For most Lake Erie fishermen, white bass are the consolation prize. While these anglers tirelessly pursue walleyes, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch, white bass regularly barge ahead and hit the bait first.
With many anglers, it’s like leaving Jeopardy! with just the home version of the game and $100, while the guy next to you has $25,000, or a stringer full of walleyes.
But while they cannot match up with perch and walleyes in the skillet, white bass are not the dregs of the freshwater collection — not all of the time, and not everywhere. Some Texas lakes openly brag about their white bass fishing, and in May in Northwest Ohio, white bass are briefly the top dog in the rivers.
As the water warms and the walleye spawning run winds down, white bass leave their home in Lake Erie and charge up the Maumee, Sandusky, Portage and Huron rivers by the hundreds of thousands. Their spawning run usually lasts about a month, and the action is without parallel.
While spawning walleyes often have to be coaxed and coerced into biting, and many fish are snagged rather than hooked in the mouth, that is hardly the case with white bass. Spawning or not, the cousins of the ultra-feisty striper will attack just about anything that moves. On ultra-light tackle, the action is intense, energized, and often comes in rapid-fire order.
But once the spring river runs end and the white bass retreat to the big lake, they fall off the radar for most fishermen.
“Outside of this run, we see very little effort put into catching them,” said Mike Wilkerson, fish management supervisor with the Division of Wildlife’s Findlay office. “Out on the lake, white bass are most often just incidental catch, by anglers pursuing other species.”
Some Lake Erie fishermen do take occasional advantage of the frenetic action white bass can provide because one of their unique feeding habits reveals their location.
Most of the time, schools of white bass roam the open water, but when the surface boils and the gulls start making reckless dives into the lake, that tells the angler that white bass are in a feeding frenzy. Cast a lure — any lure — into the fray and it will get slammed almost instantaneously.
“Anything in that family of fish, such as stripers, as they school up they will push schools of baitfish to the surface where they can run into them,” Wilkerson said. “They will slide through them and pick them off.”
As some of the panicked shiners or shad attempt to escape, they leap from the water, creating a froth that draws in the opportunistic gulls and any nearby anglers that are paying attention.
A number of the larger reservoirs in the region also have populations of white bass, including Findlay Reservoirs 1 & 2, Lima Lake in Allen County and Lake LeComte and Veterans Memorial Reservoir, both near Fostoria.
Wilkerson said some reservoirs were stocked with white bass in the past, but not necessarily by the Division of Wildlife. White bass are currently stocked in the Ohio River drainage, but not in the Lake Erie watershed.
The best approach for catching white bass during the river spring spawning runs is using lightweight tackle, and casting and retrieving small jigs tipped with brightly colored twister tails. Small spinners and spoons also work, and shiner minnows are always the default bait, virtually guaranteeing action if white bass are in the area.
FREE BOAT INSPECTIONS: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft is offering free boat safety inspections during National Safe Boating Week, which begins Saturday. Inspections will be offered today from 5-7 p.m. at Meinke Marina at 10955 Corduroy Rd. in Curtice, on Saturday from 1-2 p.m. at Cullen Park Boat Ramp at 4500 N. Summit St., on Monday from 5:30-7 p.m. at Maple Street Boat Ramp in Perrysburg, and May 23 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Ritter Park at 1111 W. Riverview Rd. in Napoleon, and at Mary Jane Thurston State Park at 1466 State Rt. 65, just upriver from Grand Rapids, from 7-8 p.m.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.