Is it spring yet?

The first white bass catch of the season.

Is it winter or spring? Inquiring minds want to know. Last week it was short sleeves and shorts, but as I write this it’s cold and raining and not very pleasant at all.

What’s a fisherman to do?

Go fishing, of course, which is what I did last Saturday.

It was Saturday afternoon, to be precise (we outdoor writers are all about precision in prose), and I’d front-loaded the day with all my errands and chores. That’s part of the “being-a-responsible-adult” thing I keep hearing about – get the chores out of the way and then you can play. Yay for me.

“But I think it’s supposed to rain in the afternoon,” my wife reminded me. “Don’t wait too long.”

So I became the very picture of efficiency, knocking down the chores list in record time. Pretty soon I checked off the last one. Then I grabbed my lucky fishing hat (everybody has a lucky fishing hat, right?) and the spinning rod and a few white feather-tailed jigs. Then I jumped in the car, bound for Little River at Olde (with an “e”) Rope Mill Park with white bass on my mind.

All across Georgia, white bass make massive annual spring runs from lakes up into the rivers that feed them. It happens all over the state, starting in the southern part of the state and moving north as the waters warm. One of Georgia’s best white bass runs is in the Coosa River as enormous numbers of the fish migrate up from Lake Weiss.

But the Coosa is a bit of a drive for a Saturday afternoon. Somewhat closer is Lake Allatoona, which also is home to myriad white bass. Those Allatoona white bass move up the lake’s tributary streams, among them Little River.

When does the Allatoona run peak? Prevailing wisdom says the peak of the white bass run occurs about the time that the dogwoods bloom. But that’s the peak. Things actually get started some time before that hallowed moment, and I was hoping that would be the case now. Was I going to get lucky?

I arrived at the river just before 2 p.m. with daylight and fishing time to spare and optimism in wild excess. “Who says chores and fishing can’t coexist?” I thought to myself. “This could be good!”

And that’s when it started to rain.

Yes, the rain and I arrived at the river at almost exactly the same moment. One minute it was just cloudy, but the next it was coming down. It was one of those steady, soaking rains, too, the kind that eventually works through even the best waterproof jacket.

But what’s a little rain? I am a Responsible Outdoor Writer, and you, my faithful readers, need (yes, need!) to know if the white bass are running yet.

So in the interest of responsible reporting, I put on the rain jacket and snugged it up tight and tucked away the camera in an inside pocket where it would stay mostly dry. I rigged up the little spinning rod, tying one of the white feather-tailed jigs to the brand-new six-pound-test line that I’d put on the reel for this very occasion. I patted my pocket to make sure that I had my fishing license. And then I set out, in the rain, to see what I would see.

At first I just walked. It’s nice to walk along a river in the rain, and the fishing rod gave me a good excuse to do so. Thanks to that little cold snap the other day, I was pretty sure that the white bass were not very far up the river. A cast here and a cast there confirmed my suspicion too. But might they be farther downstream?

I’d just have to keep walking and see.

I walked and walked, following the riverside trail down below I-575 and even further. I stopped to cast at several points, but there were no takers. One angler I met had a very nice crappie, but he said that was all he’d caught all afternoon. Yet the crappie was an encouraging sign, for once the crappie start hitting the white bass are usually not far behind.

I hiked farther downriver and then hiked a little bit more. The banks became steeper, making it tricky to work my way to the water so I could make a few casts. But I found no fish. Nothing.

Downstream some more…

After perhaps a half mile of fishless exploration, I spotted a classic white bass holding area – a blowdown, a tangle of limbs, just the kind of place that white bass like to hang out and ambush careless minnows.

If they are here, I thought, that’s where they’ll be.

But the spot was on the far side of the river and right at the limit of what the little spinning rod could do.

Still, I had to give it a shot.

I made what was, for me, a remarkably good cast. The lure sailed smoothly across the water, all the way to the other side, and dropped just inches from the upriver side of the blowdown. I counted to three to give it time to sink and began the retrieve – and then there it was, a solid hit. A few minutes later I had the fish to hand – the first white bass of the year.

I admired it and then let it go.

If this was fiction, I’d tell you that it was the first of hundreds of white bass I caught that day. But in fact it was the first of only two. The second came about two hours and countless casts and five million gallons of rain later. Two fish and a downpour too –

But that was good enough for me, for I can now report that spring fishing has begun. Give us even a little bit of warmer weather, and it will get really good. I’ll keep you posted.

Spring’s coming, and the fishing is coming too. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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