The March 1 trout park opener isn’t the only big fishing event that takes place in the Ozarks as winter transitions to spring.
There’s another annual occurrence about to take place on some local streams that’s as near and dear to many area anglers as any other outdoors event – the white bass run.
When white bass begin their spawning runs, many anglers start heading for the tributaries of area lakes. It may not make as many headlines as the trout park opener, but in terms of angling interests, it could be argued that the annual “white bass run” is one of the biggest early-spring fishing events in the Ozarks.
White bass belong to the group of fish known as the temperate basses (family Moronidae). This fish family is sometimes referred to as the “true” bass.
These species differ from smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass and rock bass, which are all members of the sunfish family (family Centrarchidae). White bass are named because of the light background color of their bodies. Overlaying this silvery base are several dark, horizontal streaks.
White bass are early spawners. In this region, white bass usually enter lake tributaries in March and remain until the middle or latter part of April.
The spawning runs normally begin when water temperatures move above 50 degrees, although length of daylight (photo-period) may play a part in the beginning of the spawn, too. Many white bass return to the same breeding site year after year.
Spawning is commonly preceded by runs of mature adults into tributary streams. Males become mature and move to the spawning grounds about a month before females.
At that time, mature adults occur in schools composed of only one sex and the schools of females are found in deeper water not far from the spawning grounds.
Spawning occurs in midwater or near the surface, over a gravelly or rocky bottom. It often takes place in a current and there is no preparation of a nest.
A female indicates her readiness to spawn by rising toward the surface, at which time several males rush in and crowd around her as the eggs and sperm are released.
The eggs settle to the bottom, where they become attached to rocks and hatch in about two days. One large female may produce nearly a million eggs in one spawning season.
Spawning is completed at any given locality over a period of five to 10 days.
Beaver Creek and Swan Creek, both tributaries of Bulls Shoals Lake, are two well-known Springfield-area white bass locations, but spawning runs occur on other streams in the area, too.
The major tributaries of Stockton, Pomme de Terre and Table Rock all typically see good white bass action in the spring.
Minnows are the best live bait for spawning white bass. Small plugs, spoons and fly-and-spinner combinations in a variety of patterns and colors also work.
(Francis Skalicky works for the Missouri Department of Conservation in southwest Missouri. He can be reached at 417-895-6880.)