This underappreciated game fish is a great fly rod quarry, especially during the spring spawning run.
[by Phil Monahan]
The white bass (Morone chrysops) hails from parts of the Mississippi and Ohio drainages where fly fishing was never the predominate method of angling, as well as from the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest, which are inhabited by other, sexier species such as trout, steelhead, and smallmouth bass. As a result, the diminutive white bass (also called silver bass, sand bass, or sandies) has often been little more than an afterthought for many anglers. But because the species is easy to stock, grows quickly, and is a prolific spawner, it has been introduced from coast to coast, and a small cadre of anglers enjoys targeting the hard-fighting fish, especially during the springtime spawning run. This is the best time for fly fishers to strip or swing baitfish patterns to intercept schools of fish on the move.
Flies and Tactics
Although most are not usually large, averaging just 12 inches and one pound, the world-record fish—from Florida’s St. Johns River—weighed in at 7 pounds 8 ounces. Those larger white bass, the ones you really want to catch, are highly piscivorous and aggressive, so most anglers fish for them with attractor streamers. If you time things right, you can run into huge numbers of fish during the spring spawning run, allowing you to hook and fight fish until your arms are tired. Popular white bass flies include Clouser Minnows, Woolly Buggers, Flashtail Whistlers, and the like. Patterns tied on jig hooks can also be quite productive. Most anglers agree that sparseness is key, and finding the right size will draw more strikes. For their size, white bass have relatively small mouths, so you don’t need to throw anything too large.
Cherokees and Hybrids
In the 1970s, biologists first cross-bred white bass with striped bass (Morone saxatilis), to create a larger, harder-fighting, more aggressive predator. That new hybrid was first released into Tennessee’s Cherokee Reservoir, which is why they are sometimes called Cherokee bass. More commonly, they are called wipers, whiterock bass, or simply hybrids. A hybrid is usually more football-shaped and has more distinct stripes than those on a white bass. The world-record wiper, at 27 pounds, is more than three times heavier than the record white bass. Schools of hybrids that live in large lakes will often herd baitfish to the surface, much as striped bass do in the ocean. This phenomenon, known as breaking, often produces some of the fastest fishing for anglers