Sling a Swimbait for Lake of the Ozarks Giants
By John Neporadny Jr.
Accomplished tournament angler Marcus Sykora knows heavyweight bass on his home waters of Lake of the Ozarks like to hang out in the shade and eat big meals.
“There are a couple of things that anglers need to explore,” says Sykora. “What you should really focus on is what portion of the water column you are most comfortable with. If you want to fish shallow it doesn’t mean you have to fish in shallow water. There are an abundance of docks out there and what I do is take a big swimbait or something like that and throw it along those bigger docks because there is a ton of big bass tournament-winning fish that reside under those docks.”
The local angler suggests using a 5- or 6-inch swimbait that stays in about the 5-foot depth range. “You can cover a ton of water with that technique and it is usually very easy, very friendly because you don’t have to go in-between the docks,” Sykora says. “You can continue on a straight line with your trolling motor. The odds of you being able to catch a giant are great.” The tournament veteran notes this tactic also produces plenty of 3- and 4-pounders that can earn anglers money during the semi-hourly weigh-ins.
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Sykora usually catches his biggest fish in the fall from the Gravois arm to Bagnell Dam and up the Grand Glaize arm. “From the Gravois to the dam the water is so clear those bigger fish have the opportunity to pick and choose their feeding periods a little bit more precisely which means they are less catchable,” says Sykora. “So there are more of them available.”
Visiting anglers should focus their efforts on main lake docks. “I would just start at the dam and keep going until I ran out of time,” says Sykora. After fishing so far down one direction, Sykora would run to the opposite bank and work his way back towards the dam.
“Typically you want to run the swimbait just out of sight on the windy side of a dock in combination with shade,” says Sykora. “So try to find a stretch of the lake that has wind and shade impacting the same side of the docks.”
The ideal target for Sykora’s swimbait tactic is where the wind is blowing into the swim platform side of the dock, which provides the most amounts of shade and protection for bass to use as an ambush point. Bash anglers should also try the front corners and stalls of the condo docks.
Bass will set up on any of the main channel docks during the fall. “It doesn’t really matter whether it is 50 feet deep on the end of that dock or if it is 25 feet deep,” Sykora says.
Sykora opts for swimbaits in natural shad or bream colors, but if these fail to produce he changes to lures in highly visible wild colors. “The color is so contrasting that it gets the fish’s attention and the fish has to make the commitment on whether or not it wants to go and eat that bait,” he says.
A swimbait with a slow fall rate is Sykora’s choice for working the main lake docks. “If you can keep that thing in the strike zone, the slower you can reel it the more action that bait has,” he says. Since he is fishing in open water next to the dock, Sykora favors an open hook on the top of his swimbait and adds a number 2 or 1/0 treble hook to his rig to increase hookups. He either slips the treble hook on his main line of 20- to 25-pound fluorocarbon before tying on the bait or attaches the treble to the hook of the swimbait.
When he notices big fish following his bait but eventually turning away from it, Sykora changes his retrieve to trigger a strike. Sykora continues to steadily retrieve the lure and as it reaches the end of the dock or shade line, he quickly turns the reel handle three to four times and then stops cranking to allow the swimbait to flutter down and tempt the following fish into biting.
If the swimbait pattern fails to produce, Sykora suggests anglers run halfway back into the creeks and key on brush piles along the flats. “I am looking for the migrators then, “says Sykora, who probes the 15- to 18-foot range with a deep-diving crankbait. “I am looking for the fish that are following shad. I like the deep-diving crankbait because 1) I can cover so much more water; 2) it has a big profile; and 3) it is just a big fish bait. With the amount of pressure on the lake you need to keep covering water and keep yourself in high percentage spots.”
The key to this technique is to bang the crankbait into the brush piles. “Whenever I am working that bait and I feel the line coming up on the pile, sometimes I reel that thing as fast as I can and crash that bait and then just kill it,” says Sykora. “As it starts floating up the fish will get it.”
Sykora picks about the same colors for his crankbaits as he does for his swimbaits in either natural shad hues or off-the-wall bright colors of orange, red or yellow. He usually has three crankbait rods on his deck with three different line sizes; 12-, 15- and 20-pound fluorocarbon. Cranking with the 12-pound line allows his lure to reach brush piles that top out at 16 feet. He opts for 15-pound test when probing brush that tops out at 12 feet and switches to 20-pound test when cranking brush tops at 8 feet.
If he catches some fish from a brush pile but the fish stop hitting the crankbait, Sykora will probe the cover with a big jig or Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hog or magnum-size plastic worm.
Other tactics Sykora recommends for tricking a big bass in the fall include throwing a black buzz bait on 65-pound test braided line in the mornings; working a 3/4- or 1-ounce football jig (peanut butter-and-jelly hue with a green pumpkin trailer) along bluff ends; and casting 3/4- or 1-ounce jigs to suspended bass hanging on the cables of condo docks.
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.