The Old Fishing Hole – PRE-SPAWN WHITE BASS

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Jim Duckworth & James Tapia

White bass can be found in rivers and lakes throughout middle-Tennessee. These fish can be caught year round however, the pre-spawn is my favorite time of year to pursue white bass and it is the time when the biggest fish are usually caught.

I just returned from a great fishing trip with my good friends Jim Duckworth and James Tapia. Jim Duckworth is a multi species guide who led us on one of the most fun and memorable fishing trips I’ve ever had. We were fishing for white bass (stripe) below Pickwick Landing Dam.

We stayed at the historic Bellis Botel. The Botel has a restaurant that has good food and was open Thursday thru Sunday. There is a convenient launch ramp in front of the Botel along with a boat parking area that provides electrical outlets for recharging batteries. We also found good food in the nearby town of Counce located just across the dam from where we stayed.

The white bass fishing below the dam at Pickwick during the pre-spawn is considered to be one of the very best areas in the state to catch numbers of better than average size fish and we can all attest to this. We fished the last week of March for several days and found the fish concentrated in numerous spots along a 10 mile stretch from the dam area to Diamond Island.

In the spring the white bass will move up river from Kentucky lake on their annual spawning run. During this time the fish can be found in the tailwater below Pickwick Dam in vast numbers. They are usually easy to find by following predictable patterns and once you find them they are not hard to catch.

During the spawning process the smaller males will move shallow first in search of areas to spawn. Then follow the females in 1 to 2 weeks. These fish move up in stages and wait for the right conditions to spawn. The timing of the spawn is mostly dependent on water temperature and current. White bass will spawn when water temps. reach between 57 and 68 degrees. Pre-spawn provides a great opportunity to catch white bass because they are schooling fish found concentrated in certain areas along the river. If you catch one fish you will most likely catch many more in the same spot. Usually you can return to catch fish from the same spot once or twice in the same day.

It may be difficult identifying these fish as they look very similar to their relatives the striped bass (Rockfish) and the Cherokee or hybrid bass. White bass rarely exceed 4 pounds and have a single tooth patch on the tongue. Stripe and hybrid bass grow much larger and have a split tooth patch. Check your 2008 Tennessee fishing guide for a section with color illustrations for identifying fish. This guide is very handy and I keep one in the boat for reference. Note that the statewide creel limit for white bass in Tennessee is 15 with no minimum length limit. The state record white bass weighted 5 lb. 10 oz. caught on the Mississippi River in September of 2003 by Bill Nelson.

To locate white bass in tailwaters below the dam, look for eddies. Eddies are areas where current is turned or deflected by a corner or point upstream. Duckworth says “The eddies are where these fish stack-up for staging and spawning.” Eddies are found at the mouth of creeks or ditches, entrances to boat harbors, points along rip-rap banks, and downstream ends of islands or shallow humps. Duckworth says, “You might have to go to several spots to find the right spot and when you find it, stay with it. These are schooling fish and you may catch 40 to 50 fish from one spot.” Fallen trees along the bank often hold fish in eddies created by the deflected current. Also watch the bank and look for areas with a sand or gravel bottom where fish may spawn. If you find a creek that is muddy flowing into the river, fish the mudline where muddy water meets the clear water. Duckworth says “ The mudline found at a creek mouth often holds a lot of white bass.”

Fish may be found in different spots from day to day due to rapidly changing conditions on the river. Spring rains can bring changes in current and water flow due to generation, and discharge from spillways at the dam.

Swift water, strong currents, and strong winds can make boat control difficult. It is essential to be prepared with good batteries and a powerful trolling motor. Duckworth uses Deka Gel batteries because of the long life of the charge. Duckworth says “ I like the Deka Gel batteries because they have a faster recharge time, there is no maintenance, and I can run up to 3 days on a single charge.” He pairs the batteries with a powerful Minn Kota model 100 Maxxum Pro 101 lb. thrust trolling motor. This model delivers high power while conserving energy and features a power lift assist that cuts the weight of lifting the trolling motor in half.

There are several lures commonly used to catch tailwater white bass. A 3/16 to ¼ ounce leadhead jig with a 3 inch paddle tail slider worm or 3 inch curly tail grub are primary baits. Basic colors are white, smoke, and chartreuse. Another great bait is the Blakemore Roadrunner Marabou jig. Duckworth likes to use a 3/16 oz. in white or white/chartreuse. We fished bandit 100 and 200 series crankbaits to catch all of our fish. Duckworth says, “ I don’t think there is a better bait that you can throw than a bandit crankbait for bigger white bass.” Crawfish and shad colors seemed to work best. The technique is to use a stop and go retrieve. Make a long cast to the eddie or to cover and crank the bait to the bottom or near bottom then pause and stop the bait for a couple of seconds. Tapia says “ The fish will almost always hit the bait on the pause and be ready because they hit hard.”

He fished using a 6-1/2 foot medium action Fenwick spinning rod with a 704 XL Cardinal reel spooled with 8 pound test Trilene XL line. Tapia says “ This smooth reel combined with the light weight rod makes it easy to cast and retrieve crankbaits all day.”

Duckworth likes to use a light to medium light action casting rod with the new Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Revo SX baitcasting reel for casting Bandit crankbaits. He uses 10 to 14 lb. Test Trilene Sensation line. The light action rod allows him to make long casts and the lighter hook set won’t pull the crankbaits away from the fish. The heavier line used on the baitcaster is preferred when fishing around fallen trees and wood cover where you are more likely to encounter hanging up.

When the white bass are on the spring run below Pickwick Dam, there is nothing difficult about catching them. The methods used to catch them are simple and anyone can do it. We caught an average of over 120 fish per day on our recent trip. The average size fish will be 1-1/2 pounds. Some of the females that we caught weighted 3 pounds with the biggest fish weighting 3-1/2 pounds.

Pre-Spawn fishing for white bass provides lots of action, great fun, and some good eating too. If you have never fished for white bass during the spring run, you should get out there and give it a try. And please, if you are going to be on the river, always remember to wear your life jacket.

Happy fishing, Charlie

Charlie Campbell
If you want to book a fishing trip with Harold Morgan call (615) 227-9337 or (615) 957-9110 or Charlie Campbell, (615) 754-6707.

**Charlie Campbell is a Pharmacist in Madison, TN, an avid fisherman and outdoor wildlife videographer that is assisting Fishing Guide Harold Morgan with the writing of this column.