The tradition of the Mighty White Bass run

Water Body

The tradition of the spring Walleye & White Bass runs on the Wolf / Fox Rivers (Winnebago System) dates back to long before I was born – and most likely well before all the little towns along the rivers were settled upon in the mid 1800’s. For me, it’s a sense of pride to know that tradition is carried on and I have been blessed to have many clients that want to learn so much more about the tactics used there.
Mother Nature has finally gave up on keeping us frozen in and has been giving up some more Spring like days. So with all the tell-tale signs of seeing asparagus, morels, lilacs, and the return of hummingbirds, the White Bass have exited the lakes and made their spawning journey up the rivers. For anyone that has not experienced this run, its one to add to the bucket list. Per ounce, the White Bass has to be one of the hardest fighting fish for their size and their aggressive nature provides some of the most fun you can have catching.

This year’s Spring conditions have dealt us unique circumstances of varying conditions. The late dropping of snow to our northern counties has been swift in dropping water temps. This has placed fished throughout the water column and general locations and have kept us moving to find concentrations of fish. We started two weeks ago with the arrival of the smaller males staging in the deeper holes. Blade Baits & 3-way rigs with purple, black, or red flies produced well when presenting very slow. Very similar to ice fishing, you had to find a balance of weight that would hold you down 18 feet in the current without being too heavy.
As the water temps rose as high as into the low 60’s, the females moved in and the fish began to disperse to the shallows. This has been very spotty as we continually get cold fronts and cold rain driving the water temps back into the low-mid 50’s. The larger concentrations of fish moved back out to the channel edge.

For those that have a larger understanding of river characteristics, it doesn’t take long to get a serious fish pounding pattern into place. Drifting the channel edge and working the 3 main areas (center channel, bottom of the drop off, and the flats above the drop) it becomes very easy to locate “pods” of aggressive fish.
We began mornings casting 3/8oz pink blades across the channel and working back to the bottom of the drop off. As the sun warmed the flats, many fish by mid-afternoon would up. Once fish were making a stronger appearance in 7 fow and shallower, we switched to Live Target Gizzard shad cranks, Live Target rainbow smelt, and white rooster tail weighted spinners. Though flies have worked fantastic, I find them to be slow for my aggressive style with clients and haven’t invested the time with them much.
We are now into a hard spawning period and I’m finding fish spawning in the channel, on the drop offs, along the shores, against wood, and places that just make you think????? During this time, it often appears as if the fish have almost vanished. They are there and it just takes time to get out and search. When you find them, you’ll often pound anywhere from 20 to 100 in no time at all. Then it’s time to move and search again.
You will find two types of fishermen on the river. One will drop the anchor and wait for fish to come to them. A small percentage will drop in on a mother load and collect from the jackpot. Many will only get a few fish here and there as the fish migrate by. These are the guys that post up smaller numbers.
Every day I have talked with numerous people and get the same question – HOW? Simple, be the other type of fishermen that takes the game to them. I harp on this a lot, use your electronics. I motor around and keep a close eye on what I see. The 2D lit up with globs of fish in the channel or the side-scan looking like a December snow fall. Big numbers of fish are easy to see when located.

The party bonus for this White Bass run is the long journey of down-run walleyes. Somewhere along the many miles of the Wolf River, waves of walleyes returning to the lakes cross paths with the up-run whities like a train colliding on the same track. Most years, I pick off many eyes while pitching blades. This year they have shown a distinct dis-like for the dropping temps and have shown a preferred diet of leeches or a ½ crawler dragged down current on a 1/8 to 1/16oz jig. More than ever, I have seen a preference of pink jigs out producing un-painted or other colors.
Dragging has been very easy once you get the feel down. Avoid vertical or having too much line out. Enough line out to have a feeling like the jig is “rolling” down the river. Ticking the bottom and loosing contact is not out far enough. Steady “plow” feeling is too much.

I need to toss out a huge thanks to the many guys that I have had out this spring. Most have never tossed a blade bait or drug jigs before and to see them learn a tactic so fast has been very rewarding for me. One of my funniest days this spring was enjoying the company of IDO’s Mudshark for a full day of catching. Somehow, he thought he was going fishing to do a little catching. After minimum of a couple hundred white bass on blades and cranks, he set his rod down, looked at me, laughed and blurted out “I gotta tell ya – I hurt….But it’s a GOOD HURT” as he continued to laugh.
The run should continue through this next week and then its time to concentrate on the down run. They will be using the main channel to use the current and temporally stage in holes along the way.
If you have the need for some serious lip-ripp’n action, this is the time and place!
Good luck, have patience for the crowds, and be safe!


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Randy Wieland

Randy brings over thirty years of knowledge working in the fishing, hunting, marine, and camping arena. While gaining knowledge in sales through most of his working life, Randy has excelled in product knowledge and use of out door equipment while Full Bio ›


  1. few more pics Last night driving back from Fremont, I got the shot of the rainbow over the river. There may not be a pot of gold; but there is one heck of a place to fish!

  2. Great read as always! Sure looks like you have created a lot of smiles again in the last few weeks.

    Finally getting away… taking two guys up on Friday. Not my choice of days (holiday weekend) but I know they’ll smile the entire time. It will be the first time experience for both of them. I’ll do more re-tieing and such than fishing if history proves to repeat itself.

  3. Nice report Randy, I’m envious because There hasn’t been a good Whitebass run around here for years, I wonder why.

  4. Fun fish to catch. Great report. Seems like our white bass population on the croix and upper miss is way down to Mossy. You noticed any change in the population out your way Randy?

  5. The population in the Winnebago system has held pretty steady for many years. Obviously some year classes excel due to weather conditions. The biggest variance I see is the average size. Some years offer some real piggies and other years they run a little on the smaller size.

    I didn’t mention this earlier. The population of them in this system withstands a NO BAG LIMIT. I have watched groups literally fill up the back of a 8′ truck bed throughout a day, making repeated trips in to empty their coolers and continue to pack on ice. In the last two weeks, clients have caught (purely a guess on the conservative side) 3000+ whites and kept about 2000 of them. Needless to say, I can’t get the fresh aroma of fish out of my boat or clothes

  6. The Wolf river is a must do for anyone who loves to catch fish!!!
    Thanks again Randy it was a BLAST my friend
    I was trying to remember when I caught so many fish,in such a short period,and the only thing that’s beats it was smelt fishing….And I have had some good other bites over the years

    My arms only hurt for a couple of days

    It was worth it

  7. Ya Mike, theres been no study on why there isn’t the populations there used to be. WE used to be able to get fish after fish and do this every year, then all of a sudden they are far and few between. The Iowa river which the Cedar empties into has alot of white bass and its not a long swim to get to this area, so I can’t figure it out. The populations declined about 15 years ago, you can still get the occasional one but its almost impossible to fill a stringer. I remember filling my stringer with fish over 2 lbs. After 15 years you’d think we’ed see atleast a fair amount of fish but theres not, hardly anyones catching them. The same with shad, on the cedar their populations have declined too, atleast I don’t see that many jumping when I go by in my jonboat and I’m on the river quite a bit,,,but we have one heck of alot of channel catfish, any equation or coinincedence? Still envious Randy,,,

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