A lot of fly fishermen attempt to use their light trout rods when first learning to fish for these strong fish and I think that is a mistake. The tackle that I suggest is recommended based on many years of experience and helping others learn to catch these awesome fish.
Fly Rods: The best overall fly rod I would recommend is a 9 foot 7 weight with a fast tip (not soft like many trout rods). If you fish a stream or lake where you never catch a White Bass over 2# and there aren’t Hybrids or Stripers in that fishery a fast action 6 weight will work for you.
Since a number of Ozarks fisheries also contain Hybrids and Stripers, you don’t want to hook a five to ten-pounder of either specie and not have the rod strength to land it or fight it so long you can’t release it.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a good rod of the specifications I’ve outlined. It is amazing how many great fly rods there are on the market in all price ranges from less than $100 to $700. Buy the best total outfit you can afford and know that it will perform well if you have followed these basic guidelines.
Fly Reels: A large arbor style fly reel with a disk drag, capacity for your fly line and about 100 yards of backing, and enough combined physical weight to properly counterbalance your rod is my suggestion.
Your loaded fly reel should balance equally or teeter slightly to the reel end of the rod when you balance your rod near the top of the cork handle with your index finger. If your rod teeters to the rod tip end, you will fatigue much more quickly during a day of fishing.
Fly Lines: Using the right combination of fly line and leader for White Bass fishing is what I believe gives the fisherman the best chance for success. I’ve seen fly fishermen with very similar rigging to what I suggest and fail miserably in their efforts in very productive water where others are catching fish.
For most spring White Bass fishing in this region, the most important fly line you should have is a 10 to 15′ type 3 sink-tip. The most important factor in this line is “type 3”. I use a 15′ version but the reason I say 10-15′ is that different brands and qualities of fly lines are available and some of them are 10 and 12′ which will work very well, too. Most economy priced sink-tip lines that I have seen have 10′ sink-tips.For the past several years, I have experimented with a wide variety of fly lines from full floating to full sinking and I still spend at least 80% of my fishing time using the type 3 sink-tip for White Bass.
Additional fly lines that I still find valuable include a floating line with a heavy front taper like a Rio Clouser or Bass Bug Taper, and a faster sinking tip like a type 5 or 6 for deeper holes that can’t be effectively fished with the type 3.
If you want to cover all levels from floating to deep sinking without having to buy several spools and lines for your reel, I would suggest considering a Rio Versi-tip or Scientific Anglers/3M Quad-tip fly line. These lines have 4 interchangeable loop-to-loop tip sections that can be quickly changed to fish the required depth. The lines retail for over $100 for a set, but the savings over buying multiple reel spools is considerable. I think this is the best overall approach to rig for White Bass fishing, whether it is for river or lake fishing.
Leaders and Knots: With a sinking tip fly line, the leader system I’ve found perfectly adequate and effective is very simple.
On a 7 weight line, I attach an 18″ butt section of 15-20# mono and tie a 1.5″ Perfection Loop in the end. The connection of the butt section to line is done in one of two ways. Either with a needle nail-knot or a braided loop splice using 35 or 50# Gudebrod Braided Mono. To this butt section I attach 2.5′ of 3x to 0x tippet with a double-surgeons loop knot.
I rarely use fluorocarbon tippet for this type of fishing, though I know some do. If you decide to use fluorocarbon, you can definitely use 1x or 0x since it is stronger than mono in the same diameter. I don’t usually find that tippet diameter is much of an issue unless the water is extremely clear. In very murky to muddy water, or at night, the tippet size should not be any issue. Use the heaviest size you can.
I attach the fly to the tippet with a Lefty Kreh Non-slip Loop Knot to allow the fly the most natural and enticing action. Note: When you are constructing this rigging at home, including making up some extra pre-tied tippets, I highly suggest that you carefully apply a drop of Zap to each knot just as you draw it tight. Even if your knot is not perfectly tied (visibly symmetrical as you draw it down), the addition of the super glue with make it virtually a 100% knot. Nice insurance, if you take the time to do this.
Flies: The most important forage foods for White Bass, and all Temperate Basses, in this region are Threadfin Shad and Gizzard Shad. Threadfins reach a maximum adult size of 3.5″, and Gizzards about 14″. Sure, Whites do like a variety of other baitfish (including small suckers, trout, chubs, darters, sculpins, perch and sunfish) and crawfish, but Shad account for the vast majority of their total forage.
With these forage factors in mind, I tie and fish a variety of baitfish patterns and color combinations including the following:
Clouser Deep Minnow
Half & Half Deep Minnow
Blanton Flashtail Whistler
Bill’s Mylar Jig Color Combinations (top/mid-section/belly color)
All Black or Purple (for nighttime and muddy water)
It is more important to have the correct size (length) baitfish than a specific hook size.
If I meet another fisherman on the water who is really catching fish, I always ask what length and what color of lure or fly they are using. In the patterns I have outlined, I tie them mostly 2 to 3.5″ long for White Bass, except for my jig pattern which I tie only 1 to 1.5″ on 1/80 and 1/64th oz. jigheads.
However, I always carry some the same baitfish patterns in larger 4 to 6″ lengths for opportunities to catch a nice Hybrid or Striper. Always remember that you don’t really need large baits for White Bass since they have relatively small mouths for their body size and rarely consume large prey.
For hooks, I have tested and continue to experiment with a variety of styles and brands. Overall, if you have a quality general-purpose saltwater hook (regular or 1x long) in sizes 6 thru 2 they will work well for these patterns. There are several good brands like Tiemco and Gamakatsu that have super-sharp chemically sharpened points, but understand that they are quite pricey.
The best value in this category of hooks is the Mustad Signature Series #S71S-SS (chemically sharpened). Probably the most economical quality hooks in this category are the Mustad #3407 and 34007 (neither are chemically sharpened). These hooks are more expensive than regular bronze hooks, but they are much stronger for the times that you are lucky enough to hook a larger Hybrid or Striper.
If the fishery you are targeting has only White Bass you can use the Mustad #3366 bronze hook, though it is not nearly as sharp or strong. I highly recommend that you bend down the barbs on all your White Bass flies, and be sure to sharpen the points on any hooks that are not chemically sharpened. Barbless hooks facilitate a quicker penetration hook set, as well as an easier release that saves wear and tear on the fish and your fly.
Retrieve Techniques It’s important to point out the need for variety and experimentation with retrieves for White Bass. There is not one best magical technique, but one thing I would definitely suggest to keep in mind is not to get into a rut with the same technique all the time.
It’s important to have an intentional plan for why and how to modify your technique on the stream. There are a few basic guidelines I will share with you, most of which will make sense. Simply, if one technique isn’t working, try a different one until you find what produces strikes.
In clear water that is above 60* you have conditions for White Bass to aggressively track your fly by sight, and optimum water temperature for this baitfish-eating machine to actively and regularly feed. These conditions allow for moderate to very fast retrieves, when necessary. In clear water, I will use an erratic technique of short, fast strips, followed by a long strip or dead pause.
Other times, a moderate pace of long strips (roughly 24-30″) followed by a pause with a couple of rod-tip twitches drives Whites crazy.
Toward the other extreme, reasons for a very slow to moderate retrieve include water that is colder than 55*, particularly in the high 30’s and 40’s which keeps these fish in a sluggish mood; and murky to muddy water which impairs visibility.
Another condition for slower retrieves is when you fish at night. In poor visibility water and at night, you want to be sure your retrieve is steady and consistent to allow the fish to home in on your fly. If the fly is jigged up and down erratically it makes it more difficult for the predator to accurately strike.
It is also important to have the proper rod and line control as you make these retrieves. I keep my rod tip at or just above the water and pointed almost straight at my line as it swings in the current. My strip retrieves are controlled by never allowing any slack line between my casting hand and where the line touches the water near my rod tip. I maintain tight control of the line with either my index finger or two fingers on my rod hand, as well as with my opposite hand, so that I can instantly and aggressively set the hook. The angle of the rod at hook-set is about 30-45* which utilizes the more powerful butt and mid-sections of the rod for a solid hook-up.
If you want to kick off your spring fishing with some hot action catching a great gamefish, do your homework and get prepared for some awesome White Bass fishing in the Ozarks with your fly tackle, this year. See you on the river!If you want to kick off your spring fishing with some hot action catching a great gamefish, do your homework and get prepared for some awesome White Bass fishing in the Ozarks with your fly tackle, this year.
See you on the river!
If Bill’s piece has you inspired to hunt White Bass this spring and you want to know more listen to Bill’s White Bass and Striper Masterclass podcast from Zach at the Itinerant Angler.
Thanks for the tips. I am a saltwater fly guy who moved to southern Delaware, where there is good spring white perch fishing in a Chesapeake Bay tributary, the Nanticoke River. I could not find anything about white perch fishing until I found your article. I will give it a try with small clousers, small deceivers and maybe some small bay anchovy patterns (# 2-#4)I use for false albacore ( little tunny) on a 200 grain sinking line.