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Spring Fever Hits Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains on Backs of White Bass

Forsyth, Mo. — Sitting in his boat on the upper end of Bull Shoals Lake, Buster Loving paused to take in an unusual spring sight.

“Unbelievable,” he said as he scanned the water. “Here it is, April, the white bass are running, and we’re the only boat out here.

“You don’t see that very often.”

On weekends, Loving said, places such as Beaver Creek and the narrow upper end of Bull Shoals are often jammed with boats and white bass in the spring. And the banks are filled with fishermen casting from shore.

White bass have that kind of drawing power in the Ozarks. When the water temperature starts to push toward the 50s, the powerful gamefish will head up tributaries of major reservoirs such as Bull Shoals and Table Rock in droves to spawn.

And fishermen will emerge from hibernation, ready to welcome spring with a big stringer of heavy fish.

“There are locals who won’t fish more than three or four weeks all year,” said Loving, who guides on Ozarks waters such as Bull Shoals, Table Rock and Taneycomo. “And this is the time. They’ll come out for this white-bass run and that’s it.”

Count Loving as one of many who eagerly look forward to this time of the year. Though he fishes year-round, he can’t wait until late winter when the spawning runs start.

The walleyes start it off, moving into tributaries long before most fishermen even think of dusting off their tackle. Consider what happened this year. Using a suspending jerkbait, Loving caught a walleye that weighed just shy of 13 pounds on — get this — Jan. 2.

The walleye run has since slowed down. But the white bass are taking over, in force.

The big females have moved upstream, and they’re biting. Loving knows: He and clients have been catching the spawning whites for a couple of weeks now.

One Thursday provided an example. Fishing in the uncharacteristic calm, he had the luxury of having the water to himself … for a while. After about a half-hour of peace and quiet, Loving looked up to see an armada of boats heading upstream toward him.

“Here they come,” he said with a smile. “I knew that was too good to be true.”

He used a short spinning rod equipped with a small reel and four-pound test line to cast a small suspending stickbait to the banks. He began using a series of short jerks followed by pauses to imitate struggling baitfish. And it didn’t take long for him to get a response.

He felt a jolting strike, then watched as his line zipped through the water.

“These whites have a lot of fight in them,” he said as he fought the fish. “They just don’t give up.”

Seconds later, he had the white fish to the boat and admired it for a second before flopping it back into the water.

In a half-day outing, Loving and I combined to catch 20 whites, most of them weighing 2 pounds or more.

All of the fish were caught on suspending stickbaits. But Loving also uses small Alabama rigs and grubs such as Swimming Minnows to catch fish.

He often targets the shallows and works his baits out to the boat. Finding the fish is the difficult part. Whites stay on the move, and often move up to spawn in waves. Once you locate a school, Loving said, catching them is the easy part.

“The good fishing will usually last through April,” Loving said.