shady spot, preferably near moderate current and accented with a downed tree, will almost always produce a silver. In fact, it will likely produce several as they tend to stack up like crappie in good habitat. Other choice areas include gravel bottom spawning pools and pockets of slack water bordering a fast run. In fact, when the fish are “on,” you are likely to find them nearly anyplace there is enough water to cover their back.
Over the years, its been proven that the number-one stream bait for Indiana silvers is a 1/16-ounce flathead jig paired with a blue and white tube body, pitched by a fast-action ultralight spinning rod. This works great for white bass because the flattened jig head produces an erratic action in the water like the small, darting shad they feed upon. Regardless of bait, the color blue is most often a favorite.
Other good performers include white twister tail jigs, small crankbaits and even small floating minnow plugs during low-light conditions when the fish feel secure enough to break from cover and smash the plug. Fly anglers do well with blue and white clouser minnows.
Live minnows are also deadly but when the fish are present, having enough bait on hand becomes a problem.
As the white bass tend to be low in the water column, especially in open areas such as spawning flats, you must keep your offering near the bottom. In many cases, an upstream cast that allows the bait to travel with the current works well, though cross-stream casts are often necessary to effectively fish cover.
The white bass strike is interesting and difficult to characterize. Typically the lure is hit with a rod-jarring smash yet other times it simply stops and begins moving sideways. Sometimes you are laughing, remarking about the sunfish currently pecking at your lure, when it takes off stripping line like a Yankee-class nuclear sub.
When you add together all the pieces- abundant, hard-fighting fish; great spring weather; turkeys strutting in the woods; a chance to also pick up the occasional bass, bluegill or crappie- there are many reasons why spring white bass fishing becomes an obsession.
If you haven’t tried it, allow yourself a day at the creek to put some of Indiana’s native-born silver on your stringer.