By Bill Cooper
White bass, sand bass, or silver bass are an open water migratory fish that often travel in massive schools in Missouri’s reservoirs. Anglers look forward to the annual spring runs up rivers and creeks when limits of the scrappy fish can often be caught in mere minutes. Summer and fall provide superb white bass fishing as well, when huge schools begin to chase shad on the surface. Fishing for them is often fast, furious, and pure fun.
White bass have been crashing the surface of Stockton Lake for well over a month. Reports have been posted on Facebook of big catches of white bass schooling and attacking balls of shad with total abandon. Most of the action takes place early in the morning and late in the evening just prior to nightfall.
My inside sources, Damon Spurgeon, of Rolla, and Kris Nelson, of Tandem Fly Outfitters on Stockton Lake have reported heavy action over the last three weeks. Damon guides part time for Tandem Fly and keeps abreast of the latest fishing activity.
Spurgeon has introduced fly fishing for white bass to Stockton fishermen. The technique is catching on rapidly, as he regularly books clients who are trying the method for the first time.
“I’m a fly fisherman first,” Spurgeon said. “I like to catch about any type of fish, but I’m especially fond of those I can catch on a fly rod. I continually attempt to catch new species on my fly rod. It offers a different level of challenge for sure, but the satisfaction is grand when I succeed.”
White bass crashing the top, while chasing shad, are an easy target for spin and bait casting anglers. A wide variety of lures can be used to catch white bass when they begin to boil on the surface. “It’s a feeding frenzy when they begin to feed on the surface.” Spurgeon said. “Spoons are a popular lure to use during the frenzy. They are very easy to fish. Simply toss them towards the boils and hang on. Strikes can be vicious.”
When white bass are hitting on top, it is a great time to take kids fishing. They can cast and catch fish at a quick pace, which certainly holds their interest. My grandson, 9-year-old Ronnie Austin and I, traveled to Stockton last week to fish with Spurgeon. “You’re gonna love this Ronnie,” Spurgeon said. “The fishing is absolutely awesome and you’ll catch a bunch in a hurry.”
Ronnie couldn’t wait to get on the water. It would be his first time to fish on a big lake, and his first attempt at white bass.
We arrived early afternoon and were on the water by 5 p.m. Ronnie was awed by the big water and the big boat which Damon drove. I could see his eyes sparkling as we raced across the water headed to the first fishing spot of get day.
We fished jigs over brush piles to pick off a few crappie before the white bass action began. Damon kept eyeing the horizon in search of the telltale signs of splashing water, a sure sign that the bass feed had begun.
Sea gulls often give away the positions of feeding white bass, as they dive to pick off wounded shad from the attacks of marauding white bass schools.
It didn’t take long for gulls to begin appearing across the lake . “Reel ‘em up,” Damon said. “Whites are up on the other side. We’re heading that way fast.”
By the time we reached the feeding school, they had gone down. “That’s not unusual,” Damon explained. “But they are starting to feed. We will just have to keep our eyes open.”
In the meantime, we began trolling spoons as Spurgeon moved closer to the shore one. Ronnie began jelling. “I got one, I got one pawpa.” He grimaced as if he was reeling in a cinder block. He quickly swung the first white bass of the evening into the boat.
“Man that was fun.” Ronnie exclaimed. “I want to do it again.”
We sporadically picked up more white bass as we trolled near the shorelines. Thirty minutes before nightfall Spurgeon yelled. “Everybody cast towards the shore. Here they are.”
As the boat slowly moved forward, the water churned with feeding white bass. “We are going to catch ‘em fast, so just sling ‘em in the boat and drop them on the floor,” Spurgeon said. “We’ll pick ‘em up as soon as we’re done, which won’t take long.
Ronnie and I flung hammered, silver colored spoons towards the feeding frenzy. Ronnie squealed with laughter as he hooked another fish.
Damon cast a Clouser minnow with his fly rod from the bow of the boat. Seconds later he said, “fish on.” All three of us were hooked up.
The topwater action lasted only a few minutes, as the corned shad began to scatter to deeper water. He picked up our fish and Ronnie counted 18 white bass as Damon dropped them into get live well.
“Wow that was really fun,” Ronnie said. “When can we do it again?” he asked.
“Tomorrow is another day,” Spurgeon responded. “We’ll catch ‘em again!”
Several members of the Missouri Outdoor Communicators are headed to Stockton to fish with Nelson and Spurgeon. Several will be fly fishing for white bass for the first time. “The stories these guys write will spread the word about fly fishing for white bass on Stockton Lake,” Spurgeon said. “They will be fishing for walleye, too, but that’s another story.
To book a fishing trip with Tandem Fly Outfitters go to www.tandemflyoutfitters.com or call 417-839-2762.