When talking white-bass fishing, the timetable typically starts at the spawn, for good reason. Spring and temperate bass aggregations go together like too much beer and football losses at homecoming: The slightest provocation incites a self-perpetuating frenzy and riotous atmosphere. And everyone seems to have fun except those who get caught.
Spawn-time action is greatly anticipated by white-bass anglers, and rightly so because it’s peak time. But what’s less well known is that many productive and under-utilized opportunities exist in other seasons.
The snag here is that different systems hold different potential for targeting past-peak silvers, so what works in northern natural lakes may not produce similar results in southern reservoirs. Even so, the following post-spawn, summer, and fall patterns extend to many white bass waters around the country.
Lake Erie supports the premier white bass fishery in the Midwest. Residents of Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well as traveling anglers from non-Great Lakes states, target crowds of pelagic silvers that invade rivers and streams during the annual spawning ritual. But when the propagation party ends, the fish move back out into the open waters of the lake, where most anglers forget about them until the following spring.
“For sure, Lake Erie white bass are under-appreciated and under-utilized,” says Travis Hartman, harvest assessment and fisheries biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “In 2003 we recorded 2.8 million angler hours for all species, but only 5,017 of those hours — far less than 1 percent — were spent fishing for white bass. For those who did target them, the release rate was almost 10 fish per angler hour, and the harvest rate was negligible.”
The low-harvest, high-release figures only hint at the fishery’s excellence. Commercial catch numbers intensify the beacon of opportunity: In June alone, the average combined commercial harvest for the western basin comprises nearly 50,000 pounds of white bass. These are postspawn fish largely ignored by recreational anglers.
Exodus from spawning streams occurs in June and early July, when water temperatures range from 65•F to the lower 70F range. The small but loyal angling entourage that follows them to postspawn haunts concentrates just outside the western basin’s many warm-water tributaries. Between Michigan and Ontario, the Detroit River hosts the best run of white bass in the northwest corner of the lake. The Huron River (Gibraltar) and River Raisin (Monroe) also draw plenty of spawners in the Great Lakes State. Ohio white bass factories include the Maumee (Toledo), Sandusky (Cedar Point), and Portage (Port Clinton) rivers.
“Historically, anglers looked for diving gulls and predatory commotion on the lake’s surface to find packs of fish to work, but that’s not too common anymore,” says Hartman. “The clearing of the water has changed the distribution of many species in the food chain, including relocation of zooplankton closer to the bottom. The predator species followed suit. It’s probable that white bass are finding the food deeper, which is why they aren’t on the surface as much as in the past.”
Modern anglers searching for the huge schools of roaming white bass in vast Lake Erie take two basic approaches. One practice relies on the “seeing eye” of electronics to scan the water-column for pods of bait and bass. Whites almost always relate to forage in some manner, so catching fish means moving quickly and making presentations based on those findings.
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