The spring time in Michigan gives an angler a plethora of angling opportunities, but one of my favorite spring fishing events is the white bass run. White bass, aka “silver bass” is the larger cousin of the white perch, both of which can be found in great numbers here in Michigan. Many fishermen think white bass are related to other fish species that share the bass name such as the large and smallmouth bass and the rock bass, but they are not in the same family. They belong to a separate species known as the temperate bass, which includes the Yellow Bass and Striped bass.
White bass are a favorite target species of anglers who appreciate the fast action, a tough and spirited battle for the size, plus their veracious attitude when attacking lures. When fishing for white bass, my rod of choice is a St. Croix Premier series, 6 foot, 6 inch light power, fast action spinning rod that is matched up with a Shimano 1000 sized reel. The reel is spooled with a light braid in the four to 6lb test, backed with monofilament to prevent slippage. The reason for using the braided line, instead of mono, is because it is very common to get nicks in the line from the rough scales and sharp gill plates when fishing through densely populated schools of fish.
When fishing streams and rivers, the “go to” lure for the spawning run is a round head lead jig, tipped with a 3 inch plastic twister tail grub. White bass can be caught on many other baits such has in-line spinner like a Mepps or Blue Fox Vibrax. Small crank baits both lipped and lipless, and top waters are also highly effective. Using live bait is always a viable option to anglers , simply rig a slip bobber with a split shot and hook or small jighead to bounce along near the bottom below the float. The most popular livebait choice are emerald shiners, but fatheads and Rosie Reds(an orange fathead) work equally well, and can be a more economical purchase at the local bait shop. Fly fishing has been steadily gaining in popularity over the past few years when fisherman target white bass. There are a wide variety of flies that can be used when “slinging bugs”, but the Clouser Minnow has been a long standing favorite among the fly guys.
The versatility of the lead jig tipped with the twister tail, is why it is my personal favorite option when trying to catch these fish often referred to as “White Lightning”. By simply changing the size and weight of the jig, along with the speed of the retrieve, an angler can adapt quickly to the flow of the current. Fisherman can double their chances by rigging two lead heads on the same line. By using a “surgeon’s loop”, rig a lighter jig like a 1/16 ounce on top, while using something heavier in the 1/8th to ¼ oz range on the bottom to get the rig down. At times, if the situation dictates it, a 3/8ths oz jig head will be necessary. It is wise to have a selection of these weights with you on the trip. Having two of these small hard fighting fish on at the same time is amazing, and you will be hard pressed to find a similar experience anywhere in the Great Lakes region.
When fishing the big water like Lake Erie, look for seagulls and turns diving and ripping up bait fish near the surface. What will happen below is that the white bass push together a large school of baitfish and force them up to the surface. It is a sight that reminds me of fishing saltwater for bluefish or spanish mackerel. When fishing rivers, look for breaks and bends where the silvers and baitfish can escape from the fast moving current. On smaller streams, fish the eddies that form in the turns or where a small feeder creek comes in. Tens of thousands of the white bass make their way into the Detroit River every spring to their spawning grounds in the Trenton Channel and other areas that offer similar conditions. It is one of Michigan’s premier spots for targeting the white bass.
In parts of the country people love white bass for their table fair. But here in the midwest many people look down on them as “trash or junk fish”. If the fish are cared for correctly, they can make for a fine friday fish fry and are also tasty when smoked. There are a few key steps to keep in mind when saving these tasty fish for dinner. Getting the fish on ice right away is crucial to keeping them as cold as possible from taking them off the hook to the cleaning process. Bleeding them out is also a good idea, simply take your knife and slice the gills, on your back to the docks pull the plug on your cooler to let the water and blood drain. When filleting the fish make sure you remove all red meat and fat from the middle and belly. Many people just take the back strap part of the filet to avoid the unwanted sections. When deep frying, a fine Michigan product to use is Drake’s Batter, not only for the silver bass, but any game fish that the state has to offer.
The silver bass also offers anglers a great chance to get themselves involved in the State of Michigan’s Master Angler Awards program. To qualify, it must be at least 16 inches long under the catch and release guidelines, while if you decide to keep the fish, it must weigh two pounds or more. When catching and releasing, take a picture and send it in to the DNR. Details can be found about the program on Michigan’s DNR website. The current state record is 6 lbs, 7 oz, and was caught on Saginaw Bay, in 1989.