Roll Up the River for Big Lake of the Ozarks Bass
With heavy fishing pressure expected on Lake of the Ozarks in the fall, Wayne Fitzpatrick knows avoiding the pressure is a key to winning autumn tournaments.
“The majority of (tournament) fishermen stay on what I consider the big part of the lake,” says Fitzpatrick, the owner of Fitz’ Fishing Tackle and Supplies. “The fish down (on the lower end) get pressured to death. There isn’t a square inch of bank that doesn’t get fished. If you know the (Osage) river system from the 45-mile maker up towards Truman Dam there are some huge fish that live up there and you can get away from a lot of the pressure and boat traffic.”
Fitzpatrick is a renowned Lake of the Ozarks tournament competitor who has caught bass deep in early October with a big jig or plastic worm, but he suggests visiting anglers should target thin water. “About 75 percent of the bass in October are going to be relating to shallow water,” he says. “For the past few years in fall tournaments it seems like every big fish that has been weighed in has probably been caught pretty shallow.”
When fishing up the Osage River Arm, Fitzpatrick tries both the main lake and back in the coves during early October. “It just all depends on where the baitfish are,” he says. “For the most part the fish are going to be moving back into the coves following the shad.”
Power fishing works best for Fitzpatrick when targeting shallow cover, which means he is using heavy line and throwing a buzz bait or flipping jigs, tube baits or beaver-style baits. “When I am fishing docks I never go less than 20-pound test line and if I am fishing a jig or tube it is always fluorocarbon,” says Fitzpatrick. “If I am throwing buzz bait a lot of times I will go to maybe 65-pound braid because I am throwing that around cables and the sharp corners of docks.”
Fitzpatrick favors dark colors for his lures in the stained waters of the upper Osage. He opts for black buzz baits and jigs, tubes and beaver- or hawg-style baits in a black neon hue. The local angler combines a 3/8- or 7/16-ounce jig with a plastic trailer “that has a lot of movement to it” such as a NetBait Paca Chunk or a variety of Zoom trailers. Either dragging the jig along the bottom or swimming it along shallow docks for suspended bass triggers strikes for Fitzpatrick. “When I am swimming a jig I want something pretty bulky (for his trailer) with big flappy tails that are moving a lot of water.”
When he fishes buddy tournaments, Fitzpatrick deploys a strategy with his partner so one of them throws a buzz bait and the other a Zara Spook. The key to this strategy is having the patience to throw these lures for fewer bites, but bigger fish. “My son and I fished a Big Bass Bash (in 2008) and we picked up a Zara Spook that morning and threw it all day,” recalls Fitzpatrick. They weighed in a 5.73-pound largemouth the first day and earned $1,000 for having the top fish in the 9 a.m. time slot. Their fish was the sixth biggest bass weighed in during the two-day event.
Fitzpatrick picks docks as the key type of cover to target during the fall. “Just beat those docks to death,” he suggests.
When practicing for a tournament, contestants should avoid sticking fish. “I definitely wouldn’t want to set the hook on too many if I were prefishing,” warns Fitzpatrick. “If a guy is real careful when he is jig fishing, he can put a little pressure on the fish and pull it up to see what size it is. The fish will actually come up and shake its head. That doesn’t bother them nearly as bad as if you stick them and fight them.” Fitzpatrick believes you have a better chance of catching that fish the next day or two if you shake it off rather than setting the hook on it.
For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.
Copies of John Neporadny’s book, “THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide” are
available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.