Fish Beat: Nailing white bass with flies

white-WBy Jim Hagerty

Staff Writer

White bass, the state fish of Oklahoma, belong to the temperate bass family. Unlike largemouth and smallmouth, which are actually sunfish, whites are similar to perch and carp, although they’re not related.

White bass are common in parts of North America and Europe. From about April to October in most U.S. regions, you can catch white bass with a variety of lures, including flies and spinners, or a combination of both. The fish can grow to about 18 to 24 inches, and are fun to catch in area rivers.

Spinner flies

When white bass are in deep water, they tend to feed on live bait; however, spinner flies work well. Spinner flies are standard spinner rigs made to look like diving bugs and colorful flies. Their treble hooks and quick motion makes them attractive to active white bass. Work these lures with traditional spinning rod and reel combos. Spinner flies work most effectively when you allow them to sink for 3 to 5 seconds before working the lures.

Diving and floating flies

When surface water reaches warmer temperatures, white bass will spend time in the shallows to feed. Diving, floating and popping flies usually attract white bass most effectively when water temperatures get a bit warmer. These flies are also disguised to look like wounded bait fish like suckers, shad and sculpins.

Fly fishing gear

Diving and surface flies work best with long rods (9-foot recommended) and 10 to 15 feet of Type 3 sink-tip line. The best reels for white bass fly fishing are rear-weighted with strong disk drag, capable of housing about 50 to 100 yards of backing line. More than that is usually too much and will impede the mechanism.

Prime fall white bass fishing

As the cold months approach, especially in October, white bass will usually bite on anything thrown in front of them. In fact, whites will school in great numbers in fall and often compete with each other for food. When flies aren’t doing the trick, pan fish jigs can produce fish on every cast.

Local report

About a week of straight rain has been a double-edged sword for some anglers. The stir has caused the bluegill and crappie to wake up a bit. Large and smallmouth bass are moving along weed lines with slow presentations. There are still about two months of solid fishing left before the initial stages of the freeze. Judging by the last couple weeks, this fall may be the year for trophy walleyes and river smallies.

Rock River cat anglers are still nursing collective fish-kill wounds. In certain spots, it’s as quiet as the Dead Sea, while other areas are seeing some decent fishing. According to reports, bait shop chatter and bull-shooting sessions along the banks of the Rock, some believe it will take five to 10 years for cat fishing to recover from the June kill that consumed about 72,000 fish, many being trophy flatheads and channel cats.

Send us your fishing photos

The Rock River Times is interested in seeing pictures of local fish caught in area waters. Send digital photos to us at with “Fish Beat Photos” in the subject line. Glossies can be sent to The Rock River Times, 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101.

From the September 9-15, 2009 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!