The white bass, commonly referred to as “sand bass” or “sandies”, is an abundant and popular sportfish in Texas reservoirs. This is due to its willingness to bite artificial lures, schooling behavior, and outstanding quality as table fare. White bass provide anglers with exciting action throughout the year, but most notably during their annual spring spawning migration up river and stream tributaries. From January through April, large schools of white bass concentrate in the far upper ends or riverine sections of reservoirs making them more susceptible to anglers. The complete white bass angler understands the biology, migrational behavior, preferred habitat, appropriate fishing techniques and local “hot spots” for this popular species.
The white bass is a silvery, spiny-rayed fish with several incomplete lines or stripes, which run horizontally on each side of the body. The head is fairly small and pointed, and the dorsal (back) fin is conspicuously double, separated into spiny and soft-rayed portions. The white bass can be easily confused with striped bass and hybrid striped bass (a cross between white and striped bass), which are other members of the temperate bass family. However, striped bass and hybrid striped bass grow much larger than white bass. Anglers must be adept at differentiating between them as they often coexist in the same reservoir. White bass can be distinguished from the others by the tooth patch on the tongue (one is present on white bass whereas there are two on striped bass and hybrid striped bass). Striped bass and hybrid striped bass also have several distinct “stripes” that extend to the tail, while the white bass has only one stripe extending to the tail. Study the pictures below, including the detail of the tooth patches.
WHITE BASS STRIPED and HYBRID STRIPED BASS
A: Stripes faint, only one extends to tail.
B: Body deep, more than 1/3 length.
C: Has one tooth patch near the midline towards the back of the tongue.
Hybrid Striped Bass
Also known as Palmetto or Sunshine bass.
A: Stripes distinct, usually broken, several extend to tail.
B: Body deep, more than 1/3 length.
C: Has two tooth patches near the midline towards the back of the tongue. Tooth patches may be distinct or close together.
Note: For hybrids, all characteristics should be considered in combination, as characteristics in individual fish may vary.
LIFE HISTORY and BIOLOGY
White bass are migratory open-water fish. Most of their life is spent in the open-water portions of reservoirs chasing schools of small gizzard and threadfin shad. In late winter (December-January) schools of white bass migrate to the upper portion of reservoirs awaiting environmental cues signaling the start of the spawning migration up major tributaries. In February and March, they begin their spawning migration seeking clean gravel and rock substrate with good flow to spawn. Riffles and shoals are common spawning locations. How far white bass migrate is extremely variable, but it is not uncommon to find spawning white bass 25-50 miles above the reservoir. This may be related to river and stream flow, which varies among years. Fisheries biologists are unsure if adult white bass return to the same spawning spot each year, or if it is a random occurrence. After spawning, adult fish migrate back into the main body of the reservoir. The whole spawning migration is usually complete by sometime in May. Interestingly, “tributary” spawning may not be inherent in all white bass. Some white bass may spend their entire lives in the main portion of reservoirs, spawning on wind-blown, rocky shoals instead of in major tributaries.
Of the three temperate basses found in Central Texas (white bass, striped bass and hybrid striped bass) only white bass successfully reproduce in significant numbers, although the other two species may also migrate up tributaries in the spring. Central Texas striped bass and hybrid striped bass populations are completely supported from stockings by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) fish hatcheries. White bass are not nest builders. Spawning takes place in mid-water. The female rises toward the surface enticing males to follow. Fertilized eggs drift to the bottom and adhere to gravel or rock. Eggs usually hatch within 2 to 3 days. The newly hatched fry migrate downstream in schools seeking food and protection. On many Central Texas reservoirs white bass grow rapidly, normally attaining a size of 9 to 10 inches in their first year of life and 12 inches by the end of the second. This is faster than the statewide average. The life expectancy of white bass is short and few reach 5 years old. Although no studies have specifically looked at sexual maturity of white bass in Central Texas, fisheries biologists think that males become sexually mature at age one (8-9 inches) and females at age two (12-13 inches). This would be similar to fast growing populations in Tennessee and Arkansas. No studies in the Southern United States found significant numbers of female white bass less than 10 inches that were reproductively mature. A white bass weighs approximately 0.5 pounds at 10 inches and 0.9 pounds at 12 inches.
FISHERIES MANAGEMENT and FISHING REGULATIONS
White bass in Texas are currently managed with a statewide 10-inch minimum length and 25-fish dailybag limit. An experimental 12-inch minimum length limit was implemented on several Central Texasreservoirs between 1995 and 2003. The purpose of the experimental regulation was to test whether additional protection would delay harvest of immature female white bass and increase population abundance and average size of white bass. Evaluation of the12-inch minimum length limit indicated this regulation failed to improve white bass populations in Central Texas Reservoirs. In addition to fast growth, a high level of angler harvest was required for this regulation to work. These requirements were based on computer generated models utilizing fisheries data collected on these populations. Angler creel data collected by TPWD, suggest that harvest rates for white bass were likely below the threshold level needed for the greater length restriction to be effective. Other research conducted by TPWD, and supported by recent scientific literature, indicates white bass reproductive success is highly correlated with springtime reservoir inflows. In other words, higher than average spring inflows to reservoirs correspond with higher than average white bass spawning production and vice versa. Environmental conditions can play a large role in determining white bass densities.
TPWD will continue to monitor white bass populations and angler harvest rates to determine what length limit is best suited for these fisheries. If fishing pressure significantly increases in the future and harvest levels reach a critical point, TPWD will consider alternative regulations. Currently, alternative regulations are not warranted.
SEASONAL FISHING PATTERNS
Spring (March-May): White bass will be in the rivers or major creek tributaries. A variety of artificial lures will work, but this is a good time for small jig fishing. Small, medium-running crank baits also work well. Trolling the river or creek channel with small crank baits is a good technique. Fishing early in the spring can be inconsistent, but if the bite is on you can have the day of a lifetime. Many old timers say, “when the redbuds (or dogwoods) are blooming the white bass are running”. This old saying usually holds true. April and May can be the most consistent months as many white bass have finished spawning and are hungry as they migrate back to the reservoir. Spring is also a good time to try night fishing using lights. Floating or submersible crappie lights, which attract baitfish, work well for this. Flats at the mouths of major creeks, main-lake flats, and floating breakwaters near lighted marinas are consistent producers of white bass at this time.
Summer (May-September): May to early June is characterized by good schooling action for white bass. The mouths of major creeks and main-lake points are good areas to try. Look for birds chasing baitfish. The whites and stripers won’t be far behind. Topwater lures, lipless crank baits, and small twister tail jigs cast into schools are good bets. Anglers might also try night fishing as described for spring, although this pattern often weakens as the water warms throughout May. As the water heats up, anglers should concentrate on main lake structure near deep water, or look for schooling fish at dawn or on cloudy days. In the heat of summer good marine electronics for finding the fish in deep water are vital to consistent success.
Fall (September-November): Early-fall fishing is much like summer. Keep looking for the schools with your electronics. As the water cools, white bass will begin feeding at the surface in earnest. Cloudy days with a little wind are the best. Concentrate on creek mouths and major points. October and November can be good for surface schooling. Look for stripers mixed in with whites.
Winter (November-February): The water is coldest this time of year. Two patterns are noteworthy.One is to locate schools in deep water on major structural elements such as river channel ledges,humps, and tips of points. Vertically jigging spoons and tail spinners in these areas will produce some of the most consistent action of the year, if you can locate the fish. In January and February structurein the upper end of reservoirs near major tributaries is a good choice. A secondary pattern is night fishing around lighted boat docks and marinas in the main lake. Fishing from lighted dock to lighted dock casting a small twister tail jig into the light will produce consistent action, if you can stand the cold. Don’t be surprised if you catch some nice stripers as well. January and February are two good months to try this pattern.
PLACES TO GO
Some of the best white bass fishing in the spring can be done from the bank and while wading in the upper reaches of tributaries. County road maps available from the Texas Department of Transportation, or “The Roads of Texas”, Shearer Publishing, Fredericksburg, TX, (800-458-3808) are invaluable for locating some of the access points described. Always get permission from the landowner if you cross private land to enter a river or stream. Topographical reservoir maps are often available from controlling authorities or at retail fishing stores. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department maintains an internet web site which contains information on many fishing-related topics, including reservoir access, regulations, and fishing news, among many others. Check it out at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
For the full publication, visit: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_t3200_0022e.pdf.
© Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 2007. PWD BR T3200-022E (9/07) In accordance with Texas Depository Law, this publication is available at the Texas State Publications Clearinghouse and/or Texas Depository Libraries.
For more information on length and bag limits, check out the TPWD Outdoor Annual or download the app!
Information on where to fish in Texas public waters, including the Community Fishing Lakes, is available at http://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/wheretofish/. If you have any questions, please contact us at 979-272-1430 or by email at [email protected] or [email protected]
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Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Inland Fisheries Management