Then another does the same, a sign a predator is closing in from below.
And then the surface spits and sloshes as bigger fish break the roof of the lake with slashing jaws and darting fins. Shad dance and dodge, breaking free here, getting seized and swallowed there.
An area the size of your living room is frothed by pursued and pursuing fish for two minutes, then the players retreat downward and the surface goes glassy again.
Welcome to a “stripe jump.”
Blazing summer weather dulls fishing for many species on Kentucky's major lakes and rivers. Not so for white bass.
The silvery, pinstriped predators seem to turn on with bigger appetites in the heat of summer. Sizzling temperatures and high humidity play into high activity levels as does the timing of midsummer when schools of young shad and skipjack herring minnows show up around main lake structures that serve as feeding shelves for stripes, as Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley locals call ravenous white bass.
White bass had been in decline throughout the Southeast for the past couple of years, but indications are that a downturn has been reversed somewhat.
“We actually started seeing better catches of white bass last fall,” said Paul Rister, Western District fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “And this year, we've been getting reports, a lot more fish of 10 to 12 inches that suggests we got a better spawning class or classes two to three years ago.
“There for a while we were having some poor spawning classes because of drier conditions and lower current during the spawning period,” Rister said. “White bass need pretty specific conditions to get off a good spawn because their eggs float and they have to have current to carry the eggs. We apparently got some of those better conditions two or three years ago and now we've got a better class of fish that have grown into the size that people are catching.”
Day to day conditions for catching white bass on Kentucky, Barkley and other water bodies haven't been great lately because of subnormal rainfall upstream earlier in the spring and summer.
“There's not a lot of water in the system and, as a result, there hasn't been much current,” Rister said.
Current, it seems, positions schools of roaming white bass along edges of main lake bars and extended points where moving water carries schools of bait fish. The current apparently stirs the feeding impulse. At any rate, where there is current, there seems to be more forage fish, and the white bass more readily attack them.
A favorite fishing scenario is when white bass herd forage fish to the surface, then slash into the minnows. Hundreds of white bass may charge into thousands of shad to rip the surface into a frenzy.
This feeding “jump” is often fished with small surface plugs poppers, chuggers or bass plugs with one or two propeller blades that stir the surface. Another favorite is a two-piece rig - a topwater plug trailing a short leader with a small white jig or fly tied behind.
Twitching the surface plug with the trailing jig dancing behind may produce hits on either lure, and sometimes both simultaneously.
Big lakes white bass anglers, however, catch more of their fish deep around the edges of open water drop-offs. The favorite lure is a white 1/4-ounce inline spinner, cast on spinning gear, “counted down” to a chosen depth, then retrieved slowly.
Other productive stripe baits are heavy spoons, lead-bodied tailspinners or compact diving crankbaits.
Some fishermen let their boats do more of the work, trolling crankbaits or crankbait-and-jig trailer combinations along edges of bars or creek channel ledges.