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White Bass Fishing in Central Texas

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Identification

The white bass is a silvery, spiny-rayed fish with several incomplete lines or stripes, which run horizontally on each side of the body. The head is fairly small and pointed, and the dorsal (back) fin is conspicuously double, separated into spiny and soft-rayed portions. The white bass can be easily confused with striped bass and hybrid striped bass (a cross between white and striped bass), which are other members of the temperate bass family. However, striped bass and hybrid striped bass grow much larger than white bass. Anglers must be adept at differentiating between them as they often co-exist in the same reservoir. White bass can be distinguished from the others by the tooth patch on the tongue (one is present on white bass whereas there are two on striped bass and hybrid striped bass). Striped bass and hybrid striped bass also have several distinct “stripes” that extend to the tail, while the white bass has only one stripe extending to the tail. See illustrations.

Life History and Biology

White bass are migratory open-water fish. Most of their life is spent in the open-water portions of reservoirs chasing schools of small gizzard and threadfin shad. In late winter (December-January) schools of white bass migrate to the upper portion of reservoirs awaiting environmental cues signaling the start of the spawning migration up major tributaries. In February and March they begin their spawning migration seeking clean gravel and rock substrate with good flow to spawn. Riffles and shoals are common spawning locations. How far white bass migrate is extremely variable, but it is not uncommon to find spawning white bass 25-50 miles above the reservoir. This may be related to river and stream flow, which varies among years. Fisheries biologists are unsure if adult white bass return to the same spawning spot each year, or if it is a random occurrence. After spawning, adult fish migrate back into the main body of the reservoir. The whole spawning migration is usually complete by sometime in May. Interestingly, “tributary” spawning may not be inherent in all white bass. Some white bass may spend their entire lives in the main portion of reservoirs, spawning on wind-blown, rocky shoals instead of in major tributaries.

Of the three temperate basses found in Central Texas (white bass, striped bass and hybrid striped bass) only white bass successfully reproduce in significant numbers, although the other two species may also migrate up tributaries in the spring. Central Texas striped bass and hybrid striped bass populations are completely supported from stockings by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fish hatcheries. White bass are not nest builders. Spawning takes place in mid-water. The female rises toward the surface enticing males to follow. Fertilized eggs drift to the bottom and adhere to gravel or rock. Eggs usually hatch within 2 to 3 days. The newly hatched fry migrate downstream in schools seeking food and protection. On many Central Texas reservoirs white bass grow rapidly, normally attaining a size of 9 to 10 inches in their first year of life and 12 inches by the end of the second. This is faster than the statewide average. The life expectancy of white bass is short and few reach 5 years old. Although no studies have specifically looked at sexual maturity of white bass in Central Texas, fisheries biologists think that males become sexually mature at age one (8-9 inches) and females at age two (12-13 inches). This would be similar to fast growing populations in Tennessee and Arkansas. No studies in the Southern United States found significant numbers of female white bass less than 10 inches that were reproductively mature. A white bass weighs approximately 0.5 pounds at 10 inches and 0.9 pounds at 12 inches.

Fisheries Management and Fishing Regulations

White bass in Texas are currently managed with a statewide 10-inch minimum length and 25-fish daily bag limit. An experimental 12-inch minimum length limit was implemented on several Central Texas reservoirs between 1995 and 2003. The purpose of the experimental regulation was to test whether additional protection would delay harvest of immature female white bass and increase population abundance and average size of white bass. Evaluation of the12-inch minimum length limit indicated this regulation failed to improve white bass populations in Central Texas Reservoirs. In addition to fast growth, a high level of angler harvest was required for this regulation to work. These requirements were based on computer generated models utilizing fisheries data collected on these populations. Angler creel data collected by TPWD, suggest that harvest rates for white bass were likely below the threshold level needed for the greater length restriction to be effective. Other research conducted by TPWD, and supported by recent scientific literature, indicates white bass reproductive success is highly correlated with springtime reservoir inflows. In other words, higher than average spring inflows to reservoirs correspond with higher than average white bass spawning production and vice versa. Environmental conditions can play a large role in determining white bass densities.

TPWD will continue to monitor white bass populations and angler harvest rates to determine what length limit is best suited for these fisheries. If fishing pressure significantly increases in the future and harvest levels reach a critical point, TPWD will consider alternative regulations. Currently, alternative regulations are not warranted.

Next: Seasonal fishing patterns


The authors wish to thank TPWD Inland Fisheries employees Floyd Teat and Mark Webb for contributing to this report.

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