One of the rites of spring in Texas is fishing for the white bass, Morone chrysops. These popular game fish, which seldom weigh more than three or four pounds, make up for their small size with sheer numbers hundreds of thousands of them migrate up rivers and streams between January and May in their annual spawning runs. Along the way they feed ravenously, so they're easy to catch, even when fishing from the shore. If you happen to be driving over a bridge and see a lot of cars parked below, you can guess the spawning run is in progress.
White bass, also known as sand bass or sandies throughout much of the state, are closely related to the larger striped bass. In fact, white bass and stripers have been bred in hatcheries to produce a third fish, the hybrid striper, which has characteristics of both fish. All are silvery white with several dark horizontal lines running from the gills to the tail.
The main characteristic everyone loves about the white bass is that throughout its short life (normally three to four years) it is a very active schooling fish. Where there is one white bass, there may be hundreds more. This is true not only during the migratory spawning runs but also during the rest of the year when the fish are commonly found in the larger lakes.
Beginning as early as December in South Texas but not until March or April farther north, white bass begin staging at the mouths of the rivers and major tributaries that feed into the lakes. Then they start moving upstream in huge concentrations that continue for several weeks.
In virtually every instance the fish get stopped by dams, and when they do, they gather in ever-increasing numbers until the conditions are right for spawning. Unlike the largemouth bass that constructs a nest and then guards both eggs and fry, the female white bass sends her eggs out into the open water.
The eggs are fertilized by the male as they settle. Some attach to rocks and gravel, while current and waves begin washing others downstream. Hatching occurs in two to three days, but overall survival is relatively low. Although as many as a million eggs may be laid, only about 20 to 30 percent will usually survive and grow to adulthood.
A century ago white bass were found only in scattered watersheds across the eastern and midwestern regions of America, but today they have spread throughout most of the nation. In Texas the fish were native only to Caddo Lake, but in 1932 biologists took 13 brood fish from Caddo to Lake Lewisville north of Dallas, and now white bass swim in river systems across the state.
The young fry grow rapidly as they feed on zoo-plankton and other microscopic organisms. Soon their diet begins to include tiny insects and eventually other small fish. In some Texas lakes,"sand bass" grow as much as 11 inches their first year.
White bass fishing usually involves lighter spinning and bait-casting tackle, since the average size of the fish caught is about two pounds. Small 1/8-ounce hair and plastic jigs in white, yellow, and chartreuse are popular lures, as are small silver spoons. At times, small topwater popping lures can also be used.
The limit in Texas is 25 white bass per day, 10-inch minimum size. Some lakes have a 12-inch minimum size limit.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication