It doesn’t have to be searing hot for a drought to set in, and after a fall and winter with insignificant rains, area lakes and streams are showing the effects. One ranch I visited recently had more bank than tank, and the rancher said he might have to start pumping in water if we don’t get some significant relief soon.

Last January and February, Central Texas was enjoying a bounty of rainfall, with more than 6 inches being recorded over the two-month period. Add another 3.3 inches in March, and there was plenty of water to create excellent fishing and spawning habitat.

A year ago, Lake Waco’s water level was above normal pool at just over 463 feet. Today, it’s more than 4 feet below normal and falling. Low water levels may be good for folks walking the shoreline collecting lures that were lost by anglers on previously-submerged logs and limbs, but it doesn’t do much for the outlook of a strong white bass spawning run in the rivers and creeks that feed into the reservoir.

Every spring, white bass (also called sand bass) stage up at the mouths of tributaries in approach of a trip upstream to lay and fertilize eggs. This spawning phenomenon is known to anglers as “the run” – and it offers fishermen big, concentrated numbers of scrappy, tasty fish in smaller areas than you’ll find on a big lake. It’s the time of year when bank fishermen can have as much success as boating anglers.

Several factors play into the timing of the run, which, thanks to warmer temperatures, has already gone into overdrive at some lakes to our south, but some key ingredients are missing around here this year. Sand bass require plenty of water and a good stream flow in order to have a good spawn.

White bass (along with their cousins the striped bass) need a good bit of aquatic real estate to do their reproducing. If levels are too low, they can’t navigate upstream far enough to make the process successful. When they lay their eggs, a current is needed to keep them suspended and moving. If the flow isn’t strong enough to push the eggs along, they’ll sink to the bottom and perish.

If fish sense that conditions aren’t right for spawning, most won’t even try to make the trip upstream and will do their business elsewhere. At Lake Whitney, the closest lake with a significant striper population, the only time there’s enough water to support a natural striped bass spawn is during major flooding that coincides with the spawning period, and that doesn’t happen often. TPWD biologists regularly and aggressively stock stripers in Whitney to maintain the excellent fishery there.

Even during years when conditions are perfect, there are still plenty of white bass that spawn in the main lake, and some anglers like Keith Rodriguez eschew the river run as a waste of time and gas. He catches just as many sand bass on the main body of the lake during the run as anglers upstream do, consistently hauling in limits using mainly ghost minnows that he nets from the lake.

Top baits for catching white bass are minnows, small jigs and spinnerbaits, tied flies, and crankbaits. Most anglers enjoy catching whites on lighter gear. Typically, they congregate in schools near channel bottoms that are adjacent to sand or gravel bars.

There’s a daily bag limit of 25 white bass per angler, and they have to be a minimum of 10 inches in length to be keepers.

Hungry, hungry stripers

Lake Whitney striper guide Clay Yadon (Reel Deal Striper Guide Service on Facebook) says fishing remains in the “crazy good” category. “We’re finding fish in huge schools, and they’re busy building eggs and taking in calories, so they’re eating everything they can find,” he said. “If you get a jig in front of them, they’re going to fight over it.” He’s catching them anywhere from 25 to 45 feet deep on swim baits and plastics on lead-head jigs.

Finding them is easier on some days than others. “The birds are working sporadically, but when they’re feeding, it’s easy. Otherwise, you’ve got to know where they’re likely to be and keep an eye on your electronics,” he said. “The fish aren’t really relating to any type of structure this time of year. They’re just out there roaming around and chasing big schools of shad.”

Yadon says if you do it right, you can wear yourself out catching fish. “We’ve been catching limits every single day we’ve gone out, and this time of year, you can catch and release fish without hurting them. We’ll get a limit in the box and then start catching and releasing for the rest of the morning,” he said. “Some days, we’ve caught 50 stripers or more.”

The bite is very light, according to Yadon, who likened it to a sunfish. “When you feel a strike, you’ve got to hit it instantly or they’ll be gone,” he said.

He said the next few months should see more fish in the 20 to 25 pound class. “We’re catching a lot of 8 pounders with some 15 pounders mixed in, but we lost one at the boat last week that weighed at least 25.”

FishWagon Fish Day

Got a stock tank, farm pond, or soil conservation lake you want to load with fish? Brazos Feed & Supply will host a FishWagon Fish Day on Wednesday (Feb. 21) from 2:30-3:15 p.m. at 1505 LaSalle in Waco.

Bass, crappie, sunfish, bluegill, minnows, koi, and more will be available, and there’s free pond delivery with orders of at least 1200 fish, 50 pounds of minnows, or other packages.

Brazos Feed owner Gary Payne says it’s a good idea to call FishWagon (800-643-8439) to pre-order so you’ll be sure to have your fish on the truck that day.

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