There are certain things that a person looks forward to every year. You know, things like anniversaries and birthdays and Christmas morning.
But if you write about the out-of-doors, and especially if you enjoy fishing, there’s one other item that goes on that list – the beginning of each spring’s white bass run.
It can be a fisherperson’s dream come true!
White bass spend most of their time in lakes, and you’ll find them in large impoundments (think “Allatoona” and “Lanier”) through much of the year. But every spring, about the time that water temperatures get into the mid-50s and the dogwoods start to bloom, huge numbers of white bass move out of the lakes and begin to gather near the mouths of large feeders in preparation for their annual runs up those rivers to spawn. The males (typically in the half to one-pound range) arrive first. They’re followed by the larger females which frequently weight a pound or two or three and sometimes even larger.
How do you fish for them?
The key is to remember that white bass are especially fond of minnows, especially small shad, so any lure or fly that imitates a 2- to 3-inch long shad will likely do the job.
Spin fishers should try a white or silver Roostertail or Mepps-style inline spinner or some sort of small crankbait. A white jighead paired with a white curlytail grub works well too. In fact, if you have young anglers in tow, set ‘em up with a jig-and- grub for some potentially memory-making excitement. All they (or you) have to do is “cast it out and reel it in.” If white bass are present, they’ll do the rest.
White bass are also great fish on a fly rod. Time of year I keep a 9-foot, 5- or 6-weight rod in the car, rigged up and ready to go in case I find myself with an hour to spare on some white bass water. Fly-wise, I favor the gaudy silver-and-gold Rolex (it’s been called the fly rod equivalent of an in-line spinner) or a fly that I call the Red-Nosed Yeti, which has become my go-to fly when white bass fishing. If you tie your own flies, drop me a note and I’ll be glad to tell you how to tie ‘em – or catch me on the water, and if I have one in the box I’ll give it to you!
Where’s the best place to go for white bass? Most feel that the best white bass fishery in the state is the Coosa River downstream from Mayo Lock and Dam Park. That section of river, from the park down to and beyond the Georgia Power plant, has been the setting for untold numbers of unforgettable white bass trips. The trick is to put in at the park (there’s a nice boat ramp) and then drift downriver, using your trolling motor to position yourself for casting near creek mouths and sandbars. Recent rains have messed with river levels, of course, so you’ll want to check first to be sure it’s fishable. Alas, there’s no wading so you’ll need that boat to explore it completely. But even if you have no boat, you can still fish from the ruins of the old lock or from the floating fishing platform near the boat ramp (a good option for fly rod fans).
Closer to home, look for white bass in the major feeders of Lanier. Years ago, the Lanier white bass population was good. Then the one-two punch of development and blueback herring put a serious hurt on white bass numbers, and by the early 2000s the fishery was just a shadow of its former self. But in the mid-2000s, Georgia DNR began restocking white bass, and since that time the Lanier white bass fishery has come back. Thank you, Geogia DNR!
One favorite Lanier feeder, at least for those with boats, is the section of the Chestatee from Georgia 400 down to Lumpkin County Park. But you’ll also find them in the Chattahoochee above Lanier. Look upstream from Don Carter State Park. There’s some wading at Don Carter, but those with a boat will be able to take advantage of access points farther upstream to access even more water.
Check out the major tributaries feeding Allatoona too. These include the Etowah (at least as far upriver as Canton, though you’ll need a boat) and the Little River system. On Little River, note that early spring flooding inundated Olde Rope Mill Park, long a favorite Little River access point for white bass fisherfolk. The high water left lots of mud and muck behind, and that complicates wading at this popular spot. But you can put a kayak or canoe in there and explore water downstream. When the white bass are there, it can be good.
The lakes and rivers I’ve mentioned are just a few of the dozens of Georgia’s river-and-reservoir systems which hold white bass. There are many, many more. I hope you’ll get out there and check ‘em out before the white bass return to the lakes around the end of the month. When they do, it’ll be next spring before the big runs come again – but that just gives us something to look forward to next year!