Spring’s white-bass action in Arkansas

Published June 8, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Courtesy of Paul Matt

Steve Matt, left, and Keith Sutton found great white-bass action on the scenic White River in April.

The white-bass fishing on the upper White River near Eureka Springs earlier this year was incredible. I joined Steve Matt for a day of fishing on the river near the small town of Beaver in Carroll County. Steve, a former Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officer and now public- and media-relations manager for G3 Boats, calls the river “my home water” and knows its intricacies as well as any man alive. He guided me to one of the most enjoyable days of fishing I’ve experienced this year.

The morning started out cold, with the temperature hovering around freezing. But as we soon learned, nothing warms you quicker than a fish at the end of your line.

“Got one,” Steve said, just after making his first cast.

Beneath the surface of the fast-moving water, I could just make out the silvery form of a big white bass struggling against Steve’s line. Before my friend could boat his fish, however, another white bass nailed one of the spinners I was retrieving across the stream bottom. That was just the first of many two-man hookups we would enjoy that day.

The white bass fought furiously, as white bass always do. But we brought them quickly to the boat, removed the hooks, released the fish and cast again. Sometimes we’d make several casts before we caught a fish, but often the bass attacked on consecutive casts. These were good-sized fish, too, running 2 to 3 pounds each. And on the light tackle we were fishing, they put up a battle all out of proportion to their size.

We caught dozens of white bass during the few hours we fished. We didn’t keep any on this trip, as both of us already had plenty of fish at home in our freezers. But we might have otherwise. Properly prepared, white bass are delectable on the dinner table, and during the spring spawning season, when whites are on a tear, it’s not unusual to fill a cooler with a 25-fish limit in a very short time.

Keeping what you catch isn’t a requirement for good-times fishing, however. That morning of chunking and winding encompassed some of the most fun fishing action I’ve experienced in a long time. To say I enjoyed myself would be an understatement. I was ecstatic.

If you’d like to experience such action yourself, spring is the time to try, as it offers some of the year’s best fishing for Natural State white bass. During this season, whites seek tributaries of major rivers and reservoirs for spawning runs. It is during these spawning runs, when thousands upon thousands of whites are concentrated in small creeks, rivers and dam tailwaters, that the vast majority of white bass are caught in Arkansas. In fact, for some white-bass aficionados, there is no season but spring. When the spawning runs end, so does the fishing — at least until next spring.

During most years, the spawning runs might be over by the middle of May. And in some Arkansas waters, they have, indeed, ended. But this year we’ve had a much cooler winter and spring than normal, and in some places, especially in north Arkansas, it’s not too late to catch one white bass after another in tributaries of our bigger lakes and rivers. Even when spawning activities have ended, you can still find and catch white bass as they follow schools of shad, their favorite prey.

Shad are such an important food item for white bass that these linesides don’t thrive well where the baitfish are unavailable. Fortunately for Arkansas anglers, shad are abundant in many of our medium-to-large rivers and big reservoirs, so white bass are common in these waters, too. Good places to catch whites can be found statewide, from the Ozark and Ouachita mountains to the Mississippi Delta and southern Coastal Plain. Top waters include the White River, Beaver Lake and Bull Shoals Lake in Northwest Arkansas; Lake Norfork in north-central Arkansas; the Arkansas River and lakes Ouachita, Hamilton and Greeson in west-central Arkansas; lakes Maumelle, Greers Ferry and the Arkansas River in central Arkansas; DeGray and Millwood lakes in southwest Arkansas; and the White, Arkansas and Mississippi rivers in eastern Arkansas.

Timing of the spawning runs varies widely throughout the fish’s range, but checking water temperature can help you pinpoint this activity each year. When it hits 50 degrees, you’ll find schools of white bass gathering near mouths of feeder streams. At 58 degrees, the upstream surge begins. On some waters, the spawning run can last as long as a month, but typically it starts and ends within the span of two weeks.

White bass are a cinch to catch when they’re spawning, and many tactics can be used. Few could be any more effective, however, than the technique Steve Matt and I used on the White River below Beaver Dam. We used medium-action rod-and-reel combos to cast Yumbrella Flash Mob multi-lure rigs (available at lurenet.com). Each rig has four willow-blade spinners and five stainless-steel wire arms to which we attached Blakemore Road Runner spinners. When cast and retrieved, the rigs create tremendous flash and vibration, which resembles a little school of baitfish. White bass can’t resist them.

Years of experience helped Steve know exactly the best places to fish, but as a general rule, we cast the Flash Mob rigs near cover and deep holes, then retrieved them as slowly as possible back to the boat. There was never a doubt when a fish hit. Strikes were hard and almost always resulted in hookups.

“Where the white bass will be in the river during spring changes as water releases through Beaver Dam change,” Steve said. “When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opens the gates and releases a lot of cold water, the bite may stop until the water warms again, or the fish may move from a locale where you previously caught them one after another. So, basically, anglers must learn to contend with the Corps’ actions in this regard and be ready to try several fishing spots until they locate actively feeding fish.”

Fortunately for me, I was fishing with a man who knows the river and its white bass very well. The two of us caught dozens of nice bass the day we fished, and the action was steady.

In my mind, however, catching fish was just gravy. The Ozark Mountains scenery along the river is incredibly beautiful. We saw lots of wildlife, including some up-close ospreys and a strutting wild turkey gobbler. We ate a delicious, hot, belly-filling shore lunch of Steve’s special shrimp po’boys. And we enjoyed a day outdoors with a special friend whose company makes it all worthwhile. You couldn’t ask for more than that.

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