The angling spotlight shines brightly in April on white bass, a fish that can spark spirited debate at tackle stores, coffee shops and office break rooms.
Anglers who fish for them, even those who don’t, have their opinions. How many white bass should a fisherman keep? What’s the best way to cook white bass? Are they even worth cooking at all?
One item most will agree on: They’re mighty fun to catch. Hook into a white bass of 2 or 3 pounds and you’ve a fight on your hands. Better hold on tight to that fishing pole and hope the reel’s drag is set just right. That’s about where the agreement ends.
Beaver Lake and its tributaries are unique in that they are the only waters in Arkansas where there is no daily limit on white bass. If a fisherman can catch 200 white bass, it’s perfectly legal to take them home. In my own fishing, I’ve never seen anyone keep an obscene number of white bass, like 75 or 200, but others say they have. Keeping a wheelbarrow full of white bass is legal, but it it ethical?
Some voice their opinion every year that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission should put a 25-fish daily limit on white bass. They say white bass fishing hasn’t been up to par in recent years and blame overharvest.
Others testify white bass fishing has been off because of floods that happen on the White and War Eagle rivers, but they still favor a 25-fish limit. These rivers are the main tributaries of Beaver Lake where most people fish for white bass and where white bass spawn in spring.
Then there’s the camp that doesn’t care one way or another. That’s because they’re never going to keep more than 10 or 15 white bass anyway because that’s all they care to clean.
Fish management professionals like John Stein, Northwest Arkansas fisheries supervisor with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says a daily limit isn’t needed. Stein and fellow fisheries biologist Eric Gates are in charge of managing the fishery at Beaver Lake and other area waters.
White bass are plentiful in the lake and females lay millions of eggs in April, which is prime spawning time, Stein says. Most white bass fishing goes on in April. Not many anglers fish for them the other 11 months. There’s not enough harvest in one month to have a negative impact on the white bass numbers, according to Stein.
Those who don’t favor a daily limit might say why have a regulation if it’s not needed, another regulation that wildlife officers will have to enforce. On the other hand, a daily limit of 25 would bring Beaver Lake in line with the statewide daily limit of 25 white bass.
Tamer discussion centers on eating white bass. Some say they’re great on a plate. Others enjoy catching them, but let them go because they don’t like the flavor.
There are those flakes of red meat running down the center of each white bass filet that have a strong fishy taste. Most people recommend getting rid of that red meat while filleting white bass.
I share a fair amount of white bass filets with some nonfishing friends and they love the taste. Then there’s one fishing buddy who won’t even allow white bass in his livewell because he says they taste bad.
Yes, when it comes to white bass, anglers have their opinions. Here’s hoping this spring that everyone who fishes for them will catch all the white bass they care to clean or let swim away, whatever they choose.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org