Kenneth Kieser: White bass a treat on Stockton Lake
Late summer or early fall evenings on a big lake are generally quiet. The wind settles toward dusk and brilliant orange glows reflect from the west, spreading vivid colors across the lake surface, a beautiful sight for anglers standing on the deck of their boat while searching out a white bass feeding frenzy.
A strange choppiness often appears in the shallows of Stockton Lake located in southwest Missouri. Little ripples caused by huge clouds of threadfin minnows or gizzard shad herded by large schools of white bass appear across large areas, welcome signs of a huge forage base and why Lake Stockton fish have a surprisingly prolific growth rate.
Anglers study the shorelines for big splashes that signal white bass are attacking baitfish on the surface. Sharp eyes or binoculars study for specific telltale signs that the action has started.
“When I look through binoculars, I mainly search out schools of surfacing white bass,” said Damon Spurgeon, professional fishing guide. “Prior to each trip I am aware which way the wind is blowing and also which coves, pockets and nooks and crannies bait fish may have been pushed to. When no wind is present binoculars allow me to see birds feeding on shallow baitfish and small disturbances caused by schools of shad being ambushed just under the surface.”
Then the fun begins. Boats slip up close to these splashes, and small weighted silver spoons, silver crankbaits or spinners are cast perhaps 20 to 40 yards, a couple of feet past the feeding whites. Rapid retrieves are used to bring the lure past the fish for a reaction strike. Some happen immediately while some whites follow the lure before striking. Hits are hard followed by a good fight.
Casts are long and retrieves rapid from the front deck. Several times the lures are bounced back and forth while slamming off fish. Several different whites going after the same lure is apparent by the added surface commotion. Occasionally you will hook a shad or threadfin minnow during a steady retrieve. It’s surprising it doesn’t happen more often considering how thick the schools of baitfish are packed together.
When the feeding frenzies start, hits are early and often. Bill Cooper and I had several doubles fishing off the forward boat deck. Then fish were unhooked and tossed in the live well or occasionally on the boat floor until someone took the time to slip them in the live well. There is a limited time for this evening feeding frenzy, so lures are returned to the water quickly as possible.
Evening feeding frenzies are a great opportunity for fly fishermen to catch white bass. A slow, quiet approach with the boat makes it possible to get close enough to cast a streamer or popper. Then flies or poppers are laid close to the feeding fish with the least movement possible. White bass concentrate on feeding, but are spooked into deeper water. Stealth means catching more fish.
Spurgeon uses a standard Clouser fly with a small Streamer Hook No. 2 and synthetic craft fur for white bass. With lack of current, anglers are responsible for creating natural movements of his baitfish imitating fly. The craft fur makes it easier for beginners to mimic that movement.
“When whites are surfacing my job becomes easier,” Spurgeon said. “I have seen flats with whites splashing over a four-acre area. Once they are found it’s easy casting to each disturbance. Often several fish will be in competition for your Fly. When surfacing is intermittent you must slow your retrieve down in order to let the Clouser get deeper.”
Whites banging shad on the surface provides the opportunity to target fish. A big splash means a feeding white has struck and is looking for more food. This is the time to place your spoon or fly in exactly the right spot, then expect a savage strike. White bass hit with every intention of wounding or killing their prey for an easy meal. This is a system shared by largemouth bass that love to kill or paralyze their prey on the first strike.
“Gizzard shad are the predominant forage in Stockton Lake,” Spurgeon said. “They prefer mud bottoms which make mud lats a perfect place to find them in mass quantities. Once they are found you can guarantee your targeted fish species are nearby.
“It’s hard for me to say that no one has ever done it, but to the best of my knowledge no one has ever offered the opportunity for white bass fly fishing guided trips on Stockton.”
Do you want to try this type of fishing? Contact Kris Nelson at Tandem Fly Outfitters on Stockton Lake: 417-839-2762. They have nice, clean rooms and you will be treated like family. You can contact Damon Spurgeon at 573-263-9776.
– 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.