Fishing for White Bass in Lakes

Where to find them, plus lures, bait, & tackle

White Bass
A white bass, caught in Grosse Pointe Woods, MI.

BenitoJuarez98/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

White bass is essentially open-water fish that usually stay in or near fairly deep water. They move constantly, swimming in the water column rather than holding still like largemouth bass. They often school on the surface chasing baitfish, which can provide some exciting fishing. Looking for these schools, and casting to them, is called "fishing the jumps" or "jump fishing," since the fish seem to be jumping out of the water.

White bass migrates from lakes up tributary rivers and creeks to spawn. Fishing for them on concentration areas like bridges and points during the migratory run can provide excellent action.

Where to Find White Bass in Lakes

In the winter, white bass holds near the lake bottom in deep water. That depth varies in different lakes. Using sonar, you can often spot white bass holding under schools of baitfish, and then fish vertically for them.

In the spring, look for white bass as they're running up creeks and rivers to spawn. They concentrate under bridges and where long points "squeeze" the size of the lake down, so trolling or casting those areas works well.

In the summer, schools of white bass roam open water chasing baitfish. The best tactic for catching them is watching for surface activity and getting close enough to cast to quick-moving fish. This action tapers off in the fall as the water cools and white bass move to their winter haunts.

Lures and Baits

In the winter, small spoons jigged near the bottom work well. A live shiner or threadfin shad will also catch white bass.

In the spring, when white bass is heading to and running up rivers, troll with small spoons and spinners. Try casting with small bucktail jigs. Fishing under bridges during the day and at night is a good idea in both spring and summer. After dark, many folks hang a lantern or other light over the side of the boat to attract baitfish, which draws in the white bass and many other species. A small baitfish the size of what the light attracts, or a jig or fly the same size, are the best bets.

A fun way to catch white bass during summer is to cast small topwater baits to surface activity. Small spoons, spinners, and jigs work well, too, for active fish that are on the move chasing bait, but relatively close to the surface.

Another good way to catch them is by attaching a small floating fly behind a popping cork. You can cast it a long way and the cork attracts the fish. You can even use two flies on different leaders and often catch doubles. A double-jig rig can also be used for multiple-fish action.

Follow the surface-roaming schools until they disappear, then start the pattern over, looking for deep fish holding under schools of bait until the water gets cold.

Tackle to Use 

White bass average 1 to 2 pounds in size, with a rare 3-pounder caught. Light spinning or spin cast tackle is perfect for throwing the small lures needed to hook these fish, and light line in the 6- to 8-pound range is best. The light tackle also lets the strong-pulling white bass put up a good fight.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.