Fishing & Boating News

Paddling Strokes – White Bass from Sabine River in to Hill’s Lake

by: Michael Banks, DDS,

Photo by courtesy Michael Banks, DDS
Photo by courtesy Michael Banks, DDS
(Mar 2, 2016 - Jacksonville,TX)

The white bass (Morone chrysops) is an abundant and popular sport fish in Texas reservoirs. These lively fish, also known as “sand bass,” provide action throughout the year and especially during their spring spawning run up rivers and stream tributaries.

The white bass is a close relative of the striped bass. Like their saltwater cousins, white bass ascend streams and rivers at spawning time. In early spring, when rains provide flow and water temperatures reach 55 to 60°F, whites gather in the upper ends of reservoirs and begin migrating into creek arms.

The sand bass targeted on the Sabine River have migrated from Toledo Bend Reservoir and the ones on Kickapoo Creek and the Upper Neches River move up from Lake Palestine.

During the spring spawning run, these tributary streams will have concentrations of white bass. Males usually head upstream about a month before the females.  These concentrations of white bass can usually be found in these spawning areas around Valentine’s Day which seems appropriate considering the reason they are there.

White bass spawn over gravel or rock in 2 to 8 feet of flowing water.  A 2-pound female can produce up to 900,000 eggs. Fertilized eggs settle and stick to rocks on the bottom. They usually hatch within three days.  After spawning, adults will slowly move back to the main reservoir.

Fishing from the bank or a boat can yield excellent results. Minnows, alive or dead, make good natural bait.  Popular lures for the spawning season include jigs, spinners, soft plastic shad and small crank baits.  Color does not seem important but most productive colors include white, silver, pearl, chartreuse, yellow or clear.

As Texas game fish, white bass can be harvested only with pole and line. The statewide minimum length limit is 10 inches and the daily bag limit is 25 fish. On Lake Texoma and Louisiana border waters, there is no minimum length for harvesting white bass, but the daily bag limit is still 25.

Yesterday, I was fishing for the targeted species of white bass from the Sabine River.  Friend Barry Bingham and I fished from his flat bottom boat equipped with a 60 horse powered motor and trolling motor.  We went upstream from the boat ramp on FM 2517.

The watershed of the Sabine extends almost to Dallas and a large area north of Tyler.  Any rain, sleet or snow in that area will affect the flow and temperature of the Sabine where we fish above FM 2517 southeast of Carthage, Texas.  A rising, cold Sabine is not good while a falling river with the right temperature is dynamite for catching white bass.  A fifty fish limit for a two man boat is quite liberal, fun and attainable.

I remember seeing a man white bass fishing from a kayak on Kickapoo Creek a few years ago.  I paddled up to him and asked him how he was doing.  He said, “I have my two sons with me and we are one fish away from our limit.”  That meant they had 74 fish!

The current was strong on the Sabine yesterday.   A man bank fishing at the boat ramp when we put in told us he had been seeing trees come down the river.

We fish eddies.  An eddy is usually in bends and turns in the river where the river, at the edges, flows back upstream, contrary to the current, for a short distance.  An eddy usually traps floating food, has less current than the river and is a congregating place for feeding white bass.

We fished eddies for almost 2 hours before we caught a fish. We moved up the river and back down.  We fished the bends and the eddies above the bends. This day was not looking very good for catching white bass.  We were fishing an eddy above one bend that had a small creek opening at the bend to which we had not paid much attention.  A bass boat with two men came up the river and went straight to the creek opening without stopping to fish.  We thought this strange.  The boat disappeared up the creek.  We had no idea the creek was navigable. We expected the boat to back out of the creek shortly; it didn’t.

We had been fishing for about 4 hours and had caught a few white bass and one crappie.  It was time to stop to eat our lunch in our anchored boat.  It had been about one hour since the boat had disappeared into the woods up the creek.  We couldn’t stand it; we had to go find out what was up that creek.

Our electronic depth gauge on the boat registered 14 feet as we entered the creek that was about 10 feet wide.  There were standing live trees in the creek but not so close together that our 16 foot flatbottom couldn’t maneuver through them.  The creek widened to about 15 yards and we could see ahead about 40 yards through the trees.  There was no discernable flow to the creek.  We were fishing the open spots among the trees.   Bamb! We both caught big, fat, egg-laden white bass.  This might get good.  A little further we started to make out a couple of pickup trucks on the bank.  We came to a shallow place that was a flat rock road across the creek connecting the opposite banks.  On the other side was a beautiful, long oxbow lake lined with cypress trees.

We had to get over there.  We raised both motors and I got out in the calf deep water and pushed the boat over the road.  I jumped back into the boat as it came to the ditch on the lake side of the flooded roadway.  We were into a lake.  There were two guys bank fishing close to the pickup trucks.  Barry hollered to them and asked if this lake had a name.  They said it was Hill’s Lake.

We lowered the trolling motor and started fishing along the bank amongst the line of cypress trees.  Spanish moss hung from the trees.  This place was beautiful and looked very fishy.  Fishing along the opposite back of the lake was a kayak fisherman.  The bass boat with the two guys we had seen entering the creek came down the lake, straight line fishing for crappie in downed tree tops.

I caught a white bass on a small red Rat-L-Trap telling us the white bass were in the lake.  After about an hour of no more catches we decided the fishing was better in the creek so we retraced our route back to the creek.  The bass boat followed us to the creek.

As the bass boat approached us, Barry caught a white bass and asked them if they wanted the fish as we were not keeping fish.  They said they did and as we were talking I caught another one for them.  In conversation, it was apparent they were crappie fishermen and they did not fish for white bass.   One of them said they did not “target that species”.  We told them we were glad they had led us into the creek and to the lake.  We then said our goodbyes.

For the day, we caught over 20 fish; some on the Sabine River and more on the creek and Hill’s Lake.  Barry caught a few more than I did,  but fishing should not be competitive except for fun. This was a great, educational adventure.

I have been dreaming of fishing that creek from my kayak with a 6 wt. fly rod using live minnows as bait.  That could be a special adventure.  Maybe tomorrow.

Until we put in again,