White bass have much more fight than fame

White bass accepts its humble position as the meat loaf on the Lake Erie menu.


They can’t all be the freshwater fish version of filet mignon, so the white bass accepts its humble position as the meat loaf on the Lake Erie menu.

Yellow perch and walleye are most pleasing to the palette of many, and they’re in relatively plentiful supply, leaving white bass as a frequent “throw back” catch — one that is not readily pursued by anglers.

But in terms of spunk and tenacity and tug-ability, the white bass has its tastier Lake Erie brethren beat. These fish give you a spirited fight, and on lightweight gear, they can really test your tackle.

Mid-May is prime time for white bass fishing, since hundreds of thousands of the feisty fish charge up the rivers that feed Lake Erie, intent on completing their spawning run. During this annual event, taking place right now on the Maumee, Sandusky, and other Erie waterways, it is not unusual to catch a few dozen in an hour’s time.

“We’re seeing them run up most of the Lake Erie tributaries, all the way to the Central Basin,” said Jeff Tyson, who directs Lake Erie fisheries research from the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Sandusky office. “Some of these fish are in the three-pound range, and that’s a real handful when you are talking about using lightweight gear.”

Out on the lake, white bass roam the open waters in large schools, feeding on shad, emerald shiners, and rainbow smelt. The telltale sign that a pack of marauding white bass have attacked a school of baitfish is often a group of frantic gulls overhead, dive-bombing to share the bounty. The surface of the water boils momentarily during the frenzies.

“There is not a lot of targeted effort with the white bass out on the lake, so it is an untapped resource,” Tyson said of the lack of anglers making white bass a priority.

“Back in the ’60s when things were different, white bass could be the game-changer for those times when fishermen weren’t doing so well with walleye. You could catch a few white bass and salvage the day.”

Tyson said that while the deteriorating water quality in the western basin is a serious concern relating to the stability of walleye and yellow perch stocks, white bass appear to be thriving in a more nutrient-rich Lake Erie.

“They are doing fairly well, and as a rule white bass tend to do better in the kinds of conditions we are seeing right now,” he said. “That is one of the outcomes of the changes we are experiencing with Lake Erie. We’ve seen the same thing happen before — they did quite well back in the ’60s.”

Besides in Lake Erie, Ohio anglers can find good numbers of white bass in some of the larger reservoirs and in the Ohio River, and in the rivers along Lake Erie during the May spawning runs. Michigan anglers can most often find white bass in the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, and Saginaw Bay, as well as in Lake Erie.

During the spawning run, lightweight jigs with brightly colored twister tails are the rig of choice, with those tipped with shiner minnows often increasing the catch. As an indication of their aggressive posture, the angler often will see a half dozen or so additional fish giving chase as the angler is retrieving a white bass.

As for the white bass and its apparent lack of table cred — it’s all a matter of how the fish is preserved and prepared. If white bass are kept live in the stream or in the boat, then iced down immediately after that, and cleaned on the day they are caught, they can be as mild as any fish.

The key is putting them on ice as soon as they leave the water or the livewell, filleting them right away, and making a V-cut on the fillet to remove the dark lateral line. If the dark tissue is removed, you end up with a firm, white, and very mild chunk of protein. If frozen, the fillets tend to lose texture and develop a stronger taste.

For the table or just for fun, white bass deserve a bit more respect than they customarily receive. They bite, and they fight — and for most fishermen on most days, that’s more than enough.

BROWN-PORTMN ASIAN CARP: An amendment pushed by Ohio senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and aimed at streamlining the effort to slow the spread of invasive Asian carp in the Ohio River system was passed by the U.S. Senate this week. The measure will allow the federal government to more easily partner with state and local agencies in the effort to battle Asian carp, which are a threat to both the economies and ecosystems of the waters of the Ohio River, Mississippi River, and the Great Lakes.

As a result of “The Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will lead the multiagency effort and receive assistance from the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Protecting the Great Lakes region and the Ohio River basin from Asian carp is about protecting our regional economy and the livelihood of thousands of Ohioans,” Brown said about the amendment, which passed by a 95-0 vote.

Asian carp, introduced into the Mississippi River system accidentally by major floods in the 1990s, are a highly prolific invasive species that are able to take over a watershed and force out native fish. They pose a critical threat to the $7 billion sport fishing industry on the Great Lakes.

DELTA FISHING DERBY: The Izaak Walton League chapter in Delta is having a fishing derby on May 18 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is open to ages 16 and under, and there is a $7 fee to enter. The fishing derby will be held at the pond at the chapter facility at 9482 County Road H, which is one-half mile west of State Rt. 109 on the north side of County Road H, in Fulton County. For more information and to register for the event, call Debby at 567-213-1880.

Contact Blade outdoors editor

Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.comor 419-724-6068.