We are about a month away from spring in the Ozarks when dogwoods bloom, mushrooms pop out of the soil, turkeys are gobbling and white bass are gorging – or in other words, heaven on earth.
Steve Matt, veteran angler, invited me several years ago to help field test several fishing products, including his new G-3 bass boat, so it was easy to accept his kind invitation. We planned out a trip on Table Rock Lake in Arkansas where signs of the White River channels are still visible before the dams were built.
We also were field testing Pradco’s new Silent Yumbrella Rig, a device designed to make jigs or lures look like a school of fish. Arkansas allows five hooks, so we used the five-armed version tipped with different colored Road Runners, the remarkable 1/32-ounce jig head with spinner just below its lead head. Yellow and white plastic bodies with swirly tails completed this unique rigging.
Matt studies the type of fish he is chasing and spends hours on the water studying each species’ habits. He owns numerous world class records on different test lines and is extremely dedicated to catching fish. But sometimes even the best scenarios don’t go as planned.
The first morning one of his trolling motor blades broke off on a rock. This would not be a disaster for anchoring, but one of the keys to catching white bass is following their schools as they move up and down the shore or from deep to shallow water.
Next the braided line on my bait casting reel knotted up in numerous places and casting became impossible. The new Yumbrella rigs required a heavy braid, so my spinning reels with monofilament were not enough.
How Matt responded to both setbacks is why he is one of the best. He was prepared. The trolling motor issue was solved by only using the crippled blades when absolutely necessary. He mainly used natural drifting by positioning the boat correctly. Then he took out a new package of 50-pound braided line and filled my heaviest spinning reel – all problems solved; fishing day saved!
Matt’s brother, Paul eventually joined us in his own G-3 Bass Boat and helped chart the area for big schools of whites. He found a monstrous school in sight of a meadow where a big wild turkey had gobbled all morning. The first casts resulted in hooked white bass on all rods – a triple. I marveled at how the white bass between 2 to 3 pounds fought. I had to keep a firm grip on my fishing rod.
After two days we discovered that our five-armed Umbrella Rig/Road Runner combinations were catching numerous fish while most fishermen in the area only caught an occasional white on their single jigs or spinnerbaits. In fact, I glanced at other boats and caught glares from frustrated fishermen. We moved into areas where they had previously fished and caught whites, producing more dirty looks.
I discovered why this rigging was productive by accident when a school of five threadfin shad swam in front of my Yumbrella/Road Runner combination. The resemblance was amazing as they passed almost in formation.
“White bass strike on this rigging for two reasons – reaction strikes or feeding strikes,” Matt said. “Aggressive fish are looking for a meal and strike what they think is a bait fish. Fish less willing to strike may just strike as a reaction to passing baits.”
We caught and released well over 60 white bass and a 21-inch walleye on the first day. We kept close count on the second day when we stopped fishing at 80 whites and one Kentucky bass, all released in less than four hours.
Catching large numbers of white bass is not unusual when schools move up in shallow water to feed or spawn. But these whites were caught in up to 22-feet depths, a good case for using this rigging in pre- or post-spawn patterns. Schools were charted on sonar, the boat repositioned and casts were 20 to 30 yards. Retrieves were sometimes dead slow in deep water where most strikes happened. This is a tribute to Road Runner spinners that still spin at slower speeds.
The whites finally stopped biting and Matt fired up his boat motor for a sight-seeing trip up and down the river to shallow trout fishing areas toward Beaver Dam and the opposite direction, toward the Missouri/Arkansas line where old railroad bridges from the 1800s are still standing in the lake. The stable bass boat made it easy to close my eyes for a quick nap, but sleep was impossible when the scenery was this exquisite.
That evening in Eureka Springs, my wife Cathy and I dined on sweet and spicy shrimp and tilapia covered in a roasted red pepper sauce with rice and black beans on the side at a local restaurant. But my thoughts were not totally about this excellent food, but the remarkable pull of a 3-pound white bass while turkeys gobbled in a nearby meadow – my idea of paradise!
Note: We used five hooks in Arkansas on our rigging, but Missouri and Kansas only allow three hooks. Check your local game regulations before using this type of device.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.