May 01, 2017

Spring is a busy time for those who enjoy getting a tug on the end of their fishing line. The month of May in Michigan is prime time for targeting a wealth of popular fish species including stream trout, salmon, walleye, crappie, bluegills, bass, perch and pike.

It’s always puzzled me why some species of fish become popular with the masses and others seemingly not so much. My vote for the most overlooked and underappreciated species of fish in Michigan goes to the white bass, or what a lot of anglers refer to as silver bass.

White bass are members of the temperate bass family and closely related to white perch and also striped bass. These fish travel in huge schools and are notorious for their voracious appetite and willingness to slash and strike at a wide variety of live baits and artificial lures.

White bass will hit a wide variety of lures and baits, but in-line spinners like this Rooster Tail are one of the best search lures. Casting a 1/4 ounce size spinner allows anglers to cover lots of water and when white bass are around, land tons of fish. Mark Romanack photo

White bass are common in a number of fisheries across Michigan, but the annual spawning run these fish make into the Detroit River is something every avid angler should experience. Nowhere else in the Great Lakes can anglers find more white bass than in the Detroit River during the month of May.

In fact, white bass are so abundant at this time of year a lot of anglers who are targeting other species consider them a nuisance rather than a sport fishing resource! It’s true that white bass get in the way of catching other species, but it’s also true that white bass are fun to catch, good on the table and catching a fish on every cast is an experience lots of anglers look forward to every spring!

Table Fare

I think one of the reasons why white bass are not more popular is that the average angler doesn’t understand how to prepare this fish for the table. The process of preparing a noteworthy meal of white bass starts the instant they are caught. Crowding white bass into a livewell usually leads to lots of fish dying and spending hours soaking in the warm water, slime and grunge of a livewell.

Instead of using the livewell, it’s best to put white bass in a cooler full of crushed ice. The faster a white bass is chilled down, the better the fillets will taste.

The best way to clean white bass is another issue most anglers don’t fully understand. The lateral line is a sensory organ and exceptionally well developed in white bass. The lateral line is an oily and dark layer of meat located just under the skin and along the center line of the fillet.

If white bass is cooked with the lateral line in place, the flavor can be rather strong. Removing the lateral line with a sharp fillet knife and cooking just the firm white meat produces a much better tasting fillet. Many anglers only save the thicker “back-strap” portion of the fillet and discard the middle and lower portion of the fillet along with the lateral line.

White bass are also best when cooked and eaten fresh. Like whitefish, crappie and many species of stream trout, white bass do not freeze and store well. If white bass are to be frozen, it’s best to freeze the fillets in water to help lock in freshness and ward off freezer burn. The fillets should be eaten within a month or two.

Light Tackle Please

White bass get a bad rap from many anglers because they are often caught by accident while targeting another species. It’s true that reeling in a white bass on a trolling outfit designed for much larger fish like walleye leaves a little to be desired.

The best way to appreciate white bass is to target them using light action spinning tackle. White bass are stubborn fighters and often weigh in at two pounds or more! Like other species of fish, the males are a little smaller and typically more aggressive than the females.

Throughout most of May, a good mixed bag of both male and female fish can be expected. As May winds down towards June, many of the larger female fish have spawned and returned to the Great Lakes. Left behind are the smaller male fish that linger in the river for weeks after the spawn.

Best Lures

One of the nice things about white bass is they will strike a wide variety of lures, including jigs dressed with soft plastics, small crankbaits, casting spoons and also in-line spinners. The flashing blade and vibration of a spinner is tough to beat for white bass.

A slow, steady retrieve is usually the best approach for generating bone jarring strikes from white bass, cast after cast.

Handle with Care

To make handling fish easier, it’s a good idea to pinch down the hook barb. White bass have very sharp dorsal and anal spines and the edges of the gill plate are razor sharp. Wearing a work glove or one of the gloves designed for fish cleaning when handling white bass helps keep nicks and cuts to a minimum.

Fishing Hot Spots

White bass can literally be found almost anywhere on the Detroit River, but the fastest action is usually associated with seawalls where these fish routinely corral schools of emerald shiners and gizzard shad near the surface.

Watch for seagulls and terns along the river bank. The presence of these birds is a dead giveaway that schools of white bass are in the neighborhood.

White bass are also routinely found concentrated near warm water discharge sites. The Edison power plant just upstream of Erie Metro Park is a popular place to find white bass in early May. Near the steel mill’s 80 inch discharge tube located just upstream of Wyandotte is also a good place to find concentrations of white bass.

A Fish Made for Kids

Fishermen of all ages enjoy catching white bass, but this is one species that is particularly ideal for introducing kids to fishing. The white bass run on the Detroit River coincides with some beautiful spring weather.

Avid fishermen who are looking for ways to get kids hooked on fishing will find that white bass are the perfect species. Load up the boat with lots of kids, plenty of snacks, some cold drinks and make a day of it! The white bass may not be Michigan’s most popular fish species, but try telling that to a kid who’s landing one after another after another. Sometimes fishing should be “just for the fun of it” and no other species can match the white bass when it comes to pure angling pleasure.