By John Neporadny Jr
Locating Bass at Lake of the Ozarks
Bass live a transient lifestyle in their constant quest for the comforts of home.
While warm heaters, cool air-conditioners, a soft bed and a roof over our heads give us a comfortable year-round place to live, a bass must constantly roam its watery world to avoid the heat and cold, and find a spot to eat and procreate. An abundance of cover and lack of deep water causes some bass to stay put throughout the year, especially in river and shallow lakes. However, Lake of the Ozarks bass migrate more throughout the seasons to take advantage of the diversity in water depths, cover and structure.
My home waters of Lake of the Ozarks serves as a classic example of a man-made reservoir filled with plenty of cover and structure to accommodate migrating bass. The following are seasonal patterns from my home lake.
Prespawn bass move from their winter haunts and follow the creek and river channels to staging areas along secondary points or main lake bluff-ends in the early spring. These spots allow bass to move up shallow to feed during sunny days, then retreat and suspend over deeper water when the weather turns cold and nasty.
As the days grow longer and the water temperature rises, the fish migrate to transition banks from the mouths to about halfway back in the coves and pockets. The banks feature shoreline transformations where the rocks change from slab to chunk or chunk to pea gravel. These areas give bass quick access to the adjacent spawning flats and a deep-water sanctuary for any severe spring cold fronts.
Jerking suspending stickbaits such as a Rattlin’ Rogue produces the biggest bass in the early spring when the heavyweight fish are suspended along the various staging areas. A jig and plastic crawfish dragged over the rocky bottom also takes quality bass on calm, sunny days. A crawfish-colored crankbait or spinnerbait works best along the transition banks on sunny, windy days.
If early spring rains turn the lake turbid, prespawn bass can be taken slow rolling a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait along the bluff ends or secondary points. When the fish move to the transition banks, pitching a jig-and-craw combination to lay-downs and the shallow sides of boat docks takes prespawn bass in murky water.
Typical spawning banks on my home lake are pea-gravel flats in the backs of coves or gravel shores in small protected pockets. Some coves feature vast expanses of gravel flats, but the best spawning sites usually can be found within close proximity to deep-water structure such as secondary points and creek channel swings.
Bass prefer building their nests on hard bottoms and in spots protected from wind and boat waves. The fish spawn almost anywhere along the gravel bank, but the biggest bass prefer building their nests deeper in hard-to reach areas. The favorite nesting areas of quality bass include the walkways and pillars behind boat docks, fallen logs and sunken brush piles.
Boat docks are ideal refuges for bass during the spawn. The fish can hold in the sunken brush piles next to docks before locking onto their nests or can suspend under the boathouses during inclement spring weather.
Sight fishing the shallows with a variety of soft-plastic baits takes nesting bass in the clear water, while dragging a plastic lizard or finesse worm 6 to 10 feet deep along the gravel flats produces the biggest spawners. In murky water, flip or pitch a jig and jumbo trailer or a Texas-rigged 8-inch plastic lizard to shallow cover or behind boat docks to trigger strikes from bedding bass.
After leaving their nests, bass follow about the same migration route they used during the prespawn. The fish in the backs of coves return to the transition banks first and then key on the secondary points as the water temperature continues to rise in late spring. Bass in the small pockets migrate to the first available drop-off or the bluff-ends.
When early summer arrives most of the post spawn fish in reservoirs have moved to long, tapering gravel points. This structure provides bass a multitude of depths for feeding, recuperating from the spawn and gradually retreating to their summertime haunts. Postspawn bass can feed in the shallows during the early morning, then follow baitfish to the mid-depth ranges for a brief brunch. The point’s drop-off serves as an afternoon resting spot for these weary fish.
Standing timber and sunken brush piles provide excellent cover for recuperating bass along the postspawn migration route. The fish also favor hugging the rocks on long gravel points or the sharp drops of bluff ends. Working a Zara Spook or topwater chugger along gravel points is a popular early morning tactic during the post spawn. Some fish can also be taken on Texas-rigged plastic worms worked through the wood cover. The most consistent pattern for postspawn fish though is dragging a Carolina-rigged plastic lizard or finesse worm from the mid-depth ranges to the drop-offs on the primary and secondary points.
Hot surface water drives bass to a cooler comfort zone of the lake’s deep structure. Summertime bass relate to bluff ledges, creek and river channel bends and the deep ends of points and humps.
Sunken brush piles in the 20- to 30-foot depth range become key targets throughout the summertime on my home waters. The fish either suspend over the top of the brush or burrow into the wood cover. Current caused by power generation causes some fish to move up on the points and humps to feed during the day.
Working magnum-size Texas rigged plastic worms or craws through the deep brush at night produces the most consistent summertime action. Slow rolling a spinnerbait through the brush or along the bluff ledges also catches some nighttime bass. The best patterns for daytime bass include dragging a Carolina- or Texas-rigged plastic worm or running a deep-diving crankbait along the points and humps affected by current.
Baitfish migrate to the backs of creeks where bass follow the forage. An autumn feeding frenzy usually occurs on the flat side of the creek where bass chase shad in the shallows. Bass relate more to forage than cover now so finding baitfish is the key to success.
As the water turns colder and the annual reservoir drawdown begins in late fall, baitfish and bass evacuate the shallows. The fish make a brief stop for a week or two along secondary points, then head to the transition banks (where the rock changes from chunk to slab) close to the mouths of the creeks or to the shallows of main lake points. Bass remain in these spots until frigid weather forces them to their wintertime havens.
A variety of patterns work throughout the fall. Buzz baits, spinnerbaits and crankbaits trick bass chasing shad in the shallows of the coves and creeks or when the fish move back to the main lake points and steeper rocky banks. Inactive fish can be taken flipping a jig-and-craw to shallow cover or working a Texas-rigged plastic worm through brush piles on secondary points and transition banks.
Bluff ends and main-lake points adjacent to channel swings are two prime wintertime hideouts for reservoir bass. The fish either suspend in the open water under schools of baitfish or cling to the bottom at the edge of a drop-off. On mild, sunny days, some fish move to brush piles 10 to 15 feet deep in the main lake pockets. Docks sitting along steep channel banks on the main lake or in the bigger creeks also attract winter bass.
Three patterns work best for bass in these wintertime haunts. Jerking a Suspending Pro Rattlin’ Rogue close to the baitfish schools and around the main lake docks coaxes lethargic suspended bass into biting. Dragging a double-tail plastic grub attached to a heavy football jighead along the channel drops catches bottom-hugging fish while a tube jig works best in the brush piles of the deep pockets.
Weather and water conditions slightly alter the timetable of these seasonal migrations, but the basic destinations remain about the same every year. By following the natural highways of creeks and river channels, you can find bass any time of the year on the Lake of the Ozarks.
For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 152-page 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 www.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