Belly Up to the Bar

White bass, a.k.a. barfish, are the main attraction on Bayou Pierre, where massive schools of the fish congregate to spawn.

April in the Magnolia State has to be my favorite time of the year. The dogwoods are in full bloom; the fragrant smell of wisteria hangs heavy in the cool spring air; the thunderous gobble of boss toms echoes in the distance; and there is plenty of great fishing for everyone to partake.

A small boat is all that is necessary for Mississippi anglers to experience the unique combination of some of the most breathtaking scenery and the hottest white bass action to be found anywhere in the country.

Whether you call them white lightning, sand bass, barfish, rock bass, striped bass or silver bass, white bass provide the most exciting springtime fishing action available in Southwest Mississippi. And there is arguably no better time and place to pursue these vicious fighters than during their annual spring spawning run — usually early April — on Bayou Pierre.

Bayou Pierre is a relatively small tributary of the Mississippi River that drains much of the land mass in Hinds, Copiah, Lincoln, Jefferson and Claiborne counties. It begins its path as a small stream just west of Brookhaven. It then winds its way to the south of Hazlehurst, and proceeds to the west of Port Gibson, where it joins up with Little Bayou Pierre before emptying into the Mighty Mississippi near the old town of Bruinsburg.

Although these tough little fighters can also be found much farther upstream, the best white bass action is confined to the portion of Bayou Pierre located west of U.S. Highway 61.

The excitement begins as soon as the water temperature in Bayou Pierre rises above the 50-degree mark. At this temperature, white bass begin forming schools segregated by gender.

These giant schools leave the muddy waters of the Mississippi in search of the clear, cool water of Bayou Pierre. Its gravelly bottom and abundant sand bars make Bayou Pierre ideal for large schools of white bass to mingle and spawn.

An old saying states that when the dogwood trees are blooming, white bass are spawning.

White bass are true bass, unlike largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, which are actually sunfish. Rather than nest like largemouth bass, white bass are broadcast spawners. Once fertilized, their eggs drift freely in the current.

Spawning females are considerably larger than their male counterparts. An average female white bass heavily laden with eggs will run in the 2- to 3-pound range, while the male white bass will average 1 to 1½ pounds. However, at the peak of the spawning run, females in the 3½- to 4-pound range are not entirely uncommon.

Admittedly, white bass do not grow to huge sizes. In fact, the Mississippi state record white bass caught by William Mulvihill at the Grenada Reservoir spillway in 1979 weighed a mere 5 pounds, 6 ounces. However, what they lack in size, they more than make up for in strength and tenacity.

A white bass is a fish with an attitude, and when you’re small, attitude makes all the difference. It’s kind of like the old story about the tiny little yellow jacket that made the 2,000-pound Brahma bull jump a seven-strand barbed wire fence. Now that’s attitude!

Another characteristic of white bass that makes them exciting is their sheer abundance. Spawning white bass travel in large schools. It is almost a certainty that where you find one white bass, you are more than likely going to find a few hundred more.

On several occasions, I have caught and released over a hundred white bass on Bayou Pierre and from an area that was not much larger than my living room at home.

As this mass exodus of fish makes their way upstream, they feed ravenously, making them very easy to catch. So if you’re looking to get a kid hooked on fishing, there is no better way than a day spent chasing this feisty fish. But keep in mind that white bass are just as much fun for seasoned fishermen to catch as they are for novices.

Because they are so prolific and are in such abundance statewide, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has completely removed the generous 50-fish limit. Now, white bass enthusiasts can take home all these tasty little delicacies they feel like cleaning.

However, anglers need to be able to distinguish white bass from their related species — hybrid stripers and striped bass, which have considerably more restricted creel and size limits (six fish a minimum of 15 inches in length).

White bass are silvery in color, and have milky white bellies. In addition, they have six or more faint bars on their sides and backs. Stripes below the lateral line are usually indistinct and not continuous. White bass have two dorsal fins with the first having nine spines. Their mouth is nearly centered vertically and is relatively small in comparison to their striped cousins. And don’t forget their razor-sharp gill plates, which can slice unsuspecting fingers to the bone. I personally have several scars on my hands to remind me of the need to be extra careful when handling a white bass.

One of the attractions of fishing for white bass on Bayou Pierre is its accessibility combined with the almost endless number of fishing hotspots. Bayou Pierre is a somewhat small, relatively shallow stream with a slow, steady current. It can be fished just as easily from the bank as it can from a small flat-bottomed johnboat equipped with nothing more than a small trolling motor.

And if you prefer using a fully rigged bass boat, the Claiborne County public boat launch offers easy access to the Mississippi River at Grand Gulf. A quick 10- to 12-mile run down the Mississippi River to the mouth of Bayou Pierre will put you in the middle of some hot white bass action in short order.

Aside from water temperature, the water level of the Mississippi River is the single biggest factor dictating where you will find white bass on Bayou Pierre. Veteran anglers of Bayou Pierre keep track of the river stage at the Vicksburg gauge. Most white bass fishermen prefer a rising river during the spring spawning migration. White bass tend to congregate up the bayou where the murky backwater of the Mississippi meets the clear current of Bayou Pierre. As Old Man River starts falling, the best fishing can be found at the numerous run-outs and streams that feed into Bayou Pierre.

“My top-five picks for white bass hotspots on Bayou Pierre would have to include James Creek, Widows Creek, White Hall Run Out, Alligator Bayou Run Out and the Little Bayou Pierre/Big Bayou Pierre juncture located just north of Two Mile Bridge,” says Jimmy Cassell, a white bass enthusiast from Port Gibson. “However, it is very important to keep an eye on the river stage. Each of these hotspots is most productive when the Mississippi River is at a specific water level.

“For instance, White Hall Run Out near Bruinsburg is most productive when the Mississippi River falls to the 28- to 30-foot level on the Vicksburg gauge. Alligator Bayou Run Out is best when the river stage is at 38 to 40 feet. And white bass fishing is excellent at the mouth of Little Bayou Pierre just north of the Two Mile Bridge when the muddy Mississippi drops to 30 feet.”

Although run-outs are preferred locations to pursue white bass on Bayou Pierre, that does not mean they’re the only locations to find large schools of them. One of the reasons many of the locals refer to white bass as “barfish” is because they are frequently found in large numbers spawning on the multitude of sand bars that make up much of the shoreline of Bayou Pierre. White bass seek out sandy or gravelly areas on which to lay their eggs. These hotspots are generally found near points, coves or pockets that are protected from the stronger currents.

“Oftentimes, treetops and blowdowns offer great places for schooling white bass to congregate as they move upstream,” says Don Hynum, another veteran Bayou Pierre white bass angler. “However, I would advise using heavier gear when fishing these locations due to the increased chances of getting wrapped up or broken off.

“And when all else fails, which is rarely the case, you can always resort to the time-tested and proven technique of trolling to find schools of white bass moving up or down Bayou Pierre. All you have to do is drop anchor when you hook the first fish while trolling. In most cases, where there is one white bass, there are usually hundreds more.”

When it comes to gearing up for white bass, you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. Just keep in mind that white bass are the fathers of the tackle-busting hybrid stripers. Although I have caught white bass on crappie poles, ultra-light rigs and even fly rods, I prefer to use a 6½- to 7-foot medium-action casting rod with an Abu Garcia 5500C reel spooled with 12- to 14-pound-test monofilament line.

I tend to get fewer tangles with monofilament line, especially when fishing tandem lures or spinner-type jigs. However, braided line does have its advantages when trolling or when the action is fast and furious. With monofilament, I will normally have to retie my lure after every dozen or so fish due to abrasions on the line. I can land literally hundreds of white bass with braided line without having to worry about them breaking off.

The only lure a white bass fisherman truly needs is a ¼-ounce lead jig tipped with a white or pearl soft-plastic twister tail body. However, being true anglers, we need as many lures in as many colors, shapes and sizes as our spouses will allow us to purchase. And when it comes to white bass, almost any lure you put in the water will be effective.

My favorite white bass lure would have to be the ½-ounce Rinky Dink (also referred to as a Tail Kicker) in pink/white, blue/white or black/white. Not only are they extremely effective in catching fish, they are even more effective in holding the fish on the line. Since the treble hook is attached directly to the line instead of the lure, it is next to impossible for a white bass to throw this lure. It also works in almost any situation, but I like it best when fishing run-outs where a jigging action is necessary.

Speaking of jigs, I also like a soft-plastic Sassy Shad in pearl or white on a ¼- or ½-ounce lead-head jig. These also work well at run-outs, but they tend to outperform other lures when fishing treetops or blowdowns. Plus, the soft rubber body provides a more life-like appearance in resembling an injured shad or baitfish.

When it comes to trolling or casting into a large school of white bass, nothing works better for me than a 2- to 3-inch lipless crankbait in a shad-imitating color. My favorite lipless crankbaits for white bass would have to be the small versions of Rat-L-Traps and Rattlin’ Rapalas.

There is one crankbait that I would rank above all others when it comes to its effectiveness in catching white bass — the Heddon Sonic. However, I have discovered that Heddon no longer manufactures this particular lure. And since I am down to my very last one, I no longer use it for fear of losing it to some thieving white bass. Maybe one day I will get brave enough to tie it on and cast it into a school of heavy egg-laden white bass in Bayou Pierre.

Multiple-lure rigs, such as a double-jig rig or a crankbait/jig combination, are also extremely effective in catching white bass. A double-jig rig is made with two small 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jigs. One jig is tied on a 2- to 3-foot leader about a foot above the other jig. The crankbait/jig combination is very similar to the double-jig rig, but in this case the crankbait takes the place of the rear jig. This presentation gives the appearance of a small fish (crankbait) chasing an even smaller fish (jig). White bass will attack the jig trying to steal it from the crankbait. Both rigs can be used either casting or trolling with good success.

One advantage to using multi-lure rigs is that doubles and occasional triple hook-ups are possible. But use extreme caution when removing hooks from a double or a triple hook-up. If you think those razor-sharp gill plates are dangerous when removing a single fish, multiply that danger by two or three. You could end up looking like you just shook hands with an electric hedge trimmer.

Huge schools and hard hits make white bass fishing on Bayou Pierre some of the most fun sportfishing action to be found anywhere. Add the incredible scenery and peaceful solitude of float fishing this beautiful Southwest Mississippi stream, and the experience is nothing less than awesome.

Although their average size is somewhat small compared to their heavyweight cousins, white bass are guaranteed to provide you with all the nonstop action you can handle.

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