Thanks to a winter that has been quite mild thus far, it currently appears that the much-anticipated annual white bass spawning run will start a bit earlier than usual this season.
I often hear the question asked throughout the year, “Are the white bass running?” This means different things to different people. The fact is, white bass only make one spawning run each year, and that migration takes place in Texas between late February and mid-April, depending on latitude and conditions.
White bass are broadcast spawners, meaning they do not make or guard nests full of eggs.
Rather, ripe females rise toward the surface accompanied by one or more males. As the fish swim side by side and make contact, the females release eggs and the males release milt.
Successfully fertilized eggs are then dependent upon the current to carry them slowly downstream in order to keep them from becoming trapped in bottom sediment and suffocating before the embryonic fish can grow enough appendages to propel themselves.
So, when white bass “run,” it means they are migrating from the still waters of a reservoir up into the flowing waters of the tributaries that feed them in order to spawn. At Belton Lake, this includes the Leon River and Cowhouse Creek. At Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir, this includes primarily the Lampasas River. Other intermittently running creeks may also draw spawning fish if there is flow in them.
Currently, white bass are beginning to consolidate into large schools and are slowly migrating toward the tributaries in which they will later spawn.
During this time of migration, white bass often use the inundated river channel and connecting creek channels as migration routes. Modern chartplotters typically detail the location of the river channel, making it simple to locate and follow.
When fish are in a negative or neutral feeding mode, they will often suspend over the channel or move slowly upstream in it. When the fish are in a positive feeding mode, they will move to the breaklines where the channel and adjacent deep water flats connect.
Over the past three trips out on our local reservoirs, my clients have landed over 100 fish per outing as we have searched out and fished such areas. Fish will typically first show on sonar as being tightly bunched together on, or very near, the bottom. As fish are caught, other fish in the school become excited by the frenzied activity of the hooked fish and begin following these hooked fish upward. Often, the entire school will eventually shift upward as much as halfway between the bottom and the surface.
This shift puts these fish out of reach when anglers use a traditional snap-jigging tactic near bottom. Those who incorporate longer jigging strokes and/or single out individual fish on sonar and present lures at the depths at which these fish appear will outperform those who simply jig near bottom.
Such was the case recently when I guided three generations of the Hensley family out on Stillhouse Hollow. Around sunrise, fish-eating terns began to patrol the skies in search of dead and crippled shad on the lake’s surface below. Where these terns were seen diving down, we consistently found actively feeding fish pursuing shad right along the old banks of the Lampasas River channel. As we arrived at an area, we used small, 3/8-oz. white slabs equipped with Hazy Eye stinger hooks to tempt the bottom-hugging fish. But, after catching several, we watched as the schools rose higher in the water column. We adjusted our tactics to present our baits higher, as well, and were handsomely rewarded for our efforts.
Using a trolling motor equipped with self-positioning technology is a tremendous asset in such scenarios. The 112-pound thrust Minn Kota Ulterra I use deploys itself, stows itselfand steers and powers itself such that even in a stiff wind all of my clients’ lines hang perfectly vertically beneath the boat allowing for excellent bite detection, especially when using braided line.
Troy Hensley Sr., Troy Hensley Jr., and Troy “Trace” Hensley III put 106 fish in the boat over the four-hour span of our trip. Although the majority of the catch was made up of white bass, with some reaching nearly 15 inches, we also landed numerous largemouth bass and freshwater drum which were attracted to the commotion made by the aggressively feeding white bass.
Later in the week, the Martinez family boated 116 fish, and the Byrd/Kuenast party boated 117, all using the same tactics in the same sorts of locations.