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Springtime is stripe time

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:16 PM

My fishing buddy Bob Sherborne flipped a Road Runner spinner into the swirling current, and a moment later muttered an unmentionable as his brand-new lure snagged on the rocky bottom.

Suddenly, the "bottom" took off up-stream, putting a serious bend in Sherborne's rod and considerably improving his disposition.

Minutes later he fought a thrashing two-pound white bass alongside the boat and heaved it aboard. I wasn't any help, because I had my hands full with the fish's big brother, which was peeling line in long screeches.

It's springtime, and the white bass are running in the Cumberland.

Every year some of my favorite fishing is going after white bass -- generally referred to as stripe -- when large schools make their spawning runs up-river.

I've caught white bass in the tail-waters below Watts Bar dam, Cordell Hull dam, Percy Priest dam, Center Hill dam and Old Hickory dam, but there's no place as stripe-laden as the five-mile stretch below Cheatham dam.

How abundant are the white bass there? Last spring game wardens caught four Nashville fishermen with 420 stripe -- 360 above the limit of 15 per day per angler.

The men made the stunning single-day catch using conventional spinning tackle and lures. The violation cost them several thousand dollars in fines and court costs, and they lost their fishing privileges for a designated period.

As despicable as the incident was, it showed how bountiful tail-water fishing for white bass can be this time of year.

There's no need for greed -- a fisherman can continue to fish once he has boated his 15-stripe limit. He just has to release all the fish he catches after that. It distributes the resource and gives other fishermen a chance to catch some.

With the possible exception of a smallmouth, no fish fights harder pound-for-pound than a white bass. They hit with a jolting strike and make long wrist-cramping runs.

White bass (not to be confused with stripers or hybrids) generally run between one and two pounds. Anything over two pounds will try to take your fishing pole away. The state record stripe weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces and was caught in 2003 in the Mississippi River.

When they're running in the spring, white bass will hit virtually any lure that crosses their path, the flashier the better. I prefer a Road Runner with a Twister Tail. The flash of the spinner-blade and the flutter of the plastic tail represents a double whammy.

I use a lure with a single hook. The mouth of a white bass is tough, and imbedded treble hooks are hard to extract -- and can be hazardous when the fish is flopping and thrashing. A single hook does the job. When a stripe nails it, it's going to be solidly hooked, and avoids the treble-hook hassle.

A stripe has sharp barbs on its dorsal fins and gill plates, and getting spiked is painful.

In terms of table fare, white bass are delicious when prepared right. The key is to remove the reddish-brown membrane from the side of the fillet. It takes only seconds with a sharp fillet knife, and it gets rid of the strong fishy taste that give stripe a bad rap. When broiled, salted, and bathed in melted butter with a dash of lemon, stripe are a delicacy.

White bass can be caught year 'round in Middle Tennessee, but springtime is prime time.

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