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Outdoors: White bass bite in the winter too

BY Luke Clayton, Special to the American

In a matter of weeks, white bass (sandbass) anglers from across the state will be eagerly anticipating the white bass spawn or, as it’s referred to in fisherman’s lingo, the run.

Scheduling a fishing trip around this much heralded run is about as iffy as throwing 20 bucks into the slots in Las Vegas. Sometime, when conditions are perfect, the run actually occurs and white bass vacate the reservoirs in mass and head up creeks and rivers above the lakes. These just right conditions include but are not limited to rainfall on the watershed above the lake to create current, air, water temperature, water clarity and a host of other factors we mere humans are not as of yet privy to.

Nobody loves fishing small streams and rivers for spawning whites more than I, but looking back through the years on past fishing trips, I’ve struck out fishing what I hoped would be a run far more times than I’ve actually caught enough white bass for a winters fish fry.

I’ll keep trying though because there’s something very special about those rare instances when one finds 10,000 hungry white bass packed into the very narrow confines of a creek bend.

In truth, white bass can be caught right now relatively easily, assuming one chooses a mild winter day with light winds to venture forth on the lake.

Bob Holmes arguably puts more white bass in his boat through the year than anybody.

He understands that catching these hard-fighting little battlers now, when the water temperature is in the 50s, is a far different proposition that when the fish are chasing shad to the surface and hitting just about anything small and shiny.

“Now is prime time to boat some heavy stringers of white bass,” Holmes said. “The fish are in pre-spawn and the females are packing a lot of weight. Fish in the 1.5- to 2-pound range are very common this time of year and the really good thing about winter fishing is that when you find fish, there is likely to be a big concentration in a tight area.”

Finding concentrations of fish is relatively easy this time of year says, assuming your boat is rigged with good sonar and you have the ability to interpret its readings.

“I use side imaging sonar and like to concentrate on long points, either points connected to the shoreline above water or those completely submerged,” Holmes said. “Most of the fish will be burying their noses in the mud in water 28- to 40-feet deep. It’s common to catch fish that still have a little mud on the top of their heads.”

Don’t expect winter white bass to strike the bait hard.

Holmes uses a 1-ounce lead slab in white or chartreuse and ties a quarter-ounce jig about a foot above the slab. Using a sensitive rod, it’s possible to feel the bottom with the slab, which is very important this time of year.

“I tell my clients to let their baits fall until they feel the bottom then move the baits very slowly in a vertical jigging motion, maintaining contact with the bottom at all times,” Holmes said. “The fish hit the jig above the slab the majority of time. Sometimes, the only indication of a strike is a heavy feeling when the fish grabs the bait. When the line goes taught or the rod top jiggles the slightest bit, it’s important to set the hook with a quick pop of the wrist.”

When graphing the deeper points, Holmes likes to position the boat off to one side and run parallel with the submerged structure. The side imaging sonar plots a cross section of what appears to be a hump rising from the lake’s bottom.

As a rule, the white bass schools will be stacked up on bottom on one side of the hump or the other. If the point is running east and west and there is a steady north wind, Holmes keys on the south side of the hump because actively feeding fish are apt to be staged here, picking off baitfish that pass over the top of the structure.

Once a school of fish is located, Holmes tosses out a marker buoy and, depending upon wind speed and direction; either allows the boat to drift over the structure or used the trolling motor to slowly drag the baits across bottom.

Either way, the subtle strikes usually come quickly and limits are often landed when a big school of actively feeding fish is located.

Tips from guide Bob Holmes for catching winter white bass

  • Keep baits on bottom: If your lure is not bouncing off the bottom, you probably won’t be catching fish. Use a sensitive rod to feel bottom and set the hook when you feel the slightest resistance.
  • Fish deep: Most of the white bass I catch this year will come from deep structure water 28- to 40-feet. Graph deep humps, ridges and points until you find a concentration of baitfish with fish holding tightly to bottom below them; these will usually be white bass.
  • Plan your trip around the weather: Watch the weather closely this time of year.
  • Fish the warming trend between fronts.
  • There’s no need to be on the water at first light. Begin fishing around 7:30 or 8 a.m.; on a sunny with little wind, the temperature often warms up quickly.
  • Dress properly: Dressing in layers this time of year is always a good idea.Make sure your outer jacket is warm and waterproof. Once it warms up around mid-morning, you can remove the heavy outer layers and fish in comfort. A good face mask and gloves will help keep you comfortable during the first couple hours of on the water.
  • Preparing your catch: White bass are excellent eating. When removing the fillets, don’t bear down with the fillet knife when removing the skin. Leave about one-eighth inch of red meat on the skin. Once this darker colored meat is removed, white bass are one of the tastiest of all fish.
  • Allow the fillets to set in a mixture of buttermilk and Louisiana Hot Sauce for 30 minutes before dusting them with a mixture of cornmeal and flour and dropping them into the fish fryer.

Contact guide Bob Holmes at: 214-728-3310 or: texasfishingguide.net.

Dallas Safari Club’s Visions 2011

This convention will be held Jan. 6-9 at the Dallas Convention Center January.

I always mark my calendar and keep my schedule open for this awesome event. Whether you’re looking to book an African safari, a guided waterfowl hunt or just out to see the vast array or hunting products, there’s something here for you.

For the details or to become a member of the Dallas Safari Club, go to:biggame.org.

Listen to Outdoors with Luke Clayton Radio at: catfishradio.com and email Luke via the website with fishing and hunting news from your area.