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Midwest Finesse

A summary of the Heartland’s white bass fishing during the fall of 2012

by Ned Kehde   |  January 8th, 2013 0

For decades there were scores of talented anglers who used to relish ¬†autumn outings at ¬†a variety of ¬† reservoirs that adorn the countryside of the nation’s great white bass triangle. ¬†At those reservoirs, which stretch from Milford Lake, Kansas, to Grand Lake, Oklahoma, to the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, these¬†anglers¬†caught and released incredible numbers of white bass by plying rocky shorelines and points with a variety of small jigs, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwater lures.

Of the many reservoirs that lie in this triangle, Grand Lake has been the preeminent one.

Jerry Kropff of Afton, Oklahoma, is one of Grand Lake’s veteran and talented white bass anglers who used to partake in those¬†autumnal rituals. From his sagacious perspective,¬†¬†the number of white bass anglers has declined noticeably at Grand Lake during the past 10 years. What’s more, ¬†its white bass fishing isn’t as bountiful as it used to be. Since 2011, the decline of white bass anglers and their quarry has been unquestionably apparent in his eyes and the eyes of his wife, Madaline. ¬†And for the past two falls, Kropff has been measuring the state of Grand Lake’s white bass fishing by what he calls Madaline’s yardstick. ¬†That level of measure was created across many past autumns, when the Kropffs were regularly afloat in pursuit of ¬†Grand Lake’s white bass. ¬†During each of those outings, the Kropffs¬†engaged¬†in a friendly wager to see who was the first one to catch 100 white bass, and with¬†astonishing regularity,¬†¬†the Kropffs often tangled with 199 white bass in a relatively short stretch of time. ¬†But since 2010, the white bass catches have been so paltry that Madaline Kroppf hasn’t been afloat. And Jerry has spent most his autumn days afloat ¬†in chase of blue catfish and crappie.

The same¬†phenomenon of fewer white bass and white bass anglers has occurred at several other reservoirs across the great white bass triangle in 2011 and 2012. According to John Kehde and Roger Kehde of Sedalia, Missouri, it happened at Truman Lake, Missouri, in 2011 and continued in 2012. ¬†During the ¬†fall 2011, however, the white bass fishing in the upper reaches of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, was surprisingly fruitful, ¬†and ¬†it was enjoyed by a goodly number of anglers. But by the fall of 2012, ¬†John Kehde and Steve Bloess of Sedalia, Missouri,¬†categorized¬†the white bass fishing in the upper portions of the Lake of the Ozarks as horrible, and, of course, there weren’t many anglers.

In northeastern Kansas, ¬†Clinton, ¬†La Cygne, ¬†Melvern, Perry and Pomona lakes ¬†never ¬†produced the great white bass angling that Grand Lake, Oklahoma, delivered for decades on end. But until 2009, ¬†these¬†2,600-acre to 11,600-acre flatland¬†reservoirs in northeastern Kansas¬†provided anglers with some entertaining and bountiful white bass fishing every fall ¬†¬† By September of 2012, however, ¬†some of the doom and gloom began wane at Pomona Lake, which is a 4,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reservoirs that lies about 25 ¬†miles south of Topeka, Kansas.

Steve Desch of Topeka and several of his ¬†friends were the first anglers during the fall of 2012 ¬†to cross paths with Pomona’s ¬†bountiful white bass population, and these anglers caught and released a¬†plethora¬†of white bass and a surprising number of wipers several times in mid-September.

Clyde Holscher, who is a multispecies guide from Topeka, ¬†took a pair of novice anglers to Pomona for seven hours of fishing on October 8, and they caught and released 96 temperate bass. Holscher and his many clients didn’t return to Pomona until Nov. 15, when two anglers caught and released 143 temperate bass in about six hours. ¬†From Nov. 15 to Dec. 6, Holscher executed seven guide trips to Pomona, and the 19 anglers who were in his boat fished for a total of 33 hours ¬†and tangled with 695 temperate bass, which is ¬†a very respectable 21 fish an hour.

Pok-Chi Lau of Lawrence, Kansas, fished Pomona 19 times in November and December. Six of those outings were solo affairs, and on 13 of the trips, he was accompanied by another angler. Across those 19 outings, Lau and his partners caught and released 2,296 white bass and wipers. The most fruitful one occurred on Nov. 18, when Dave Weroha of Kansas City joined him, and they fished from 9:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and caught 374 white bass, 12 wipers and one largemouth bass. ¬†Lau’s last outing of the fall occurred on Dec. 18 at Pomona, when the surface temperature was 42 degrees, and he and his partner caught 233 white bass , which were caught from three to 10 feet from the water’s edge along rocky shorelines, and Lau also noted that rocky points were surprisingly fruitless.

Pok-Chi Lau with one of the wipers he caught while white bass fishing on Nov. 18.

Most of Holscher and Lau’s outings were weekday ones, and only occasionally were they afloat on a Saturday or Sunday. ¬†Unlike Holscher and Lau, Dave Weroha spent all of his weekdays working. ¬†Therefore, he was¬†solely a¬†weekend angler throughout the fall. Nevertheless, Weroha fished 11 times for a total of 74 hours. ¬†Three outings ¬†were at Pomona. ¬†Weroha caught and released 624 temperate bass at Pomona, which includes the 374 white bass that he and Lau caught on Sunday Nov. 18. ¬†Weroha also ventured to Melvern Lake, which is a 6,930-acre¬†reservoir¬†that lies 35 miles south of Topeka. He fished Melvern five times for a total of 25 1/2 hours and tangled with 148 white bass. He made three trips to La Cygne Lake, which is a 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir that is situated about 50 miles south of Kansas City. At La Cygne, he and his partners were plagued by heavy and pesky winds, which are usually a godsend at most reservoirs for white bass anglers, but not at La Cygne, and they struggled to catch 16 white bass at this once wonderful white bass fishery.

Besides his guiding endeavors at Pomona, Holscher made four guide trips to Perry Lake, which is an 11,600-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reservoir that is¬†situated¬†about 20 miles east of Topeka. ¬†The first one occurred on Sept. 19 and the fourth one was on Nov. 13. ¬†On three of the outings there were two anglers in his boat, and on one guide trip, there were three. These four outings encompassed 18 hours of fishing, and they eked out 214 white bass. From Oct. 3 to Nov. 4, Holscher made six trips to Melvern Lake. On five of these trips, there two anglers in his boat, and he had three anglers on one of the outings. They fished for 31 hours and caught only 208 white bass.

In October, Lau fished Perry Lake 10 times and caught 480 white bass.  On Oct 8, Lau and a friend fished  Melvern Lake from 10 a.m. to  6:30 p.m.  To their chagrin, they caught only 71 white bass, 11 smallmouth bass, five freshwater drum, one largemouth bass, and most of the white bass were small. And on another Melvern outing on Dec. 2, Lau and a friend failed to catch a white bass.

In addition to the white bass¬†renaissance¬†at Pomona, several new white bass lures dominated Desch, Holscher, Lau and Weroha’s¬†¬†autumn outings. ¬†In November and December, Lau caught the bulk of his white bass on two Z-Man Fishing Products soft-plastic baits: a white ¬†2 1/2-inch GrubZ and a pearl MinnowZ. He affixed these baits to either a 1/16- or 3/32-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig. ¬†But his best baits in October were traditional ones: a ¬†white-blue-white chenille body and white marabou-tail jig and a chartreuse generic twister-tail grub on a 1/16-ounce jig. ¬†Weroha’s most productive bait was Z-Man’s watermelon-white 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig; his second best bait was a traditional Kalin’s blue-pearl-pepper Lunker Grub on a 1/16-ounce jig; his third most effective combo was a Z-Man’s pearl Finesse ShadZ on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. According to Holscher, his best bait was Z-Man’s 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a 1/16-ounce jig, and the two best ZinkerZ colors for Holscher were either pearl or hot¬†chartreuse. Holscher’s second best bait was ¬†the¬†Yakima Bait Company’s 1/8-ounce and ¬†1/4-ounce ¬†Vibric ¬†Rooster Tail in the Clyde hue. ¬†The third most effective bait for Holscher was Z-Man’s 1/4-ounce ChatterBait Mini in either ¬†white or ¬†chartreuse. His fourth one was the¬†traditional 1/8-ounce Blakemore Road Runner in either white or chartreuse.

Dave Weroha shows off a Pomona Lake white bass that was enticed by a watermelon-white 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. Weroha also uses a split ring on his Gopher jig.

Even though Holscher and Lau made 14 trips to Perry Lake and fished many long and¬†arduous hours to catch only 694 white bass, there might be a white bass¬†renaissance¬†in the offing at Perry. ¬†This insight was reported by Dave Schmidtlein of Topeka, who is a veteran and expert crappie angler. Schmidtlein wrote a brief report on the Finesse News Network,¬†explaining¬†that ¬†he and several other knowledgeable crappie anglers caught more white bass during the first 20 days of December than they can every recall catching, and they have tangled with a lot of bass during their many days afloat at Perry across the decades that stretch back into the late 1970s. ¬†According to Schmedtlein, Perry’s white bass were not along the shorelines as they were at Pomona, which is the traditional place to find and catch them in the fall, but they were suspended in the river channel in eight to 30 feet of water. ¬†What’s more, the white bass that he and the other ¬†crappie anglers were catching were extremely healthy and¬†feisty, and ¬†Schmidtlein noted that it was quite a contrast to the state of ¬†Perry’s white bass in 2009, 2010 and 2011, when they exhibited a lethargic demeanor and sickly air.
¬†After hearing about Schmidtlein’s white bass findings, Holscher and Lau are full of hopes that Perry’s shoreline white bass angling will materialize in 2013 and rival what this pair of anglers enjoyed at Pomona in the fall of 2012. ¬†And perhaps a white bass ¬†rebirth will also ¬†grace Grand Lake, Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake in the near future.
 One of the wipers that Dave Weroha caught while white bass fishing at Pomona Lake.
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Footnotes
(1) Some observers ¬†have noted that the gradual ¬†decline of white bass anglers across the Heartland has been paralleled by a similar decline in crappie anglers. And back in the early 1990s, there were far more crappie anglers than there were white bass anglers. ¬†During those¬†halcyon¬†years, the crappie populations at four of the U.S. Army Corps of¬†Engineers’ reservoirs in northeastern Kansas were¬†humongous, and they were relatively easy to find and catch. In fact, at times ¬†a hundred crappie ¬†anglers could be seen probing the submerged river and creek channels during the winter months at several of these flatland reservoirs. For instance, there so many crappie anglers afloat at Perry Lake, Kansas, on Dec. 27, 1990, that the parking lots adjacent to its many boat ramps were more than jam packed, and scores of anglers complained that there was no place to park after they launched their boats. Nowadays, one rarely encounters more than ten crappie anglers at these reservoirs on a balmy December day.
(2) ¬†In a ¬†telephone conversation in mid-December of 2012, ¬†Jerry Kropff ¬†of Afton, Oklahoma, said ¬†that Grand Lake’s fishing guides don’t publicly complain about the sorry state of Grand Lake’s autumn white bass fishing along its many rocky points and shorelines. But Kropff said that he and some other anglers¬†found massive concentrations of white bass schooled in the river channel in the vicinity of ¬†the Twin Bridges area ¬†in November and December. ¬†This is a similar¬†phenomenon to the one that Dave Schmidtlein of Topeka, Kansas, discovered¬†¬†at Perry Lake, Kansas, in December.
(3) ¬†Until the fall of 2012, northeastern Kansas white bass anglers had failed to recorded the coldest temperature at which they could catch their quarries on rocky shoreline and points. ¬†Most anglers suspected that the white bass moved to offshore lairs once the water temperature plunged below 45 degrees. ¬†But on ¬†Dec. 14, Pok-Chi Lau and a friend caught 135 ¬†bass as the surface temperature dropped from 42 degrees when they began their outing to 40 degrees when they ended it. ¬†Lau’s last outing of the fall occurred on Dec. 18, when the surface temperature had climbed back to 42 degrees, and he and a¬†friend¬†caught 236 white bass. On Dec. 20, it snowed and a cold wind blew, ushering in winter. Then ice slowly began to cover many of the waterways, which put an ¬†end to ¬†the fall’s white bass fishing along the shorelines for Lau.

About Ned Kehde

Field Editor Ned Kehde has been writing for In-Fisherman since the 1980s. His recent finesse bass tactics and findings have been influential throughout the Midwest and beyond. He writes the online column Midwest Finesse for In-Fisherman.com

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