The hot waters of the Red River provide the perfect habitat for massive schools of bait-slapping white bass.
It was a picture-perfect day as I motored into Red River. A series of weather systems had screwed up every outing I had tried recently, but now it seemed that weather and circumstances were finally going my way. A week earlier, while I was bush-hogging my parents’ Winn Parish property, Bobby Joe Chandler and his son Cale walked across the road. I killed the tractor and soon learned that Cale and his twin brother, Craig, had been slaughtering the white bass on Red River. It didn’t take long to make arrangements to meet Cale one Saturday morning for a trip.
Leaving West Monroe at 4 a.m., I drove through a continuous line of thunderstorms, and it was still raining and popping lightning when I got to Bobby Joe’s house. The three of us stood around watching the light show, and finally decided the trip was a bust.
I headed back home, and by the time I climbed back into bed, the sky had cleared and it had turned into a beautiful day. I spent the rest of the day regretting that we had not taken a chance and gone fishing.
A few days later, I decided to make a run to Red River to try to find the white bass on my own. Stopping for coffee in Winnfield before daylight, I ran into Bobby Joe. He said Craig and his girlfriend, Tonya Avant, were headed to the river and I’d probably see them there. In fact, just a few miles down the road, I spotted Craig at a gas station, whipped in, and agreed to meet him at the landing.
It was shortly after daylight when we launched at Morgan’s Landing on Bayou Pierre just outside Natchitoches. Craig and Tonya left ahead of me to catch some shad at a rock jetty for catfish bait, but Craig gave detailed instructions on how to find it.
Now, with the sun not yet peaking over the trees, I motored into the river. As I approached the jetty, Craig was standing at the bow of his boat tossing a cast net and moving behind the rocks. Suddenly, the placid water between us exploded in a frenzy of activity as dozens of white bass attacked the school of shad.
By the time I eased near the spot, Craig and Tonya had come back around and were chunking clear Tiny Torpedoes at the boiling water.
“You should have seen them just before you arrived,” Craig yelled over. “There were thousands of ’em!”
Immediately, they both had fish on. Tossing a shad-colored Rat-L-Trap, I soon tied into a scrappy bass and brought him in. For the next 30 minutes, as the sun rose over the horizon, the white bass would come up, tear the water to a froth, and then disappear. We landed 25 to 30 weighing up to 2 pounds, sometimes all three of us battling fish at the same time.
Then the action stopped. After awhile, Craig and Tonya departed for some catfishing. I stayed and alternately cast and trolled and managed to catch a couple more bass. The fish never resurfaced, but I was happy to have experienced some of the hottest fishing Red River has to offer.
Red River has become a mecca for Louisiana fishermen, but many are missing out on this particular kind of action.
“We rarely see anybody else chasing white bass,” Cale said.
While visiting with him at my parents’ house the week before, Cale told me of a trip he and Craig had made that morning. They came to this same rock jetty and were waiting to see if the white bass would appear. Several other boats soon stopped for awhile to see if the bass were active.
When the white bass failed to surface after a few minutes, the impatient group roared off in search of the more popular largemouths. Cale and Craig stayed.
“Just after the others left,” Cale laughed, “the bass exploded. We caught 90 in just a little while.”
It seems some fishermen are not even familiar with the white bass species, as I found out on this trip. After some furious action, the school of bass apparently retreated to the river channel, and we were waiting for it to come back up. Two fishermen in a fancy bass boat zoomed past us and then slowed to circle back around.
Halting out in the river, the driver asked for directions to a nearby oxbow lake in a noticeable Cajun accent. After Craig gave the necessary instructions, the driver asked, “Y’all doing any good?”
“Catching a few,” Craig replied.
“White bass? You mean stripers?”
“No, white bass. They’re different.”
The driver then turned to his companion, and they engaged in a short, private conversation. Finally, he gave a friendly wave, yelled “OK!” and motored off, not seeming entirely sure what Craig was talking about.
Chris Megee, of CenLa Guide Service, has spent six years guiding on Red River, and agrees with Cale’s observation that white bass is an overlooked game fish. He is one of the few professionals who actively pursue white bass. Megee points out that most fishermen simply see the bass as targets of opportunity, and only go after them when they notice schooling activity.
“Besides myself,” Megee notes, “there are only four or five other fishermen I know of who look for them. Sometimes I go out specifically for white bass and really hammer them.”
The white bass is a freshwater member of the sea bass family. It is found throughout the central United States, including the Red and Mississippi river systems and the Great Lakes. They are known by several names, such as sand bass, barfish, rock bass, streakers, striped bass and silver bass.
A true white bass has a double dorsal fin, with a front spiny section and a soft rear one. Silvery in color, they are darker on the back. There are also several incomplete lines running along the body. Often confused with an immature striped bass, the white bass can be distinguished by its one tooth patch on the back of the tongue instead of two.
White bass spawn in early spring, with schools of males moving upstream before the females. This bass species prefers to spawn in areas with a current running over gravel, or a similar substance, for the eggs to attach to. No nest is made.
White bass grow rapidly but do not reach the same size as stripers. Few live beyond four years, and they average 1 to 2 pounds. The state limit is 50, except at Toledo Bend, where it is 25.
White bass are sight-feeders, and schools of them will drive shad to the surface and slash at them from below. They are also quite mobile and often travel six or seven miles a day. This mobility sometimes makes it necessary to relocate a school from day to day.
In fact, I came back to the rock jetty several times over the next couple of weeks but had no luck. Finally, about a month later, my cousin Clay Scoggin and I were catfishing at the jetty, and I had another encounter.
About midmorning a school of white bass broke the surface near the river bank. Using the trolling motor, we eased toward them, but they had sounded by the time we got there. We never saw them again.
Many fishermen pursue white bass purely for the sport and do not consider them to be worthy table fare. In this, they are dead wrong. White bass have a firm, mild, white meat that is delicious.
“White bass cooked on a grill is the best fish you’ve ever put in your mouth,” Megee said. “It sounds strange, but they have almost a saltwater texture, and the taste is a little between a redfish and a bass.”
Megee doesn’t think white bass taste as good fried as some other species, and cautions fishermen to be sure to remove the red strip out of the meat before eating.
While fishing with Craig and Tonya, I was able to pump Craig for more information about white bass fishing once the action slowed. He explained that they will school from late spring through early fall, and are suckers for clear Tiny Torpedoes, shad-colored Rat-L-Traps, and Little Georges.
Tiny Torpedoes retrieved in a fast, jerky motion produce the most exciting action as the bass slam the bait on top of the water. The crankbaits are equally productive, but should be fished as shallow as possible.
After watching me make a couple of unproductive casts with my Rat-L-Trap, Craig offered some advice.
“Hold your rod tip up high and bring the bait back just under the surface,” he recommended. “You’ll get more strikes that way.”
I followed his instructions and immediately snagged a nice bass.
Megee’s technique differs somewhat. He rarely uses a Rat-L-Trap, preferring instead to throw a medium-diving Bandit crankbait in the old smokey joe or modern Tennessee shad colors.
“Another good bait that many people miss out on,” he said, “is a small black Jitterbug.”
White bass can be found in a variety of places.
“The best spots are submerged sandbars behind rock jetties,” Craig said, “just out of the current or on the current’s edge.”
The place we fished was such an area. The white bass were feeding on shad above a sandbar in about 4 feet of water. Just yards away, the river dropped off to 27 feet.
“Any sandbar along the deep channel can be good,” Craig assured me, “but those near the rock jetties seem best.”
Megee has found the bass will congregate around the rocks in the pre- and post-spawn period.
“Like any fish,” he explains, “they are looking for an easy meal washing around the rocks.”
During the winter, they will stack up in the deep water out from the jetties.
During the summer, Megee looks for white bass either where there is current moving past the rocks or where creeks and bayous empty into the river. A good graph unit can be very helpful in finding where the fish bunch up.
“White bass show up differently on a graph than other fish,” Megee said. “You need to know what to look for. They appear as a real deep arc and show up as a dark grey color.”
Timing can be everything when hunting these exciting fighters. Craig prefers to look for schooling activity at daylight, about 11 a.m., and at dusk. Sometimes they will school throughout the day, but usually it is done in spurts.
Megee’s experience, however, is the bass most often school during the hottest part of day.
Since the best white bass action is around sandbars and rock jetties, one can easily wait them out. Go properly prepared, and you can try the catfish or largemouth bass while waiting for the white bass to surface.
Indeed, luck can play a large role in being successful or not. You could motor past an area when the fish are not feeding and never know a school of white bass is near.
When fishing for other species, keep an eye out for white bass activity. Once you find a school, it generally will remain in the area for several days.
Megee says white bass action can be great from late June through early October. But the best chance to catch large ones — 2 to 3 pounds — is September.
“Like all other fish,” Megee says, “they know it’s turning cold and start looking for an easy meal. Find where they’re stacked up, and you can really murder them.”
He prefers searching for such areas in Pool 3 between Natchitoches and Coushatta, but says Pool 4 can also be good.
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