May 07, 2012
By Ned Kehde
When it comes to catching temperate bass with finesse tackle, Roger Kehde of Sedalia, Missouri, has few peers.
For several decades, Roger Kehde and his father, John, of Sedalia, Missouri, have given chase to the white bass and wipers that inhabit some of the northern Ozark reservoirs, and during their many days afloat, they have caught and released an untold number of them and tangled with as many as 200 on scores of outings.
In essence, the pursuit of white bass lies at the core of their piscatorial passion, and at times, they supplement this passion by tangling with some wipers. For a few years, they spent a lot of time focusing on wipers, but the wipers' pelagic nature and limited numbers (which revolves around how many wipers are stocked and the survival rate of the ones that are stocked) can make for some confounding outings on reservoirs that contain 55,000 to 56,000 surfaces of water and 958 to 1,150 miles of shorelines.
Here is a short description on how and where they pursue their quarry on many outings in the spring and into the summer.
In the spring, usually in May and early June, when the reservoir is several feet above its normal level and a significant flow of water gushes through the dam's turbines, a white-bass nirvana will occasionally erupt for the Kehdes along portions of the dam, and for a mile or two upstream from the dam.
According to the Kehdes, the current created by the water flowing through the dam attracts oodles of gizzard shad fry, and vast numbers of white bass arrive to forage on the shad.
At times, an aggregation of shad fry along the concrete portions of the dam can be the size of a football field. The fry slowly mill about on the surface amongst the foam and seams in the current, and beneath them is 45 to100 feet of water. Occasionally a portion of the school of shad fry wanders from the dam's concrete wall to a steep point on the riprap portion of the dam.
Accompanying the shad are oodles of white bass, as well as a hodgepodge of adult gizzard shad, herring, carp, drum, bluegill, crappie, wipers, spotted bass, channel catfish, and largemouth bass. (At times walleye will join this assemblage.) Many of these denizens forage on the shad fry, which are extremely minute and immature. Because the fry are immature, they can't move quickly and are virtually at the mercy of the current and predators. As the white bass and other foragers leisurely slurp the tiny and languid fry off the surface, it looks like a slow-motion feeding frenzy. In fact, the entire phenomenon can be so unhurried that the massive concentration of feeding fish can stay intact throughout the afternoon and evening hours. To the Kehdes' delight, they have been the only anglers across the years who have been privy to this phenomenon.
The Kehdes fish this area by wielding medium-action spinning outfits that are spooled with either six or eight-pound-test monofilament or braided line. These outfits sport quarter-ounce marabou jigs in a silver hue. They execute 20- to 30- foot casts, aiming them so that the jig would land about 10 feet from the edge of the massive school of suspended shad fry. To elicit the attention of the white bass, they retrieve the jig at a rapid pace so that it travels six inches under the surface. If the Kehdes didn't employ that rapid retrieve, the jig would drop too far under the surface and be carried with the current, and they would catch species other than white bass.
Occasionally one of them will cast a P-60 Rebel Pop-R to elicit strikes from fish that are flush to the dam's concrete wall.
When this phenomenon is at its apex, they rarely make a cast without eliciting a strike, and by the time that they wield their last casts, the Kehdes will often catch catch and release hundreds of white bass. And it can be a multispecies bonanza to boot; they can tangle with surprising numbers of big crappie and a goodly number of spotted bass, as well as a few carp, catfish, bluegill, drum, herring, wipers, and an occasional largemouth bass. About every fish that the Kehdes lift over the gunnels of their boat regurgitates scores of tiny shad.
One of their most fruitful days occurred on June 3, 2008, when one of the Ozark reservoirs they fished was 7 ½ feet higher than normal, 39,000 cubic feet per second of water was flowing into it, and 29,000 cfs was flowing out of the dam. The water clarity measured more than five feet. And they caught an incalculable number of white bass and other species.
There have been, however, many early June afternoons across the years when the current was extremely slack along the face of the dam, and it was devoid of shad fry and foraging white bass. On those afternoons, the Kehdes search for schools of young shad that are haplessly moseying about on the surface at several main-lake flats that lie from a mile to four miles upstream from the dam. Early in the afternoon, the Kehdes will scout for feeding white bass over the deeper sections of the flats; some times their boat will be floating in 70 feet of water.
Once they find white bass slurping tiny shad, the Kehdes employ the same spinning outfits that they used at the dam, but instead of the quarter-ounce jig, they opt for a quarter-ounce Worden's Rooster Tail in a chartreuse hue. They cast the Rooster Tail across and around the schools of shad and foraging white bass, and they retrieve it so that it creates a minor wake on the surface.
When the shad are tiny and relatively listless, they can't escape from the ravenous white bass. This allows the feeding activity to be a long-winded affair, allowing the Kehdes to catch scores of white bass.
As the evening hours materialize, the shad and white bass gradually move to shallower portions of the flats, and by nightfall, they often will be cruising along some of the shorelines of the flats, which are covered with one to two feet of water. The Kehdes find that their white bass catches often become a hand-over-fist affair as the last ghost light of the setting sun graces the western horizon; this evening movement along the shorelines of the flats normally begins around Father's Day and persists until about Labor Day.
The Kehdes also note that there are occasions in June and even throughout the heat of mid-summer when the white bass can be found foraging on shad along the shallow shorelines of the flats during the middle of the afternoon. Thus, they find that it's necessary to periodically check the shallows when the sun is still high in the sky.
When the white bass forage in the shallows, the Kehdes use their spinning outfits and a 1/16-ounce jig that consists of a white head, baby-blue yarn body and white marabou tail. They retrieve the jig by either slowly swimming it with a do-nothing motif or slowly bouncing across the bottom.
In July, the Kehdes stop pursuing white bass that are feeding upon shad on the surface. The reason for that is the shad have become mature and facile enough to hightail it when a school of white bass attacks them. Therefore, this surface activity is short-lived, lasting merely 30 seconds or less. Instead, the Kehdes spend the afternoon hours plying main-lake humps that are associated with the flats. The depth of the humps range from 15 to 25 feet of water.
The most fruitful humps are located near the areas where the white bass can be seen foraging for a few seconds on the surface, or where other anglers catch one while trolling pell-mell across a massive flat. When the Kehdes spot some surfacing white bass or a troller catches one, they will examine a nearby hump.
When they are searching for a concentration of white bass on these humps, the Kehdes sometimes employ casting tackle and a half-ounce spoon. They make a long cast with the spoon and allow it to descend to the bottom. Once it reaches the bottom, they retrieve it by hopping and dragging it across the humps. Once they locate a concentration of white bass, they use their spinning outfits that sport either a quarter-ounce jig or a quarter-ounce spoon, and they cast and slowly hop, drag and bounce the jig and spoon across the bottom. Occasionally they will shake their rods during the retrieve. Unless a deep-water hump is snag infested, the Kehdes normally shun a vertical presentation with their jig or spoon. From their vast experiences, casting and retrieving a spoon or jig elicits more strikes than a vertical motif.
Although the Kehdes enjoy pursuing white bass across the flats, on the humps and along the shallow shorelines, their favorite summertime fishing occurs when the dam begins generating electricity early in the afternoon. If that happens when the lake is relative calm, the Kehdes have watched the shad and white bass migrate towards the dam, and for a couple miles above the dam the lake's surface will be periodically pock-marked with schools of white bass feeding upon shad. Eventually, the white bass and shad will arrive at the dam, and the Kehdes will employ the same tackle and tactics that they did in the spring. If the current isn't too intense, the Kehdes will add another twist to their dam repertoire by probing a long hump that lies about a hundred yards above the dam. Here they cast either a quarter-ounce jig or spoon to the up-current side of the hump. As it falls towards the bottom, the current carries the jig or spoon across the hump, and they allow it to sporadically graze the bottom, and they regularly tangle with scores of white bass, as well as some hefty wipers.
Postscript: The odd spring of 2012.
The winter was and this spring has been unusually warm and windy in central Missouri. The first four months of 2012 were also intermixed with some extreme weather fluctuations, ranging from very warm to very cool.
Consequently water temperatures were unseasonably warm, but there was about a two week spell in April when the water temperatures plummeted about five degrees, dropping from the high 60s to the low 60s.
In March, John Kehde and his friend Steve Bloess of Sedalia, Missouri, enjoy some extremely fruitful white bass and wiper fishing during an exceedingly early-in-the-year spawning run at the headwaters of one of the big reservoirs they traditionally fish. According to the Kehdes, this spawning run occurred several weeks before it normally unfolds. For instance on Mar. 21, John Kehde and Steve Bloess caught 80 very, very big white bass at the Lake of the Ozarks in a couple of hours while fishing in the rain. They also tangled with some crappie, spotted bass, largemouth bass and one big walleye.
What's more, their main-lake endeavors unfolded many weeks before normal. And they caught white bass and wipers in April where the Kehdes and Bloess had never caught them before.
For instance, Bloess caught 33 wipers and more than 100 white bass in one to three feet of water on April 22. During this outing, the reservoir was 1.99 feet above normal, and the white bass and wipers were caught around patches flooded terrestrial grasses on a massive main-lake flat and point. Bloess was using an 1/8-ounce marabou jig attached to a jig spinner. One of Bloess' wipers weighed 15 pounds. The area that he plied was being slapped by the wind and waves.
Then Bloess, John Kehde and Allen Kehde caught 50 wipers, 50 white bass and four walleye on April 26. The reservoir was 1.5 feet above normal, and this trio caught their fish on a massive wind-blow flat point that was enhanced with patches of flooded terrestrial grasses. During this outing Bloess and the Kehdes could see and hear fish gamboling about in and around the patches of grasses.
Traditionally, the two spots where Bloess and the Kehdes caught their white bass and wipers are where they catch them during the summer from about Father's Day to Labor Day. Then it is usually an evening affair.
In 2010, the Kehdes enjoyed one of the most bountiful white years of their lifetime, catching thousands of white bass of all ages and sizes. And they thought that 2011 would be even more fruitful than 2010. But to their dismay, 2011 was the worst year that they remember enduring. Thus the Kehdes and Bloess are keeping their fingers crossed in hopes that 2012 isn't a repeat of 2011. So far, it has been more fruitful than 2011.
This is one of the wipers that Roger Kehde and Steve Bloess caught and released on April 16 using a 1/4-ounce Leroy's silver marabou jig to ply a deep-water hump. Kehde caught this wiper at one of the traditional spots that he normally catches white bass and wipers in late April and well into May. But so far this year this locale yielded only a few fish. Kehde was puzzled by the trying fishing. He thought two of the problems might have been the harsh winds that often battered this locale and the amount of current that was being generated at the dam. He also suspected that the unusually warm weather and water temperatures might have had an effect on the whereabouts of the wipers and white bass.