Spring is here again – and so are the white bass!
The annual arrival of white bass in many of Georgia’s rivers is (like robins in the yard or new leaves on trees) definitive proof that it’s really spring. My dad always said that the white bass show up about the time the dogwoods bloom. Early spring’s warming water and lengthening days cue these fish to move up from lakes to spawn in tributary streams, and that puts them within easy reach of anglers far and wide.
When the white bass runs happen, the numbers of fish in a given river can go from zero to zillions almost overnight. Males (typically in the half- to 1-pound range) come first and are already here. The larger females, which can range up to 2 pounds or larger, are starting to show up too.
Where can you find white bass? Look for them in major tributaries to large lakes. Rivers such as the Etowah, Oconee, Appalachee, and Chattahoochee come immediately to mind and offer many opportunities for exploring.
Knowledgeable white bass enthusiasts consider the Coosa River below Mayo Lock and Dam Park to be the best white bass run in the state. This is one of the rivers where I discovered how much fun this hard-fighting fish can be. You’ll need a boat to fish the Coosa, and you’ll need to understand the ins and outs of running a boat on a large river. In other words, watch out for drifting logs and other boaters. But the put-in is easy. There’s a great ramp at the park, and for a minimal ramp and parking fee you can launch there and fish your way downstream, then run back upriver to the ramp when you’re done.
If you don’t have a boat, you can still fish for white bass at Mayo. Many anglers fish from the old lock, but it can be crowded with fisherfolk during the peak of the white bass run.
More white bass adventure awaits on the Chestatee River. For instance, you can launch a canoe at the public river access on Ga. 60 (just west of Ga. 400) and ends a ways downriver at Lumpkin County Park. Conversely, if you’re in a powered boat, you can start at the Lumpkin County Park ramp and make your way upriver to near the Ga. 400 bridge, then work your way down, fishing as you go. Just be sure that you check a map (Google Earth is good) before you go to understand the lay of the land around Lumpkin County Park. Specifically, note that there’s a long, narrow piece of land that you may need to go around or (if you’re in a canoe or kayak) portage across to get to the takeout ramp.
Another flow worth noting is Little River. One option is to launch a boat at Knox Bridge and run upriver. If you don’t have a powered boat, check out Olde Rope Mill Park on Little River just off 575. Anglers in the know will put in a kayak or canoe at the park and fish downstream toward or beyond the 575 bridge, returning to the park when they’re done. There are also spots to fish from the bank in this area. Wading may be possible, too, depending on where you are and on the level of Lake Allatoona (which rises steadily through the spring). But don’t try to wade downstream of the pedestrian bridge. Recent dredging has made that water too deep to wade, though it’s still great for those in boats.
No matter where you decide to fish, remember that white bass are ambush predators. They tend to congregate below shoals, near creek mouths, near brush piles, close to sandbars, or near any other obstruction that breaks the flow. Look for such spots, and fish them thoroughly. If you hook one in a given spot then stay with that spot for a while. It’s not unusual to hook a half dozen or more fish before that particular school wises up and moves on.
What gear will you need to fish for white bass? For spin fishing, I use a medium action rod with 6- or 8-pound line. I tie on a white jig with a white curly-tail grub about 2 inches long (something that imitates small shad) and I’m set. Light colored in-line spinners or crankbaits will work, too, as will minnows.
These can be good flyrod fish too. I usually pick up the 9 ft. 6 wt. rod and tie on a flashy, light-colored shad imitation such as a Rolex fly or the Red Nosed Yeti. A white Woolly Bugger will do the job too, and no matter the fly, remember that a little touch of red never hurts.
Because white bass are so much fun to catch, and probably also because they’re pretty good eating too, don’t be surprised to find good white bass water crowded with other anglers. Unless you can fish during the middle of the week, you probably won’t find solitude during the peak of the run. But that’s okay. There are plenty of fish, and everyone seems to be having a good time.
In most areas, the white bass action will continue well into April before the fish return to the depths of the lakes and move out of reach for most fly fishers. But while it’s on, the white bass runs offer a great opportunity for unforgettable fishing.
For the next few weeks, odds are I’ll be out there somewhere every chance I get. Say hello if you see me. And holler if you hook a big one. I’ll come running and take your picture!