By John Neporadny Jr
Fishing the James River
When the summertime heat and recreational boat traffic slows down the fishing action on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake, bass anglers can seek a quiet refuge on one of the reservoir’s major tributaries.
While the James arm of Table Rock is well known for its bass fishery, the riverine section is almost ignored as a float-fishing destination. Pete Wenners, a Table Rock Lake guide from Galena, MO, takes advantage of the solitude of the river during the summer when the lake gets too busy. On some days the guide has the river to himself and on other trips he might see only one or two other boats floating the James. Despite the summertime heat, the daytime fishing remains good on the river because the current keeps the water cooler than the lake.
Depending on the lake level, Wenners floats the river from the middle of June to August. “I try to go before the river gets too low so we don’t have to do much paddling,” he admits.
The current during this time usually flows about 1 ½ to 2 miles per hour, so Wenners tries to float 10 or 11 miles in a day. “That gives us some time to stop at some holes,” he says. “A lot of times we carry an anchor and if we get to a deep hole that looks pretty good will drop the anchor or we’ll pull up on the bank and fish it.”
Wenners usually begins his float at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) access at Hooten Town and takes out at the MDC H.L Kerr access at Horse Creek. However if the river has enough current, he continues his float down to Galena. The five-mile stretch from Horse Creek to Galena has good holes with grass for fishing, but Wenners warns that you might have to paddle a lot if the current is slow.
Flat-bottom johnboats powered by trolling motors or small outboards can be used for the river, but Wenners believes it’s easier to float the river with a canoe. You can put in a canoe at public accesses available throughout this stretch of the river.
The river produces plenty of action for bass and sunfish. “You’d be surprised at what you catch,” says Wenners. “Normally we go after smallmouth but we’ll catch Kentuckies, crappies and largemouth.” He estimates smallmouth make up about 75 percent of his catch with spotted bass the next most frequently caught species.
On a normal day, Wenners catches 40 to 50 fish. “In that 40 or 50 you can have anywhere from five to as many as 15 legal size (15-inch) bass,” he says. The local guide has taken several smallies in the 3-pound range and his biggest James River smallmouth weighed about 3 ½ pounds.
Riffles next to deep holes are key spots to catch smallmouth. “Usually we get a lot of fish in the fast water right in the bends,” says Wenners. “If there is any kind of wood or rocks or any kind of break in the water where it chokes down there are usually one or two fish.”
The fish remain shallow on the river throughout the day. Wenners usually finds them about 3 to 4 feet deep in the grass or logjams and about 5 to 6 feet deep on the backsides of riffles.
The confluence of the James and Crane Creek is another ideal spot to try. “The water drops about 5 to 8 degrees coming out of Crane Creek,” says Wenners. The deep hole at the confluence of the two streams has produced big smallmouth for Wenners.
Down-sizing lures is a key to catching bass on the river. Wenners likes to work a white or chartreuse-and-white 3/16-ounce spinnerbait with gold and nickel blades next to the grass or in the current next to a log or rock. The grass is also key cover for Wenners to run a white or white-and-chartreuse 3/16-ounce buzz bait.
“They’ll bite that spinnerbait or buzz bait at high noon even if there’s not a cloud in the sky,” he says. “Sometimes it seems like they bite better late in the day.”
When he approaches logjams, Wenners flips a brown or black 3/16-ounce jig tipped with a brown or black Zoom Critter Craw. The little jig or a Texas-rigged Critter Craw (1/8-ounce worm weight) tricks both bass and goggle-eye. Another productive flipping lure for Wenners is a green pumpkin or watermelon 4-inch Zoom finesse worm Texas-rigged with a 1/8-ounce worm weight. The local angler prefers 10-pound test line with bait-cast tackle for flipping his lightweight lures and cranking spinnerbaits and buzz baits.
Two crankbaits that produce a variety of species for Wenners are Rapala Risto Raps and Storm Lures Wee Warts in crawfish (brown or green and orange) hues. He cranks these lures with a 6 ½-foot spinning rod and spinning reel filled with 6- or 8-pound test line.
The James River proves its excellent bass fishing extends beyond its impounded section of Table Rock Lake. The river itself is ideal for bass anglers wanting to avoid the summertime crowds and catch fish even in the heat of the day.
For information on shows, lodging and attractions in the Table Rock Lake or Lake Taneycomo area or to receive a free vacation guide, call the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-877-BRANSON or visit the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB web site at www.explorebranson.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.