In 2009 and 2010 I posted some fishing tips I'd learned over the years. Here is a repost to help folks new to TFF:
POST #1 – How to Locate and Catch White Bass
Mark, having reached my golden years (now 68) I'm also interested in passing on fishing knowledge to the younger generations. This is a good thread you've started. I'll try to add some of my learnings regarding fishing for white bass. I've been fishing for them for 43 years, and over that time I've learned 3 lakes well: Eagle Mountain, Livingston and Cedar Creek. I will try to keep it simple and will no doubt repeat some things you or others already covered. So, in my humble opinion:
1. The easiest way to catch white bass is to find them feeding on the surface. You can catch them with almost anything - spoons, slabs, spinners, soft plastics, crank-baits, etc. Cast it out and reel it in at or near the surface. It's fast, exciting and effective. This was my primary way to catch them the 1st ten years. We cruised the lake looking for birds circling/diving over the same area, or we looked for a group of boats. If neither were to be found, we looked for the actual surfacing fish. Calm weather was always at a premium because you could see the fish hitting from a long ways off. Of course, we bought the most powerful binoculars we could find and could see birds on the other side of the lake. In spite of all these efforts, some days you just could not find surfacing fish. In fact, on Livingston, most days you could not find surface schooling fish. Many days on Eagle Mountain - after 30 minutes of early morning top water action it was over. If you only know how to catch them this way, you look and look then give up and go home.
2. The best way to make sure you come home with a mess of fish is to learn how to find and catch fish on water bottom structure - points, humps, drop-offs, old roadbeds and old submerged bridges. I will cover my view of how to do this in a later post. For now, I want to make another point: Before taking on structure fishing for whites, you need to develop confidence in a bottom catching bait and technique. Why? Because if you think you have found fish on a structure, if you can't catch any and don't have confidence in your technique, you will question whether you actually found fish. You will question your depth finder and become frustrated and confused. But, if you know you can catch them if they are down there, then you don't lose confidence if you don't catch any in that spot - you just move on and look for them on another structure. So, how do you develop confidence in a bottom catching bait and technique? You develop it while you are fishing surfacing fish (as in 1 above). Instead of retrieving the bait at or near the surface, you let it go to the bottom and work it there. Actually, you are more apt to catch better fish down at the bottom anyway. Slabs, spoons, lead-head with soft plastics and inline spinners are the most popular baits for fishing the bottom. Try them and find one you can have confidence in. Once you have a technique you know you can catch them with, then you can take on structure fishing. In a later post I'll cover my favorite structures and how to locate them, and also cover my preferred baits and how to work them on structure.
POST #2 How do you find white bass on structure? Here are my recommendations:
1. You need reasonably good electronics and know how to use them. IMO a high resolution B/W depth finder is the minimum needed. Color and side view may speed the process up but are expensive. If you can afford them and feel it is worth the money, then get them. I don't use either - just high resolution B/W. To me, the cost is still too high for the side view. I may upgrade to color when I have to buy my next unit. Good electronics are important so you can distinguish baitfish from the fish you want to catch. Also, so you can zoom in on the water bottom and distinguish between trash and fish lying right on the bottom. You want it to show you what it sees rather than interpret it for you and put pictures of fish on the screen. After you see what a good bunch of fish look like (as when you are over them and catching them readily) you will remember what this looks like and that's what you will be looking for when you go searching other structures.
2. Get a good topo map of the lake and study it for points, humps, drop-offs, roadbeds, etc. A good structure is one where the depth is significantly shallower than water next to it. For instance, humps have deeper water all around them, points have deeper water on 3 sides of them, roadbeds have deeper water on both sides and drop-offs have deeper water on one side. There may be fish anywhere on these structures, but I find that the most likely place for them is at the edges just before it drops off into deeper water. This is particularly true if the point or hump is broad. Most of the productive structures I know of in the Texas lakes I fish are 10 to 18 ft deep with deeper (25+ feet) water next to it. Structures with 25 to 30 ft tops (with 40+ ft next to them) can also be productive if the water is clear enough. In stained water it gets dark fast as depth increases.
3. With map in hand get on the water and locate the structures you see on the map. Use landmarks and GPS points if you have a GPS and the map has some listed. I have been doing it for so long without GPS, I don't feel the need to use them myself. I have a handheld GPS but just don't use it. If you do use one, mark the structure as waypoint and label it so you can get back to it.
4. Favorite structures: I know 3 lakes pretty well. My home lake now is Cedar Creek and I've come to realize it is such a good white bass lake because it is loaded with structures. So far I have found 30 structures where I frequently catch white bass, and I find new ones each year. Some of my favorites among these are (you guessed it) Saint Annes Point, Key Ranch Drop-off, Dam Drop-off, Dam Ridge and southwest corner of Hump Across from Spillway Dam. Eagle Mountain Lake has a lot fewer good structures. I know of ten starting at Pelican Island and going south and east. My favorites are the south edges (drop-offs) of the large flat extending south from Pelican Island, the well known 27 ft hump that is about 100 yards out from the main dam about 100 yards east of its west end, the large tall point just to the west of this dam hump and a hump 24 ft deep not on the map out in the middle of open water between the Boat Club marina and the south end of the lake. At Livingston I counted about 20 structures I fish from the Hwy 190 bridge southward to about 1200 yards south of the Old Hwy 190 roadbed. My favorites are Old Hwy 190 submerged bridges (7 of them and each bridge has 3 structures - both ends and the middle), Submerged Kickapoo Bridge - both north and south sides of it, the point in front of old Frank's Marina, Old submerged Hwy 190 Roadbed where it reaches Trinity River on the east edge of river.
Of all these structures, my very favorite and most reliable are 4 of the submerged bridges on Old Hwy 190 roadbed: the one on the west side of the Trinity River channel, Hell's half Acre bridge, and 2 bridges near the west end of old 190. Submerged bridges, if at the right depth, are ideal structures for attracting white bass. The ones on Old 190 are 10 to 12 ft deep on the road surface with rails on each side 3 ft shallower. Depth under the bridges varies from 22 to 30 ft. Shad feed on the algae on the hard road surface and on the rails. This in turn attracts the white bass. Fish can hang out in the shade of the bridge, and then when they want a meal, they swim up to the roadbed or rail and catch a shad. We park our boat at either end of a bridge or in the middle of it (of course after we find it using our electronics). We catch fish casting on top of bridge road surface, casting down the roadbed and to shoulders at ends of bridge and casting over and pulling bait across bridge rails (which you can do with an inline spinner but not a slab or spoon without getting hung up). I call this last one "rail fishing" and made a post describing it last year. How effective is this bridge fishing? I went to Livingston twice last year. The 1st trip I fished with my sister in mid July, and we went out from 7:30 to 11 AM and caught 110 on the bridges and came in. In early August I fished with long-time friend Randall Lovelace, and we fished the middle half of the day and caught 206 on the bridges. All these sandies were from 13 to 16 inches. All caught on Mepps spinners.
I'll cover my preferred baits (including Mepps) and fishing techniques on next post.
What are my preferred baits and how do I work them? To cover this I thought I would start at the beginning of my white bass fishing and work my way forward. Before I start, let me say that my preferred way to catch whites started with a spoon, then changed to a slab and then to a Mepps spinner, which I have used now since 1976. The Mepps has worked so well I've not needed to try anything else, such as soft plastics or crank baits.
When I started in 1967 my teachers - father-in-law and wife's Uncle Charlie - used various silver spoons. I think slabs were not around yet or just getting started and these guys not quick to change from what they knew. The spoons commonly used were Sidewinders, Mr. Champs, Tony Acetta (sp?) and their favorite - Dixie Sirens and Dixie Jets. For smaller spoons I recall they had some Little Cleos in their tackle box - they didn't have any larger Little Cleos, which came to be my favorite spoon much later.
Here are the exact instructions Uncle Charlie gave me for working a spoon on the bottom: "Make a cast and let it fall to the bottom, jerk it up about a foot and let fall back to bottom, then crank 3 or 4 turns of the reel and let it fall back to bottom. Repeat all the way back to the boat." It seemed kind of mechanical, but when I was having trouble catching 'em I'd remember this and it was effective. However, I experimented and came up with my own favorite way to work a spoon - after a cast and letting it fall to bottom I would point rod toward line, take up the slack and make a long sweep up with the rod tip. I would most often get a bite when the spoon slowed or stopped at the top of my sweep. Of course, there were times it took a different action to get them to bite. I remember to catch them one time straight down in 30 ft water we had to raise the spoon up from the bottom a few turns of the reel and then bounce the spoon up and down rather violently (caught 180 that outing!)
We liked the Dixie Siren best because it had a beautiful smooth chrome-like finish and you could jig it or swim it like you can a Little Cleo. When slabs became popular (and cheaper to make) it put Dixie out of business (in the early '70s I think). I still have 3 of them and am afraid to use them lest I get one hung and lose it. Like everyone else, though, we began using slabs in the early '70's. We worked them just like the big spoons mentioned above. We caught tons of fish and thought we were doing as well as you could do.
If you have read my article on Mepps web site, you know what happened next. We discovered we weren't doing as well as we could. For those who haven't read it, I was having a rather mediocre day on Livingston working slabs on the Old 190 roadbed. But to my dismay there was a troller picking up a fish every time he trolled by me - right where I was slabbing. To make a long story short I tried to emulate what the troller was doing by swimming a lure - a Mepps spinner - along the bottom and started catching them.
This brings me to the present. I now use Mepps plain Aglia silver spinners almost exclusively. The one I used on that day in 1976 was a #2. Through experience I have found that different sizes work better in different lakes or circumstances. In Livingston #2 and #3 seem to work the best. Both of these are lightweight and we have to add a 1/4 oz mash-on weight about a foot up the line from the spinner to cast them and get them down to the bottom faster. Here in Cedar Creek the #4 seems to work best most of the time. The good thing about it is that it is heavy enough to cast and get to the bottom without adding weight.
The circumstance requiring a #2 instead of a #4 is when the new hatch of shad are the primary forage of the white bass. The fish are looking for a smaller shad and the #2 works well. Here this usually happens in mid July and lasts a couple of months.
So, how do you work a Mepps? It is NOT like a slab, and I think it is different from a soft plastic in that for these baits most of the strikes are on the fall. With a Mepps the strike is definitely on the retrieve - as you start it up from the bottom. I like this because it is easier to feel the strike on the retrieve and in my opinion more fun. Sometimes they almost knock the reel out of my hands. But more often it is a light bite - but always on the retrieve up from the bottom. Of course, occasionally I'll get one where the fish hit it on the fall. Most of the time when this happens it's a catfish.
This is the technique: Locate the boat where you can make a medium to long cast to where you marked fish. After bait gets to the bottom, lower the rod in the direction of the cast and take up the slack. Then simultaneously raise the rod tip and begin cranking the reel. Crank about six times. If they haven't struck the lure by then, stop cranking, release the reel and let lure free fall back to the bottom and repeat the steps I just mentioned. Work it all the way back to the boat this way. I usually have to experiment with speed of retrieval at each place I stop. Sometimes they want it slow, sometimes fast and sometimes medium. I also test to see if they want a more vertical movement or more of a lateral, drag along the bottom movement. On deep humps with fish down on the bottom, I can park right over them and crank vertically and catch fish. But mostly I fish shallow (10 to 18 ft) structures and I'll park off to the side and make a medium to long cast and work Mepps across the structure. I find that a 5 or 6 to 1 ratio reel with 10 lb flurocarbon line works best. I keep the tension on the reel spool very loose so the weight of the bait readily pulls line out as it is falling to the bottom.
I said above that I "almost" use Mepps exclusively. The other bait I use, which I work like a Mepps, is a 5/8 oz or 3/4 oz Little Cleo. For some reason, it seems to do as well as Mepps in Eagle Mountain Lake. Not only can I work it like a Mepps, but also I can work it like a slab if needed. Sometimes at EM the only way I can get them to bite in the deep water is with a series of very sharp jerks using the Little Cleo.
One more thing about Mepps, it works just as good on surfacing fish. So, I never have to change from Mepps even when I run across some working under the birds.
I give more background and info re the discovery of the Mepps technique in my article in case you are interested. Dennis Christian Article on Mepps Web Site Some people think the Mepps technique is too hard to learn. Let me say that my mother, aunts, sisters and grandkids learned it. You might not get the hang of it on the 1st try but don't give up. Once people get the knack of it, they never go back to their slabs or whatever.
The key to catching quantities of white bass by structure fishing (as opposed to looking for schooling fish on the surface) are 1st to be able to locate fish using your graph and second knowing how to catch them once you have found them. Those who report trying to catch fish with Mepps seem to have problems in both categories.
Let's address locating fish. The pattern, at least on CC, this year is finding a concentration of fish just off the bottom in water anywhere from 10 ft to 18 ft deep. I have identified a lot of structures at these ideal depths where the bottom drops off into 25+ ft right next to the 10 to 18 ft water. Fish like to hang out right on the edges where water depth starts to plunge deeper. So, what I do is criss cross my boat back and forth over the edge moving over a little from where I just crossed each time. I work my way like that along a drop-off, or hump, or ridge of a point. When I find fish, I mark them with a marker tossed over board. Then I search around the marker to see where the most fish are relative to the marker. Finally, I prefer anchoring (now iPilot) so I go up wind of where I want to cast and drop anchor. Mepps work best most of the time pulling up at an angle rather than straight up. I also believe that in really clear water at 10 to 13 ft depths or shallower you can spook fish if you park right over them - so another reason to park off to the side and cast to fish.
If you have a good, detailed topo map of the lake you are fishing (or map chip in your GPS), you can see the humps, points and drop-offs on the map. Go to these places and start looking. Stay focused. Don't let suspended fish sidetrack you. The fish you are looking for are just off the bottom. In my experience, it is very difficult to catch suspended fish, AND they are not relating to structure necessarily like I want. The structure pinpoints the fish for you - just go there and search for them. The more structures you know the better. At present on CC I'm finding fish on most of the structures I fish. This is how I locate fish. I don't look for birds or boats - just go to the structures chosen for the day.
The most common mistakes I find people making: not locating a concentration of fish on the bottom before starting to fish, using too heavy line, using #2 or #3 without adding weight, not expecting a very subtle bite a lot of times, not keeping the bait on the bottom when beginning retrieve, not checking the Mepps regularly to make sure wire is not bent or line is not twisted around blade. One more tip: I have found that I can feel the soft bite a lot better if I have the rod pointing almost directly at the line during retrieve - say at a 10 degree angle to the line direction. I can't explain why but it makes a difference. Good luck!
Structure fishing for white bass: The importance of using a toss-overboard marker to mark the fish
I recently fished with a fellow who did not have a marker to toss over board when we found fish. I was quite surprised that he felt it was not needed. The folly of not using one was quickly evident. We had located a good bunch of fish down on the bottom on a narrow point in 14 ft water that fell off abruptly into 30 ft water on both sides. I would have tossed a marker over close to but not necessarily right over the fish. That would give me a quick and easy reference point as to where the fish were - no matter where I was standing or sitting in the boat. Without the marker I was guessing as to where to cast rather than knowing where to cast. Even if you have GPS and fish finder right in front of you, it is easier to just take one quick glance at the floating marker and know where to cast. This works because the fish are relating to the structure (i.e. staying put) - not swimming around where you have to keep your trolling motor going to keep on them. Until I had this experience, I thought it was just obvious to throw out a marker, but I guess to some it isn't. So, I hope this helps you to work the fish more easily when you do find them on structure. Good luck!
I keep getting PM's about this, so here is an updated description with some subtleties added:
After casting, let the spinner free-fall to the bottom. Then point the rod toward the line and take up the slack. Then raise rod slightly and hold steady while cranking the reel at the same time. Crank from 3 to 6 turns for 5 to 1 gear ratio. Keeping rod as still as you can helps you feel the bite. Making sure all the slack is out of the line and raising the rod as you start cranking gets the blade spinning immediately. Most bites occur immediately after you start reeling. If you don't get a bite after cranking the reel 6 turns, stop, release the line, and let the spinner free-fall back to the bottom, then take up the slack and crank it 3 to 6 turns again, repeating this all the way back to the boat. They strike it coming up from the bottom, so don't guess - make sure it gets back to bottom. The bite can be sharp but is usually soft or you feel something pecking at the bait or a gentle tug. When you feel this raise the rod to set the hook. Try different speeds until you find what they want. The slowest speed to try is cranking barely fast enough to make the blade turn. (If the blade is spinning, you can feel the tension in the line. You definitely notice the lack of tension if the blade does not spin. The larger the spinner the greater the tension.) If that speed is a 1 and burning it up is a 10, I usually crank it about a 3. Use that as starting point and vary up/down if needed. Try both holding the rod in front of you and reeling more vertically, and try holding the rod to the side down toward the water and dragging spinner more horizontally. When bite is so lite it's hard to feel it, it helps to keep rod pointed directly at line. When doing this, to help blade start immediately I'll extend my arms full jength toward line before starting to reel. Then ensure all slack is taken up and pull the butt of rod back to my stomach as I start reeling - keeping rod pointed toward line. Novices sometimes don't reel fast enough to make blade spin. I have to tell them to point rod at line and when bait is on bottom and slack out of line, reel it up fast about 10 turns. They'll catch some and after a while they develop a feel for how fast to crank.
I usually use a #4 unless I know the pattern is smaller (#2) like it is in August and September. #4 is easier to fish because you don't need a weight added to the line, and you can feel the blade spinning easier. But in those months they won't touch a #4 but eat up a #2. When using a 2 or 3 I use a mash-on 3/16 oz lead weight up the line about 15 to 16 inches. This makes it heavy enough to cast with a casting reel and gets the bait to the bottom faster. Putting the weight that far away from lure helps prevent lure flipping back and catching the line - fouling up the retrieve. I use Berkley Vanish 100% fluorocarbon 10 lb line, a Shimano Curado 5:1 or 6:1 reel and medium action 5'6" to 6 ft rod. I've tried longer and stiffer rods, but for me I get the best feel with this one.
Here is an extremely important observation. Nobody who I try to teach this to who uses an open face spinning reel does any good. It just does not have anywhere near the feel of the Shimano Curado I use. A very high quality spincast reel does OK. The kids I teach have good success with these - much better feel of bite than open face. One key factor, the reel handle is closer to rod than open face so the rod does not shake as much when reeling. Keeping rod as still as possible really helps to feel the lite bite.
All this may sound very complicated, but you quickly get the feel of it if you are on fish and catching some. I taught my grandsons, my Mom and my sisters, as well as guests I take out. Of course, none of this works if you are not over a concentration of fish down on the bottom.
The Mepps to get is the Aglia, plain, silver. Retail stores like Walmart or Academy usually have only "dressed" Mepps if they have them at all. They will work just as well as plain if you cut off the the bucktail. I order mine online or use catalog from BassPro or Cabelas.5/4/2010
About "rail fishing" for whites: You have to use the inline spinner technique for this to work. When fishing is slow, try "rail fishing". Locate a bridge and position the boat directly over one edge of it. You will be right over one rail and the other will be about 20 ft away running parallel to it. You can fish the rail 2 ways. The most productive way is to cast the inline spinner far enough to go over the opposite rail out into the deep water. Let it go to bottom then crank it back a few turns and let it go to bottom again. Crank it in some more and when the spinner gets close enough to the rail, you can feel the drag of the line coming over the rail. Keep cranking at a medium to medium fast speed so the spinner will not hook the rail. When the spinner clears the rail, you will feel a let-up on line tension (assuming a fish didn't latch on as it came over). Immediately release and let the bait drop just this side of the rail. When it hits the bottom, take up slack and crank several times as usual. If no bite, try a 2nd crank on top of bridge. You catch the most fish on the 1st crank this side of the rail. You will also catch a lot as spinner comes over top of rail and on 2nd crank after you come over rail.
The other way to rail fish is to make medium length cast down the bridge just inside the rail you are sitting over. Just work the inline spinner technique parallel to rail and on top of bridge close to the rail all the way back to boat. All the bridges (at Lake Livingston on Old 190) have in tact rails except the 1st one east of the river channel. The rails are OK on each end of it but the middle section of bridge is out.
My family and friends have been using this to catch whites since the early eighties. When fishing is really tough, you can usually catch them this way. Good luck and feel free to ask questions if I didn't explain it well enough.
Edited by Dennis Christian (05/22/15 11:22 PM)