White bass spend most of the year roaming the open water of large lakes – typically not the realm of the tube-toters and wader-wearers. However, during their spring spawn, they crowd into rivers that are long-rod friendly. Because they can be willing biters and because they look so darn cool – they have that silver oceanic sheen – white bass demand a couple days attention if they are in your neighborhood.
My neighborhood is in the middle of the prairies in southern Manitoba. Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, is part of that neighborhood. Due to its sheer size, Lake Winnipeg is definitely a mystery to most local fly fishers. Also because of its size, Lake Winnipeg is home to massive amounts of white bass. Every May these fish change their pelagic ways and scatter into a wide variety of rivers that feed the big lake. A good number of these rivers are intimate enough to make a fly rodder feel right at home.
My favorite of the bunch is more like a big, slow flowing creek. The best way to fish it is drifting lazily along in a float tube. The creek generally has a soft bottom and averages about 2 feet deep. All the best fish holding areas are 5 or 6 feet deep with a harder bottom. A small Clouser on the end of a 9 foot leader with an intermediate line gets me into that money zone. That being said, it is generally not necessary to scrape the bottom constantly.
White bass chase baitfish in the open water of the lake and the Clouser gives them the opportunity to continue that behavior. Although not lock-jawed like Atlantic salmon in a river, they can be moody. They also seem to move through a river in waves. If a particular spot does not produce one day, come back the next! The huskier individuals can hit 16 inches and their deep body helps them fight out of their weight class. Although white bass usually don’t make blistering runs, the bend they put in a 5-weight often makes me think I have hooked a big carp.
There are a lot of places that are far removed from salmon and striped bass but they are home to excellent white bass populations. Who wouldn’t want to catch something that runs up rivers like a salmon and looks like a striped bass?
One of my summer projects is to see if I can stake out a rocky point and connect with a summertime white bass in the big lake…