Forget the science and the calendar, the best way to tell when the white bass are biting on the Neches River above Lake Palestine is to count the trucks along Highway 31 and in the nearby parking lots.
The more vehicles the better the fishing.
The best fishing, when the females move upstream, is still weeks away depending on the water temperature and flow. Females won’t migrate up the river until the water temperature is close to 60, but some males will begin moving when the water temperature climbs into the 50s. Some years it begins in January while others a run may not occur until April. Warm rains usually get the temperature up.
The run ends a cycle which has seen the white bass move to the deepest part of Lake Palestine for the winter. The next move will be staging near mid-lake, which will start as the day length becomes longer. The cycle concludes with the fish heading up the river and various creeks with enough flow.
And flow is a major key. While the water temperature will eventually warm, whether there is a flow is dependent on steady rainfall. Without it the run may be minimal or inconsistent.
The flow is important because unlike largemouth bass, white bass are not nest builders. A female white bass can drop as many as a million eggs that can hatch within 46 hours of spawning. They drop their eggs in mid-water or near the surface in flowing water before they eventually settle to the bottom where they become attached to rocks or gravel. The river flow is important because without it the eggs can become covered with sediment and not get fertilized.
According to biologists the male white bass will move up and stay for several weeks. Females only enter the river and creeks when conditions are right to spawn, spending a week or so before returning to the main lake.
Even on Lake Palestine spawning activity doesn’t occur at once. Typically fish move up tributaries on the upper end well before they do on the lower end. And not all white bass leave the lake to spawn. Some will spawn on windy points throughout the lake.
While white bass are naturally occurring in a number of lakes and rivers in East Texas, they didn’t exist in Lake Palestine until being stocked by fishermen in 1984.
The spawning fisheries are all different at a trio of other Northeast Texas lakes with white bass.
At Lake Tawakoni, probably the best white bass fishery in Northeast Texas, most of the fishing during the spawn is still on the main lake. However, there is some bank fishing within the Tawakoni Wildlife Management Area on Caddo Creek and the river channel above U.S. 69. Access to Caddo Creek requires a $12 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Limited Public Use permit.
However, like the Neches River above Lake Palestine, the bank fishing is dependent on years with good water flow.
At Cooper Lake fishermen catch spawning white bass fishing at one unusual location, the riprap at the dam. They can also be caught from the bank fishing at the Doctors Creek State Park.
Both locations offer fishermen access to both deep water where the white bass, and often hybrid striped bass, will stage and shallow water where they will come to spawn.
The fish would make runs up the river and various feeder creeks, but in recent years the lake has been too low and had no flow. The lake is currently down 12 ½ feet, and without rain won’t be experiencing a run again this year.
Lake Fork is better known for its black bass, but in recent years a white bass fishery has shown up on the lake. Kevin Storey, TPWD Fisheries biologist, said there have been big fluctuations in the fishery, possibly because of the lack of inflow in some years. He added there are some fishermen targeting the fish, but most of it seems to be on the lake itself.
With the lake still down more than four feet, that should be the case again this spring.
Not all the white bass across East Texas spawn at the same time. Depending on water flow the spawn on the Sabine River above Toledo Bend often comes earlier than the Neches.
The daily bag limit for white bass statewide is 25 fish with a 10-inch minimum length limit.
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