Tuesday, March 24, 2009

White Bass on the Haw

I’m always excited about a new fishing experience. I fished my home Haw waters again today, but this time I went downstream about three miles from my usual haunts and fished not too far from where the river empties into the Lake Jordan. There the river is wider and more open than my cozy, braided section, and a good bit more rugged. It would prove to be an interesting afternoon.

To add to the novelty, it was my first outing with my new 8wt, a TFO Axiom with a Lamson 3.5 Guru reel, loaded with SA Sharkskin GPX line. It’s a beast of a rig, set up with visions of reds and bonefish flats in my future, and it’s been impatiently waiting in the closet for a chance to get wet. It may have been a bit of overkill for my plans today, but I just had to use it.

What was truly new today was that I was chasing white bass, hoping that the annual spawning run had begun and that the high, murky water wouldn’t make the trip unproductive. We are still recovering from last week’s rains and the water is still high and fast, almost borderline for wading in some places, but more worrisome was the heavily stained water. I’ve read that white bass “prefer to swim in clear water” and are “visual feeders”, both tendencies not well supported in today’s conditions.

And the day started slowly indeed. I threw a sizable white and chartreuse clauser into pools below heavy drops and didn’t draw interest short of a single white crappie. I then switched to a black and white streamer, thinking I needed something darker in the stained water, and found a small largemouth bass, but no white ones. Before calling it a day, I made one more switch to a #2 chartreuse spoon fly with a white tail, and things got interesting. I found a stretch between a pair of rock escarpments, threw the spoon across the slowly moving river, and let it swing drift, allowing it to settle and giving it an occasional short, brisk strip to give it some swimming action. It took but half a dozen casts to get my first strike, and my first white bass, a 10-inch fish that had surprising fight, even against the 8wt.

Over the next 30 minutes I caught a couple others, 10-12 inches, and missed a few more before I noticed some action on the top of the water, an occasional baitfish scrambling, no doubt away from running whites. Since something seemed to be looking up, I casted farther and quickened my stripping, keeping the spoon closer to the surface, and my very first try yielded another fish. For another hour and a half, I varied the spoon’s actions, up and down the water column and seemed to have some luck in all areas. Not surprisingly, most hits came as the spoon approached the pillows in front of the lower rock section. In the end, I caught 8 fish, all in the 10-12 inch range, and all with plenty of pluck.

The only problem I had related to the spoon was that the white bass have small mouths and literally inhaled the spoon, hooking them relatively deeply. All but one required forceps to release. I don’t think I hurt any badly, but each was at risk and I pride myself in releasing fish healthy, ready to fight another day.

Eight bass in 2 hours doesn’t seem to measure up to the stories I have heard about good white bass runs and I was expecting some larger fish, but any number of factors could be contributing, including:

a) the run is just getting started
b) the run is ending
c) the water, level and murkiness, made sight feeding difficult
d) I have no idea what I am doing

While it's never a bad bet to go with d, the good news is that the answer may actually be a. A good friend says that his cue for the run is the blooming of the dogwoods, yet to occur here. As more proof, he says that, prior to the run, the smaller males start showing up in bigger numbers, and my catches appear to support that model. As plucky as the small males were, I look forward to catching the ladies. Maybe the 8wt's not such a bad idea....

So, as I sit here looking out the window, I see the redbuds exploding in color and, as is the order of things, small, yellow buds beginning to appear on the intermingled dogwoods, hopefully signs that the hot white bass fishing may be just around the corner. The weather looks to be turning though, rain in the forecast that might very well push water levels higher. The same thing happened last year and we never got a good shot at the whites, so I guess we shall just see what the next several days bring. Regardless, the first white bass appear to be in the river right now and the prospect of better fishing to come seems bright. Whether it works out well, or doesn’t, I was happy to have had a sniff today.

1 comment:

Feather Chucker said...

Great blog Mike, You've inspired me to update mine.