About bass
 

Spring Flyfishing for White Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass
by Daniel Schapaugh

Anglers often debate over the most hearty or most exciting fish to catch on a fly. I don't plan on entering that dispute, but I will suggest that devoting some effort to fishing for White Bass and hybrid Striped Bass (Wipers) will not disappoint you. When chasing these fish a myriad of challenges awaits the angler. Understanding water conditions, awareness of extreme seasonal movements, and the ever-brutal rejection of your fly pattern or presentation.


White Bass are native throughout much of the Mississippi River basin, and many anglers have the opportunity to pursue these fish in their home waters. White Bass also occur in many Kansas reservoirs and rivers. They are most often found in schools, and for much of the year will cruise open water in search of forage fish such as the Gizzard Shad. Wipers, or sometimes known as Sunshine or Palmetto Bass, are a hybrid cross between the Striped Bass and White Bass. These fish have been introduced into reservoirs across the Midwest as well as several Kansas reservoirs. Wipers offer a heart pounding experience from the strike to the net. Sweaty palms, broken tippets, and hundred plus yard runs often sum up a day pursuing Wipers. Although the two species can closely resemble each other at smaller sizes, the Wiper can grow much larger. White Bass rarely exceed 3 pounds while Wipers over the 10-pound mark are possible in Kansas. When these two relatives are side by side, the surest way to tell the difference is the White Bass has one patch of teeth on the back of the tongue, while the Wiper has two distinct tooth patches.


In the spring White Bass and Wipers begin to seek out special habitats as water temperatures begin to reach the low to mid 50-degree range. These rising water temperatures and increasing spring currents cue these fantastic fish to find suitable spawning areas, often sending them on a lengthy journey. Although it is believed that Wipers cannot successfully reproduce, they will still take part in this annual routine. These fish will congregate on lake shoals and in shallow river habitats where currents have exposed a clean streambed. While many fish can be found on reservoir creek arms and coves, the spring mission takes many White Bass and Wipers miles upstream and out of the lake or reservoir environment. Schools of these fish spawn together. Nests are not made and there is no parental care given to the young. Shortly after they will return to the main reservoir. The entire spring run for White Bass and Wipers may only last a couple of weeks.


From year to year these fish can be caught at traditional "hotspots" at upriver locations, yet the ever-changing riverbeds of the Great Plains can create or erase suitable habitat during flood conditions. With this in mind I would suggest scouting lengthy sections of river annually, during the late winter if possible. Putting in some scouting time may help you identify changes to the river and areas to key in on. Wading the rivers and creeks often gives the angler the best approach for fishing White Bass and Wipers during the spring run. Drifting a canoe or flat bottom boat can be more effective when there is a need to search a large amount of water. When wading keeping out of the water whenever possible dramatically increases your chances of hooking up with a school of spooky White Bass or Wipers. Wading in the silty bottoms of many Great Plains rivers can send a shower of sediment over nearby fish. Many times anglers are standing in or wading through water that they should be fishing.


If you have done much flyfishing for Large or Smallmouth Bass, you are probably well equipped for undertakingWhite Bass and Wiper angling. 6 weight rods are sufficient for catching White Bass and throwing most of the flies for them. However, when targeting Wipers, 8 or 9 weight rods are often necessary. Not only are the larger rods more effective when handling larger streamers, they also offer the angler more reasonable fish fighting power. Floating fly lines with 9 to 12 foot leaders are usually all that is necessary for chasing these fish during the spring. One might consider a sink-tip line for probing the depths of certain holes in larger rivers and tributaries, but I wouldn't deem it essential for success at this time of year. An often overlooked piece of equipment while warmwater flyfishing is backing. If you plan on seriously fishing for Wipers be sure to have sufficient backing on your reel. 200 yards is not too much. Wipers in the 8-12 pound range will take 150 yards from your reel while you were letting your fishing buddies know you had a fish on.

During the spring, the most abundant forage for White Bass and Wipers is Gizzard Shad that are now approaching their first birthday. These fish are often four or five inches in length. Streamer flies of this size can be the key to getting White Bass and Wipers to commit to your presentation at this time of the year. However, sometimes during early spring, extremely clear water conditions warrant much smaller minnow imitations in order to produce results, rather than large intrusive streamers.


Streamer patterns for these fish can vary, but color combinations of gray and white, blue and white, and chartreuse and white can catch many White Bass year round. The Clouser minnow is an old standby that is effective for these fish, but I like to make a few fundamental changes to the fly. First I tie the dumbbell eyes in slightly farther back on the hook shank. Second make a tail of crystal flash and body of white or pearl chenille. Finally tie both the top and bottom wings in ahead of the dumbbell eye and use a synthetic hair. Making these changes to the classic pattern gives a more realistic head to your minnow fly. I have had this modified clouser outfish a standard Clouser of the same size and color up to 3 to 1. With that said traditional bucktail has its place in my fly box, there are many water conditions and depths where I use it.


When flyfishing still or slowly moving water for whites and wipers, slack line in your retrieves is a crucial issue to be aware of. The formation of slack between the line hand and the fly can be detrimental to your strike detection ability. At times White Bass can gently take an offering, thus keeping your rod tip at the waters surface and slack out of the line is imperative in detecting hits. Wipers can and usually strike ferociously. The build up of slack in your line can be the difference between breaking off a 12 plus pound fish and landing it.

 

 

Daniel Schapaugh lives near Manhattan Kansas. He is a certified flycasting instructor with the Federation of Flyfishers. As owner and operator of the Taylor School of Flyfishing he provides warmwater flyfishing instruction in
the area to various Parks and Rec agencies as well as the Chapman Creek Fly and Tackle Shop. He earned his Bachelors degree in Fisheries Biology from
Kansas State University.