Since the fall of 2009, we have been lamenting about the demise of the white bass populations at several of the flatland reservoirs that grace the landscape of northeastern Kansas. These laments unfortunately continue to be uttered, and they have expanded to encompass other waterways in bordering states.
November at several reservoirs across the Heartland is traditionally a delightful time to pursue white bass that forage upon shad and a variety of invertebrates on wind-blown shorelines, points, shallow humps and rock piles. For years on end, scores of anglers would ply these locales, wielding spinning outfits spooled with six- or eight-pound-test line affixed to a 1/32-ounce, 1/16-ounce or 1/8-ounce marabou jig. At times, some of these anglers opted for small topwater lures, inline spinners and lipless crankbaits.
When the white bass populations are copious at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and Melvern Lake, Kansas, a pair of knowledgeable anglers can catch and release 100 or more in about four hours.
Some years these bountiful shoreline catches commence in October and persevere until nearly Christmas, but November is usually the apex.
To the chagrin of such talented white bass anglers as Bob Gum of Kansas City, Kansas, and Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, Melvern Lake failed to yield a single 100-fish outing this past November. In fact, a pair of anglers often struggled to catch 55 white bass an outing, and sometimes it was a tussle to tangle with 30 white bass.
Likewise the white bass catches at Grand Lake, according to Jerry Kropff of Afton, Oklahoma, were extremely paltry. Kropff said that it was so sorry in November that he rarely fished for them; instead he chased crappie and blue catfish. Whereas during November of 2010, Kropff enjoyed many stellar white bass outings. In fact, he classified those catches as of some of the best that he has encountered across his many decades of fishing Grand Lake.
In a telephone conversation on December 3, Kropff said that the current state of Grand Lake's white bass population is reflected by the magnitude of the lake's threadfin shad population. He elaborated on this observation by explaining that Grand Lake's threadfin shad are the primary food of its adult white bass. Thus, when the threadfin shad population is exceptionally large in November, one can reasonably deduce that the white bass population is lean. As of the last week in November, Kropff had never seen Grand Lake brimming with as many threadfin shad as there were this year. Kropff described the concentrations of threadfin shad in Twin Bridges Area as astronomical and astounding, which in his eyes means that the white bass population is extremely meager.
John and Roger Kehde of Sedalia, Missouri, experienced a similar phenomenon at Truman Lake to the one the Kropff experienced at Grand Lake in 2010 and this year. In 2010, the Kehdes tangled with unprecedented numbers of white bass at Truman; in fact, their catches at times surpassed the sterling ones that Kropff enjoyed at Grand Lake. Because the Kehdes also caught a variety of different year classes of white bass in 2010, they assumed that 2011 would be better than 2010. To their dismay, their fishing was as sorry as the white bass fishing that Kropff experienced at Grand Lake.
Some anglers are beginning to suspect that the white bass in Grand Lake, Truman Lake, Melvern Lake and several other northeastern Kansas reservoir have been afflicted with a virus. But none of the fisheries biologists at these waterways have uttered a word about what has transpired.
But it is not all doom and gloom. For instance, John Kehde and Steve Bloess of Sedalia, Missouri, began spending their days chasing the white bass around a seven-mile section of the Lake of the Ozarks in early November. To their delight, they caught between 125 and 150 white bass on every outing. They also tangled with an impressive number of largemouth bass, spotted bass and wipers, and some of these were lunkers. One wiper was a 15-pounder and several others weighed more than 10-pounds. (For a few details about two of their outings, see https://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/11/01/more-on-the-heartland%E2%80%99s-white-bass-conundrum-and-doldrums/ and https://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/11/11/another-update-on-the-heartland%E2%80%99s-white-bass-conundrum-and-doldrums/).
Bloess and Kehde's last November outing on the Lake of the Ozarks occurred on the 29th, when they fished from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The wind was brisk, angling out of the northwest at 14 to 24 mph. Area thermometers ranged from a low of 36 degrees to a high of 48 degrees. The lake's surface temperature fluctuated from 45 degrees to 47 degrees.
During this 5 1/2-hour outing, Bloess and Kehde's spinning outfits sported 1/4-ounce lipless crankbaits with a chartreuse hue and 1/8-ounce chartreuse marabou jigs.
Until this trip, Bloess and Kehde had allured the bulk of their catch by casting and retrieving their 1/4-ounce lipless crankbaits parallel to the shoreline, and at times, the fish were as far as 10 feet away from the water's edge. What's more, these fish shunned the marabou jig. On this outing, however, most of the fish were tight to the bank in two to five feet of water. Therefore, the most effective presentation was to execute perpendicular casts and retrieves, casting exactly to the water's edge.
For the first time this fall, the jig paid some dividends, alluring about 25 percent of the fish that Bloess and Kehde hooked. The rest were inveigled on the lipless crankbait.
They caught the bulk of their fish on clay and mud shorelines, and the wind caused the water to be slightly stained. By the time they executed their last casts and retrieves, they had tangled with about 150 fish, including one largemouth bass and a dozen wipers. Four of the wipers were 10-pounders and two looked to be six-pounders. What's more, the white bass were the biggest specimens of the year.
A rosier scenario in eastern Oklahoma
Gary Dollahon of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, wrote in several e-mails on December 5 and 6 that what ails the white bass fishing at Grand Lake, Truman Lake and elsewhere has not plagued Ft. Gibson and Eufaula lakes in eastern Oklahoma.
He noted that shoreline fishing is the traditional way to catch white bass at Gibson and Eufaula in the fall. Anglers catch them along rip rap areas at bridges and boat ramps. Main-lake points and secondary points in feeder creeks that are graced with shad and wind consistently yield scores of white bass. According to Dollahon, most anglers use "Rooster Tails and small crappie jigs with some kind of tail action, like Garland's Stroll'R or Swimming Minnow" to allure these shallow-water and shoreline white bass.
This fall "Gibson had a better fall for shoreline fishing than it has in awhile," Dollahon said. "The white bass seemed to stay much shallower than normal, almost preferring the shorelines over the open water, even during the brutal hot of this past summer. Whereas trollers usually dominate the catches in summer and fall, I'd have to say those fishing super shallow on the shorelines did much better this year than the trollers."
He reported that he chased Eufaula's white bass on December 5, but he didn't ply the shorelines. Instead, he probed some of his favorite deep-water wintertime haunts. In an e-mail that described this outing, he wrote: "First drop of the spoon produced a white bass, and it was literally a fish on every drop of the bait after that. White bass were by far the predominant species, but also caught largemouth, some nice 3 and 4 lb. drum, and a 5 or 6 lb. blue cat. Preferred depth was 29-40 feet, on the bottom. I was fishing the long main points on the dam end of the lake. The day was overcast with a breeze out of the north, probably around 10 mph. Air temp was 41 all afternoon. Surface temp was 52.5. Could see lots of shad activity on the sonar at about 18-20 feet, and then again 40 and deeper. That confused me as to why the fish were concentrated at the 30-40 range. But I didn't care because they we so cooperative. I caught them on my spoon and on Garland 3" Slab Slay'R, bone white/pearl white, on a 3/16 ounce head. Both baits fished on the bottom."
Another look at what has transpired at Table Rock Lake.
In an earlier blog this fall it was noted that back in 2009 Table Rock Lake, Missouri, was teeming with white bass. Some anglers thought that Table Rock was on the path to replacing Grand Lake as the area's finest white bass lake. But since then, Table Rock's white bass have been difficult to come by.
It needs to be noted that Table Rock anglers have never experienced the stellar shoreline white bass fishing that anglers enjoy at Grand Lake during the fall, and even when it was brimming with white bass in 2009, the fishing was an offshore phenomenon.
On November 30, Bill Babler of Blue Eye, Missouri, and White River Outfitters Fishing Guide Service wrote an e-mail about the whereabouts of Table Rock's white bass. He said: "It usually does not start till Dec. 1st. Water levels are the most important thing for us as we have to have water levels on the humps and roll-offs in the 50 ft. depth range. High or low water puts the fish and bait in other locations.
Last year we did not have the correct conditions. Maybe this year; however, the water is pretty deep. Checked some of my favorite stuff and I need about 8 to 10 ft. less depth on those humps for them to work. Don't believe we have had a die off and believe they are here, just hard to locate until they get on the humps and flats."
Phil Lilley, proprietor of Lilleys' Landing Resort and Marina in Branson, Missouri, and webmaster of Ozark Anglers. com, noted in a November 30 e-mail that in the 1980s he saw a massive population of white bass quickly disappear at Bull Shoals Lake. He wrote: "I remember back in the 80's whites would fill the lake's surface in the summer and fall months, smashing threadfin shad. The fishery biologists at the time said the decline was account of the shad dying off but I find that hard to believe because since then the shad population has exploded but the white bass population hasn't followed. Then the weather was to blame--no rain during the spawns or cold fronts that shut the spawns down early. Bottom line it's never come back to reach the numbers I saw 25 years ago."
In short, many white bass anglers across the Heartland remain perplexed by what is transpiring with their quarry at Grand Lake, Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, Pomme de Terre Lake and several reservoirs in northeastern Kansas. We will keep abreast with what occurs throughout the winter and during the spring spawning runs, and we will continue to file occasional blogs on the state of the Heartland's white bass fishing.
Readers can contact Bill Babler of White River Outfitters fishing guide service email@example.com or 417-332-7016, and Clyde Holscher at www.clydetheguide.com, or 785-267-0065.