How to Catch the Big White Bass
Catching Big White Bass
Editor’s Note: To become a great fisherman, regardless of the type of fish you want to catch, you need to learn who has the best tips for catching the species you want to catch, and then fish with them and learn from them. Over the years, I’ve fished with some of the greatest fishermen in the nation. Some of these anglers, like Tom and Don Mann, have passed on to the other side of the pond. But the wisdom and the tactics I’ve learned from them work today as when they first taught them to me. The river may change its course and the fishermen may fade away, but the fish, especially the white bass, still take the same kinds of lures they always have.
Tom Mann of Eufaula, Alabama, of world-renowned bass-fishing fame and I found the white bass making their annual spring run up Peckerwood Creek near Mann’s home when we fished together there years ago. Mann, the founder of the Mann Bait Company, also had helped in the early development of the Humminbird depth sounder. I wanted to learn how to catch white bass. As young boys, Mann and his brother, Don, had fished Peckerwood Creek when the white bass moved into the creek and up to the first shoals. On this day, Mann and I fished small in-line spinners at the base of the shoals but only caught a few white bass.
“I know a hump out in the middle of the creek where the white bass often will school-up,” Mann said. “Many times, when the fish don’t come all the way to the shoals, we’ve been able to catch them off this hump.” Using his Humminbird flasher, Mann located the hump. With our trolling motor, we stayed about a 30-yard cast from the hump. Because I’d caught white bass on the little spinner, I continued to fish that lure. I cast the bait on 6-pound-test line, let it fall for about a three count and then began to slowly retrieve it.
As Mann had predicted, I caught a white bass on almost every cast. However, the fish I took weighed only from 1/2- to 1-1/2-pounds each. But Mann regularly caught gorilla-size white bass that weighed between 2- and 3-pounds each. Every time he cast out the Little George, a lead-headed tailspinner he’d developed, and I watched his line enter the water, I’d see a hard thump on the line. Then Mann would set the hook. The rod would pretzel like a limp noodle, the drag would squeal, and in a minute or so, a heavy lineside, another name for white bass, would come to the boat.
Understanding the Pecking Orders of Whites:
As we continued to fish, I noticed that Mann always caught bigger white bass than I did. I finally put my pride in my hip pocket and asked, “Why are you constantly catching bigger white bass than I do?” A broad smile creased Mann’s face as he answered, “I’m fishing for big white bass, and you’re not.” I considered Mann a good friend. I hoped he wouldn’t make me suffer for very long catching little fish while he took the biggest white bass in the school. Surely he’d tell me his secret.
“You always can catch the biggest white bass in the school, if you understand the pecking order of the fish in that school,” Mann emphasized. “The biggest bass in the school haven’t reached their ages and weights by being stupid. They’ve learned how to make their living slow and easy while the young bass in the school try and earn a living working harder and faster. Let me explain. When the white bass are feeding on a school of shad, the young white bass will chase the shad, killing, cutting and maiming them. The small, young white bass will be the first fish to feed, but they’ll often cripple as many shad as they eat. The bigger, older white bass will swim at the bottom of the school, waiting on those crippled shad to flutter down toward the bottom, knowing they’ll only have to expend a small amount of energy to catch these wounded baitfish and eat them. The larger fish have learned that the younger white bass will run helter-skelter through the schools of shad like youngsters chasing a popsicle wagon. The bigger, wiser fish will lay closer to the bottom like the grown folks who let the popsicle wagon come to them instead of running after it.”
I learned from Mann that to catch the biggest white bass in a school, you had to have a bait that would drop quickly through the school where the little white bass fed. I also saw Mann cast well past the school of white bass before slowly retrieving his Little George near the bottom where the big fish would feed. By casting past the school and not starting his retrieve until his lure had fallen below the reach of the little fish, he could get his bait down close to the bottom without having the small white bass hit it.
Tomorrow: Catching Big White Bass in a Tailrace