The white bass is a silvery, spiny-rayed, fairly elongated fish with several dark horizontal streaks along the sides. The back is blue-gray with silvery reflections. The sides are silvery with a faint blue-green tinge and several horizontal olive-gray streaks. The upper surface of the tongue usually has a single, heart-shaped patch of teeth. The back is rather strongly arched, with the profile of the top of head and forward part of the back concave (rounded inward). Seldom exceeds 3 to 5 pounds.
The introduced striped bass has a more slender, less-deep body (back-to-belly depth is less than 1/3 the total length); a back that is not concave behind the head; the teeth on the back of the tongue in 2 separate, parallel patches; and larger size (commonly reaches 20 pounds).
Hybrids between the striped bass and white bass are stocked by the Missouri Department of Conservation in many impoundments around the state. Also called wipers, these fish superficially resemble white bass but have 2 patches of teeth on the tongue very close together or else a single distinct tooth patch. Hybrids also achieve a larger size than white bass, commonly exceeding a weight of 5 pounds.
Two other members of the temperate bass family have been recorded from Missouri but are rare to uncommon. Both may be separated from the all of the above by a lack of teeth on the back of the tongue, and the presence of a membrane slightly connecting the spiny and soft dorsal fins:
- The yellow bass (M. mississippiensis) is a silvery yellow fish with several prominent dark, horizontal stripes that are sharply broken and offset on the lower side forward of the anal fin; when alive, the eyes are brassy yellow. It occurs mostly in the Mississippi River and its overflow waters and natural floodplain lakes. It is seldom more than 12 inches long or more than a pound.
- The white perch (M. americana) is silvery white and usually lacks stripes (or, if it has them, they are usually faint). It is not native to Missouri. It originated on the Atlantic Coast; their introduction to a Nebraska reservoir led to their presence in the Missouri River and thence downstream to our state, usually in and near the Missouri River. They might also be present in and near the Mississippi River, having apparently entered it from Lake Michigan. This species usually only reaches 9–10 inches in length or 1.5 pounds.
Total length: 9–15 inches; weight: ¼ to 1¼ pounds; maximum weight about 5 pounds.
Occurs in the Mississippi River and its principal tributaries; also in most large Ozark reservoirs (due to introductions) and in the Missouri River and its tributaries.
Habitat and Conservation
The white bass inhabits the deeper pools of streams and the open waters of lakes and reservoirs. It tends to avoid waters that are continuously turbid and is most often found over a firm sandy or rocky bottom. This species is most active at dawn and dusk.
Formerly, the white bass was abundant only in the Mississippi River and its principal tributaries, but it is now plentiful in most large reservoirs of the Ozarks, and it is increasingly common in the Missouri River and its tributaries.
The white bass's occurrence in Ozark reservoirs is the result of introductions. It starting appearing in the Missouri River in the 1960s, after construction of large reservoirs upstream from our state substantially reduced turbidity of the water.
The white bass is one of the most important game fish in Missouri’s large impoundments. It is most closely related to yellow and striped bass game fish.
Active, schooling fish, white bass appear in large numbers where food is abundant and then move on when the supply is exhausted. They feed most actively in early morning and late evening, often near the surface where forage fish, small crustaceans, and the emerging stages of aquatic insects tend to concentrate.
The feeding activities of white bass are sometimes quite spectacular: Large, compact schools move rapidly about in pursuit of small fishes, often driving them to the surface, where they may leap from the water in a vain effort to evade capture.
Small crustaceans and insects are the most important items in the diet of young white bass; adults feed predominantly on fish.
In large Ozark reservoirs, gizzard shad is a staple food, and the abundance of white bass fluctuates drastically in response to changes in the abundance of this forage fish.
Native game and sport fish.
The temperate bass family (Moronidae) to which this species belongs comprises some 6 to 8 species (depending on which authority is consulted) that used to be included in the temperate perch (or sea bass, or "true bass") family (Percichthyidae).
The white bass is an early spring spawner. Spawning is commonly preceded by runs of mature adults into tributary streams. In our state, they enter tributaries in March and remain until the middle or latter part of April. Males become mature and move to the spawning grounds about a month before the females. At that time, the mature adults occur in schools composed of only one sex. The schools of females are found in deeper water not far from the spawning grounds.
Spawning occurs in midwater or near the surface, over a gravelly or rocky bottom, often in a current, and without preparation of a nest. After fertilization, the eggs settle to the bottom, where they become attached to rocks and hatch in about two days. A single large female may produce nearly a million eggs in one spawning season. In any given locality, spawning is completed over a period of 5 to 10 days.
White bass grow rapidly, and individuals can live about 4 years.
The white bass is one of the most important sport fishes in Missouri's large impoundments. During years of peak abundance, it makes up 40 percent or more of the fish creeled in some Ozark reservoirs.
The white bass and yellow bass are the two members of the temperate bass family native to Missouri. The other temperate bass species (in genus Morone: white perch, striped bass, and hybrid striped bass) are not native.
Hybrids of the white bass and the nonnative striped bass have been stocked in several Missouri reservoirs to help control populations of gizzard shad.