Georgia’s White Bass Run

On The Fly Freshwater

Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Right now, we are in the midst of a right-of-passage for both white bass and the anglers that pursue them in North Georgia. In fact, that applies all across the rest of the South. The spawning run of these fish out of reservoirs and into rivers or creeks has begun. Through the latter part of March into early April, expect it to continue.

On The Fly South’s Polly Dean with a shore-caught white bass. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

The fish are focused on sustaining their species, while anglers are working in a communal atmosphere to gather the ingredients for some fish fries. White bass are profuse and successful procreators, with single females laying up to half a million eggs each. They can fulfill the expectation of both parties!

Once the water temperatures begin holding above 55 degrees, the white bass that have schooled up in reservoir arms begin running up the tributaries. The smaller males are the first fish to go, followed in a week or two by the larger females. And, this is a mass exodus – they move in large numbers.

A white Wooly Bugger is a good choice for white bass action. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Obviously, these fish in the 1- to 3-pound size range become much easier targets for fly casters when they are in the shallower confines of the streams. Unlike some species, white bass do not quit eating during their spawning runs. When the run is fully on, catching double-digit numbers of the fish per day becomes a possibility.

Just how popular are these fish with anglers? In Oklahoma, they are the official state fish. In most southern states, when the run begins, the stream banks can become lined with anglers, while fishermen in canoes, kayaks and johnboats are present as well.

In North Georgia’s lakes the run can begin as early as the first week of March, depending on the weather. Usually, however, the mid to late part of the month sees more action. How can you know when the run is on? Just watch the water – when anglers start showing up in numbers, the white bass are moving.

On a more scientific level, in addition to the water temperature, the bass are triggered by the intensity of light in the early spring. The other, and least important factor, is current in the tributaries. Low, drought-condition flows can impede the spawn. Other factors that can disrupt the run are cold snaps, or high-water events that scatter the schools. The bass need the current, but not too much of it.

Another thing to watch is water levels in the reservoirs. As they are filled in the spring, the water encroaches upstream in the tributaries. The white bass are going to keep moving up to stay ahead of that and find better current.

Be aware, however, that for unknown reasons, the white bass run can be cyclical on a given stream. On what I consider my home water for these fish, after several good years, 2020 saw few of them show up.

I’m fortunate in that during the run this stream offers spots where one can cast from sand bars, from the shore or even wade fish for the whites. It also has a canoe/kayak launch, plus a several rocky shoals.

Wade fishing is a possiblity on some white bass waters. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

That latter point is important, since the fish like to stack up  just above and below riffles. The eggs laid stick to rocks or wood debris and need a constant flow of oxygenated water to hatch. Thus, the shoals become important areas. In larger tailwater rivers, expect to find the white bass stacked up very near the dams impeding their upstream movement.

Along the stream shore, spots to pay close attention to are any feeder creek mouths or debris piles that create eddies. White bass love to lay in these to ambush minnows.

Don’t overlook any debris that creates eddie water along the shore. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

As to what flies to throw, on my home water there is just one rule – make it a white minnow pattern. The only fly I have to use is a white bead-head Wooly Bugger. White bass are aggressive fish, they don’t nibble at their meals. Expect hard strikes. They usually hook themselves, negating the need to set the hook.

With all that covered, where should you be fishing in North Georgia? You have three good options.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports that white bass number in Allatoona Lake, 30 miles northwest of Atlanta, are at all-time highs. The runs up the Etowah and Little rivers should be strong this year. For the Little River, there is shore access and a canoe/kayak launch at Olde Rope Mill Park in Woodstock.

Near the towns of Madison and Eatonton, Lake Oconee has a stable population of white bass that is comparable to recent years. These fish will make their runs up the Oconee and Apalachee rivers. The U.S. Forest Service boat ramp at the Oconee River Campground in the Oconee National Forest is the best access point for that stream. The Apalachee River skirts the western edge of that forest, but the best access is from the Swords Boat Ramp on Lake Oconee.

Atlanta Fly Fishing Club member, Lou Arcangeli, with an Oconne River white bass. Photo courtesy of Lou Arcangeli.

The third good option for the white bass run is the Coosa River upstream of the Georgia-Alabama border. These white bass begin their run from Weiss Lake in the Cotton State. The best access is from the boat ramp at Mayo’s Bar in Lock & Dam Park near Rome, Georgia.

The white bass continue up from the Coosa into its feeder stream, the Oostanaula River, as well. A good jump off point for the upper Coosa and Oostanaula is the boat ramp near the river junction in Rome at Heritage Park. The Oostanaula also has ramps at the SR 140 and SR 156 bridge crossings.

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