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Reservoir Rovers

Caught up a creek without a white bass run? Make a run for the reservoir.

By Larry D. Hodge

The standard method of catching white bass is to fish creeks and rivers during the annual spawning run in the spring. After spawning, white bass (sometimes called sand bass or sandies) migrate back to reservoirs and spend their summer days in large schools feeding on small gizzard and threadfin shad in open water. These roving schools of voracious predators provide fast-paced summertime angling from the Panhandle to the Mexican border.

And they are just as much fun to catch in the middle of a lake as they are in the bend of a creek.

Birding for Fish

Summer white bass fishing is all about the birds. The bass chase the baitfish to the surface and attack from below; frenzied predators and prey alike make the water boil. Birds know that surface activity means easy pickings and appear as if by magic. A pair of binoculars can be as important for catching white bass as a rod and reel. Look for birds and go to them.

Bob Holmes guides on Richland-Chambers Reservoir, a 41,356-acre lake near Corsicana. “In summer, watch for common terns or gulls,” Holmes says. “About the first hour of daylight, there will be a top-water bite. Throw Zara Spooks, chugging lures or popping lures. When the top-water bite stops, fish humps and points in 15 to 30 feet of water.”

White bass often will suspend about 3 feet off the bottom, and you can fish for them straight down under the boat. Use a white or silver slab free-spooled to the bottom and then cranked up two turns. Don’s Minnow Slab, a one-ounce chrome and silver lure made in Temple, works particularly well on Richland-Chambers. Be ready to reel from the time you drop the lure into the water, as fish will often grab it on the way down.

If your lure does make it to the bottom, you may get more than you bargained for. On lakes with populations of striped bass and hybrid striped bass, it’s not uncommon for these bigger fish to hang out below schools of feeding white bass, waiting for stunned or wounded baitfish to rain down. A white slab waffling down amid a maelstrom of feeding white bass looks just like a wounded minnow to a striper. You’ll know if you hook one. When a white bass takes your lure, it’s bam. When a striper or hybrid hits, it’s bam! There’s no need to set the hook; just start reeling.

Surface fishing action under birds can go on all day on cloudy or rainy days, says Lake Tawakoni guide Joe Read. “Tawakoni is probably one of the best lakes around for white bass,” he says. “The lake has large numbers and large fish — fish weighing two pounds or more are common. You can catch them all around the lake, from the spillway all the way up north. There are lots of humps, ridges and old roadbeds in Tawakoni that attract them. You can catch them on just about anything, but I use spoons and slabs a lot — you can fish them on the bottom for suspended fish or throw out, let the lure sink a little, then reel it in. You’ll usually catch a mixture of stripers and hybrid stripers along with sand bass.”

My first experience with catching white bass on big water came under birds on Lake Amistad. Guide Charlie Rumfield eased the boat into Zorro Canyon and quietly approached gulls hovering over the water. Plain white slabs dropped straight down usually fell only a few feet before a white bass smashed them. We caught fish until our arms were tired, and we quit far short of our limit of 25. The birds were still working over the spot when we left.

Like stripers, white bass will follow schools of shad around the lake as they flee, so you have to be prepared to move to follow the fish. If no bird activity is visible, use your electronics to find fish, keying on main-lake structure. “Many times there will be big schools of fish working certain areas,” says Read. Keep in mind that white bass, unlike largemouth bass, are open-water fish that will normally be found in deeper water. While you might expect to catch a largemouth bass off a certain fallen log on a ledge near a creek channel every time you go, white bass can be anywhere, and you have to hunt them.

Summer Schools

Expect good white bass schooling action in early summer, especially around the mouths of major creeks and on main-lake points. Some white bass spend their entire lives in the main portion of reservoirs; instead of migrating into flowing creeks and rivers to spawn, they do so on rocky, wind-swept points. It’s thought this mimics the water flowing over a rock or gravel substrate where river-running fish prefer to spawn.

As summer progresses, follow the birds as described above. From mid-summer into fall, look for schooling fish boiling on the surface at dawn or on cloudy days. When the fish go deep to find cooler water, use electronics to locate them. This pattern will continue into early fall. When the water cools, white bass will begin gorging at the surface. If the day is cloudy with a little wind, look for birds around creek mouths and major points.

White Hot Spots

White bass are native only to the Red River drainage in Texas, but they have been introduced into most of the state’s major waterways. To locate a white bass fishery near you, visit
<www.tpwd.state .tx.us/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/>. In addition to those mentioned elsewhere in this article, try the reservoirs below recommended by TPWD Inland Fisheries biologists.

Canyon Lake. This 8,240-acre reservoir is on the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels. As spring fades into summer, concentrate on the mouths of major creeks. During summer, fish the island near Comal Park and humps near the dam.

Choke Canyon Reservoir. White bass school in deep water along the northern shore during the warmer months in this 25,670-acre lake south of San Antonio. If they aren’t on the surface, troll jigging spoons or small vibrating lures deep near points and humps.

Greenbelt Reservoir. Small at 1,990 acres, this lake near Clarendon lets you find schooling white bass quickly. Use shad-imitating lures or live shad or minnows in either arm of the reservoir or near the dam.

Lake Arrowhead. Southeast of Wichita Falls you’ll find this 14,969-acre lake and state park. Lake Arrowhead State Park will loan you fishing gear, and bank and pier fishing are available. As the water warms in late spring and summer, schooling fish spend most of their time in the lower part of the reservoir chasing schools of shad. Cast shad-imitating lures toward shore or troll. When you locate a school of feeding white bass, anchor and start catching. As the water cools going into fall, look for schooling fish early and late near flats and throw silver spoons or shad-imitating crankbaits.

Lake Bridgeport. This 11,954-acre impoundment northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has both white and hybrid striped bass. In summer fish the open water west of Rattlesnake Island, the west shoreline south of the Stripling Island causeway, Windy Point, Captain Kidd Point and points along the West Fork of the Trinity River.

Lake Lavon. This 21,400-acre reservoir northeast of Dallas is known as a great crappie lake, but white bass fishing near the dam can be good in summer. Look for surface feeding activity and expect to catch some striped bass along with whites.

Lake Limestone. Located 50 miles east of Waco, Lake Limestone’s 12,553 acres goes largely unnoticed except by locals. Look for summer schools on windy main lake points.

Lake Meredith. For active fishing, troll noisy shad-imitating lures offshore in this 16,411-acre lake northeast of Amarillo. You may also find surface-feeding schools near the mouths of canyons.

Lake O.H. Ivie. Water levels in West Texas reservoirs like this 19,149-acre lake near San Angelo can fluctuate widely, but the deepest water will always be near the dam, and that’s where to troll crankbaits for white bass.

Lake Ray Roberts. There’s lots to like about this 25,600-acre reservoir north of Denton, not the least of which is great white bass schooling action near the dam during the summer. The west end of the dam seems to be the hotspot, and if the fish aren’t schooling on the surface, use your electronics to look for them deep.

Lake Somerville. Fish humps and main-lake structure for white and hybrid striped bass during the summer in this 11,460-acre lake between Giddings and Bryan/College Station. Welch Park provides access for bank and wade-fishing.

Lake Texoma. Huge at 74,686 acres and shared with Oklahoma, this Red River reservoir is a premier striped bass fishery, but white bass are present as well. Both species can be found under seagulls, feeding on shad. Use small top-water baits in shad colors, silver spoons or slabs. When you find fish, expect to have company shortly. The only thing that draws anglers on this lake faster than feeding birds is bent rods in other boats.

Lake Whitney. Fish for white bass in the main lake from spring through fall on this 23,500-acre lake near the town of the same name. If the sandies are not schooling on the surface, look for them along sandy beaches, on roadbeds and near submerged timber in shallow water.

White Bass, Striped Bass or Hybrid?

White bass look very much like their cousins, the striped bass and the hybrid striped bass (which is actually produced by crossing striped and white bass), and all three species may be present in a given body of water. However, size and bag limits for stripers and hybrids are quite different than for whites, so anglers need to be able to tell the species apart.

Whites, stripers and hybrids all have lines or stripes on the sides of the body, all are a silvery color and young stripers look a lot like white bass. One way to tell the difference is by looking (or feeling) inside the mouth while you are removing the hook. Striped bass and hybrid striped bass have two tooth patches on the back of the tongue. White bass have one. However, this method is far from foolproof. Tooth patches may be hard to feel, and hybrids can have two patches touching, so they feel like one. “Probably the best way to tell them apart is the lines to the tail,” says Ken Kurzawski, TPWD’s freshwater fishing regulations coordinator. “If there is only one line all the way to the tail, it’s a white bass. If there are multiple lines, it’s a hybrid or striper.”

Occasionally you’ll catch a yellow bass, which is a silvery yellow color and has stripes down its sides. Yellow bass have no tooth patch on the tongue, and the two dorsal fins are joined at the base.

Statewide regulations for stripers and hybrid stripers provide for a daily bag limit of five fish in any combination, with an 18-inch minimum length. For white bass, the daily bag limit is 25 fish and a 10-inch minimum. There are no size and bag limits on yellow bass. However, many lakes are managed under special regulations for one or more of these species, so be sure to check the Outdoor Annual or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/annual/fish/> before you go.

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