The white bass - what many call "stripes" - is Mississippi's unsung and untapped sportfish. They are abundant where they occur, grow to good size, blast the heck out of topwaters and crankbaits, and can be darn-good eating.

White bass are closely related to marine striped bass and yellow bass. Like the yellow bass, the white bass has prominent but broken black lines on its silvery sides.

The white bass can be distinguished from the yellow bass by a distinct separation of the spiny and soft dorsal fins in the white bass, while the yellow bass has a membrane connecting the two fins. The more slender-bodied striped bass has continuous black lines on its sides and has two tooth patches on the back of the tongue, while the deeper-bodied white bass has one large tooth patch.

The white bass is native to the Great Lakes and Mississippi River drainages. In Mississippi, white bass are common in the Mississippi River and floodplain lakes and in the Tennessee River impoundments, but they are most abundant in the flood-control reservoirs in northwest Mississippi - Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid and Grenada.

Although the streams that form these reservoirs are tributaries to the Mississippi River, white bass populations in three of the reservoirs were established by stocking fish from Muddy Bayou in the 1960s. The unplanned white bass population in Sardis is believed to be an angler introduction.

White bass are in the Tenn-Tom Waterway, but the populations have not really developed to support a strong fishery.

White bass can spawn over rocky shorelines and shoals in reservoirs, but they usually migrate up rivers to spawn. The migration begins when the water temperature reaches the mid to high 50s, essentially about the same time crappie move to their spawning areas. The males migrate first, followed by the generally larger females. Through most of their range, white bass spawn in shallow, flowing water over rock and gravel, but apparently any shallow areas with hard bottom are sufficient.

The eggs are small, and a large female can spawn more than a half million eggs. The female releases eggs near the surface where they are fertilized, usually by two or more males. The eggs settle to the bottom and stick to rocks, gravel or plant material.

The fertilized eggs develop quickly, and hatch in three to four days. By four days after hatching, the tiny larvae can swim well enough to avoid being swept downstream by currents.

The young white bass initially feed on zooplankton, then aquatic insect larvae. White bass begin adding fish to their diets when they reach about 2 inches. Adult white bass eat a variety of fish, but gizzard and threadfin shad are primary foods in Mississippi waters.

Growth in Mississippi waters is fairly fast. White bass reach about 6 to 8 inches in their first year, 10 to 12 inches by the end of their second year and 13 to 15 inches after three years. Most white bass in southern waters do not live longer than five years. The state record white bass is 5 pounds, 6 ounces.

The popularity of white bass in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and several Midwestern states hasn't spread to Mississippi. Although plentiful in the flood-control reservoirs and lacking a size or creel limit, white bass see little fishing pressure, according to MDWFP fisheries biologist Keith Meals. Only about 4 percent of the angler effort on Grenada in 2007 targeted white bass, and anglers harvested an estimated 16,000 pounds, or about 5 percent of the total harvest.

In 2003, only 2 percent of the fishing effort at Sardis Reservoir targeted white bass, but total harvest was 64,000 pounds, or 8 percent of the total recreational harvest.

Like crappie, white bass have widely varying year-class strength. And, like crappie, strong year-classes tend to have slower growth.

White bass usually occur in large groups - find them, and the bite is on. Fishing guide Terry Bates of Greenville (www.outfitters.org/bigriver.html) does most of his white bass fishing in the Mississippi River. When the river is flooding, Bates catches white bass over hard surfaces like roads, even parking lots. As the water recedes from the floodplain, Bates intercepts fish in current drains.

The rock wing dikes are productive in the summer and fall when they are out of the water and form good current breaks. Although white bass can be caught on a variety of baits, the guide usually finds fish in 6 to 8 feet of water, and opts for crankbaits that dive about 4 to 6 feet, like Bandit 200s and lipless crankbaits. Chartreuse is good in the turbid water, but Bates switches to chrome patterns when the water clears. When the shallow bite is off, Bates searches for dense schools in deep water, and puts a jigging spoon to work.

Allen Edwards of Starkville is one of those few anglers targeting whites in the flood-control reservoirs. Edwards fishes the spawning run in April and May, but prefers to fish in the heat of summer when the white bass bunch up and start busting shad. Edwards focuses on underwater structure with hard bottom, such as roadbeds, underwater humps and points with sharp dropoffs. Like Bates, he catches fish at various depths, but structure topping out at 6 to 8 feet tends to be most productive.

When his sweet spots don't pay off, Edwards trolls crankbaits around distinct structure to locate fish, and then returns to casting to fill the cooler.

Wherever you are fishing white bass from late spring through fall, always have a topwater plug like a Pop-R or a small Zara Spook rigged and ready. Schooling is common in the afternoon, and the action is fast and furious. Want to make it more fun? Take a youngster along.