Just like clockwork, every spring the white bass in Belton and in Stillhouse Hollow lakes ascend these reservoirs’ tributaries to spawn, creating the next generation of white bass.
In over 25 years’ of close observation, I have found that the white bass spawn, as with many things in nature, takes place on a bell-shaped or “normal” curve. This means the spawning activity starts at zero, slowly rises to a peak, stays at peak condition for a short while, then tapers back off and eventually returns to zero.
White bass do not leave the reservoir en masse as many imagine. Schools of fish, numbering from less than a dozen fish to several hundred fish, will begin to move upstream together. The further they go, and the shallower the water gets, the more they splinter off, spread out and break up into smaller and smaller packs.
Right now, with water temperatures from the surface to the bottom of the reservoirs still in the low 50s, we are at that zero mark, poised to see a slow rise in activity to the peak, which typically occurs around the third to final week of March.
This spawning migration is called a “run.” Now, a lot of folks use the term “run” incorrectly. I have clients or potential clients call me in April and May and say, “I hear the white bass are running.”
What they have heard is that white bass are aggressively chasing spawning shad along the shoreline after those white bass have returned hungry from their own spawning run. This gorging on shad is not “the run.”
I will also have folks call me in the middle of the summer and ask, “Are the white bass running yet?”
What they are really inquiring about is if white bass have yet begun to reliably feed on shad on the surface in the early morning and late afternoon hours. Again, this is not “the run.”
So, to clarify, “the run” is the annual migration of white bass up into the tributaries to spawn.
White bass will go as far up the tributaries as water depth and flow conditions allow. On Belton Lake, for example, the two main migration routes for white bass are into the Leon River and into Cowhouse Creek. However, when the lake is high, meaning the lake’s elevation is above normal, there are other, minor creeks that will have sufficient flow in them to attract white bass, such as Owl Creek, Methaglin Creek and Bull Creek.
As of this writing, following the past week’s rain, Belton stood at 1.94 feet below normal, and was rising.
Stillhouse stood at 3.29 feet low and was stable. If neither lake rises significantly in the next several weeks, all of this year’s spawning will take place in the main tributaries.
Some anglers will choose to pursue the white bass as they ascend into the tributaries. I have done so myself in the past, but do so no longer.
I find that white bass behavior changes as they make their migration. “Spurts” of fish move shallow to spawn and then begin to return, fairly directly and quickly, back downstream to the reservoir where the warming water will increase their metabolism and cause them to feed aggressively.
In the tributaries, finding fish is often a matter of luck — depending on how many “spurts” of fish move into the area you have chosen to fish, whereas back downstream in the reservoir, behavior is much more predictable.
Since the fishes’ spawning ritual is spread out over a roughly six- to eight-week period, there is never a time when fish cannot be found in the reservoir, hence, I choose the predictable and much less crowded conditions on the reservoir over what can, at times, be considered “combat fishing” conditions up in the narrow, shallow water of tributaries with every kind of kayak, flat-bottomed johnboat and occasional larger craft packed into rather tight confines. Weekends are the worst.
Those choosing to follow the fish upstream will do well to consider boating upstream, then planning to disembark and fish by wading or by fishing from the bank to gain access to the nooks and crannies where white bass lurk while in the spawning shallows.
Further, those choosing flygear over conventional gear or spinning gear often fare much better, thanks to the ability to more easily suspend a presentation just off bottom, right at the eye-level of fish which are holding tight to the bottom and often feeding on river minnows instead of the shad they normally eat while in the reservoir.
In the reservoirs, fish will primarily relate to the channel edges at this time of year. I have, in fact, already begun to observe this the past week. I fished two trips on Presidents Day and a morning trip the following day. All of the 212 fish we found on both Stillhouse and Belton were within a few yards of the channel, without exception.
In the reservoir, multiple tactics will be useful. Vertical jigging will remain a staple, casting bladebaits to shallow fish becomes an option, and as the water temperature gets nearer to 60 degrees, flatline trolling results will increase.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sent out a notice this week via email entitled “White Bass Fishing in Central Texas” which did not mention Belton or Stillhouse, likely due to limited public access in the spawning areas. Nearby reservoirs which were mentioned included Lake Georgetown, Granger Lake, Lake Travis, Lake Buchanan, and Lake LBJ, among others.
TPWD listed access points in this notice for anglers to consider while getting in on the “white bass run.”
I have excerpted a few of those access points here:
Lake Georgetown: Try Tejas Camp, which is located on the south bank of the North San Gabriel River upstream of Lake Georgetown on County Road 258 between Farm-to-Market 305 and U.S. 183.
Granger Lake: Gain access at Parking Lot 7. From State Highway 95, go east about 1.5 miles on County Road 347 until it end at a T intersection, then turn right. No ramp is provided, but small portable boats can be launched. Shore anglers can also access the river at a pull-off on County Road 347 about three-quarters of a mile east of State Highway 95.
Lake Travis: Travis County Milton Reimer’s Park provides bank, kayak/canoe and wade fishing opportunities to the public. The park is located on Hamilton Pool Road (CR 3238), about 11.5 miles west of the intersection of Hamilton Pool Road and State Highway 71 and 1.3 miles east of the low-water bridge over the Pedernales River. Anglers should contact Travis County Parks (512-854-7275) for more information on this park.
Lake Buchanan: Colorado Bend State Park near the town of Bend (San Saba County) is a great place to try your luck when water conditions are right. This portion of the Colorado River is popular with fly anglers. Bend is located about 20 miles west of Lampasas on Farm0t-Market 580. Call the park (325-628-3240) to check on conditions before going. Several private fishing camps in the Bend area also have bank access.
Signs in the town of Bend will direct you to the camps.
Lake LBJ: Riverbend Marine and Storage ramp is accessed via Harris Loop, directly across from the Llanorado Lodge just west of the Ranch-to-Market 1431 bridge crossing. The Kingsland Lions Club also maintains a ramp. Take Euel Moore Drive off of 1431 (there is a sign advertising the ramp at the turn-off). Go about a half mile and take a left on Williams street. This road ends at the ramp.
As day length increases and the air temperatures slowly trend warmer, “the run” will take place.
Whether you follow the fish upstream or focus on those which have not yet left the reservoir (or have returned back to it), the action and catch rates will climb from now through late May. Cold fronts serve as temporary setbacks, and floods can ruin the entire thing. But, since cold fronts and floods are beyond my control, I will choose to be content with what I have before me.