by John Neporadny Jr.
Spawning Bass at Lake of the Ozarks
The countless fleet of boat docks attracts bass at the Lake of the Ozarks most of the time, except in April when the fish feel the urge to spawn. Then the bass shun their classical floating cover for the temptations of rock (chunk and pea gravel rather than Van Halen or Aerosmith).
This 58,000-acre reservoir lost most of its natural cover when the standing timber was cleared before the lake was formed in 1931. New cover has developed over the years as dock owners and anglers have planted brush piles throughout the lake. Bass also relate to natural structure such as steep bluffs, chunk rock and pea gravel banks, dropoffs and points. Lay-downs and logjams attract bass in the undeveloped coves. Normal pool elevation for the lake is 660 feet above sea level.
The massive impoundment consists of three distinct sections – (1) the lower end including the North Shore and Horseshoe Bend areas and the Gravois arm; (2) the middle lake including the Osage arm from Shawnee Bend to the Hurricane Deck bridge, Linn Creek, the Grand Glaize and the Niangua and Little Niangua; (3) the upper end on the Osage from Hurricane Deck bridge to Truman Dam. Giving tips on how to fish these three sections will be local tournament anglers Bruce Gier and Roger Fitzpatrick, both from Eldon, MO, and Marty McGuire, Camdenton, MO. Let’s look at how these three anglers fish their favorite sections of Lake of the Ozarks during April.
This section of the lake has the deepest and clearest water so it also turns on last in the spring. Whereas bass could be in the prespawn stage on the river arm of the lake, the bass in the dam area could still be deep in mid-April. “That time of year concerns me. If it was March, there would be no problem,” says Gier, who is tough to beat in early spring tournaments when bass prefer weighted stickbaits. But in mid April, the fish start moving off the winter pattern to the pre-spawn stage on the lower end of the lake. “It can be tricky on the North Shore and Gravois then or it can be won there too,” Gier admits.
The water temperature could be in the 40s then, but usually it’s in the 50-degree range. When the water temperature moves into the 50- to 60-degree range, bass in transition become harder for Gier to pattern. “They don’t know whether to chase a Rogue or catch a crawdad,” he says. Bass start moving off the chunk rock banks to the pea gravel or into the brush piles less than 8 feet deep. On sunny days, some fish l suspend under the foam of boat docks. “Those fish are tough to get to strike, though” Gier says. The fish start scattering from one end of a cove to the other, but the biggest bass will still hold on the main lake points and other main channel structure.
If the fish remain on the main lake points, Gier throws a clown-colored Luckycraft Pointer in April. When the water temperature climbs above 50 degrees and the wind starts blowing, he switches to a 1/2-ounce chartreuse-and-white J & J Lures spinnerbait with a gold willowleaf blade and a silver Colorado blade he bumps along the chunk rock banks.
Bass that have moved to the flat gravel banks fall for crawfish-color Wiggle Warts during this time. “Every time you come to a 5- to 8-foot deep brush pile, you better flip a jig into it,” advises Gier, who relied on a jig and pork frog to win the 1992 Lake of the Ozarks Pro-Am in April. “They will hit a jig anytime in April. ” In clear water, Gier prefers pitching a brown 3/8-ounce jig with a brown number 11 pork frog or if the water is off-colored he opts for a black-and-blue combination. If the water temperature rises to 55 degrees, Gier starts dragging a Carolina-rigged plastic lizard in green pumpkin, watermelon seed or pumpkinseed and chartreuse along the gravel banks.
Gier believes the lower end of the lake offers more consistent fishing than the other sections. “You can catch a limit easier there, but you might catch a wad of 15-inchers,” Gier warns. “I’ve come in a lot of times with six fish that have weighed 12 pounds.”
The diversity of structure in this section of the lake give anglers a multiple choice of patterns to try in April “You have shallow-water fishing. You can flip boat docks. You can fish points, dropoffs, bluff lines and brush piles,” suggests Marty McGuire. “You can fish every depth of water you want from 2 to 25 feet.” The back ends of the feeder creeks and upper ends of the other tributaries offer stained to murky water for flipping, or a move to the main channel allows you to fish 20 feet deep in clear water.
“If you can find the fish normally you can catch a good limit in between the Glaize and the Hurricane Deck bridges,” McGuire says. There are just so many different things you can do in that area. That part of the lake will produce just as many consistent winning stringers as any part of the lake.” While bigger fish come from the upper end of the lake during April, this area produces more consistent fishing and has one particular arm that’s similar to the upper Osage. “The Niangua is just like the river. It can produce the big stringer or it produces nothing,” McGuire advises. “You can catch a big bag of fish there or you may never have a bite all day long.” The Grand Glaize arm has dirtier water in the spring, but is a small area that succumbs easily to fishing pressure. McGuire notes the section of the Grand Glaize near the Highway 54 bridge offers better fishing because the area has more boat docks to hold bass.
The water temperature in the mid-section of the lake will range anywhere from the mid-40s or low 50s on the main lake to around 60 degrees in the backs of the tributaries. While some fish will still be deep, the majority of the bass will hold 4 to 9 feet deep. If the water and weather remains cold, McGuire still catches bass on a weighted Rattlin’ Rogue on the main lake points or in the back ends of some coves. He uses a black and gray Rogue for clear water and a fire tiger model for stained conditions.
As the water continues to warm, bass start moving into the back ends of coves to the pea gravel banks. “If they aren’t on pea gravel, they will be at the first bank that has chunk rock close to the pea gravel,” McGuire says. Under normal water conditions, these fish can be taken on Carolina-rigged Zoom plastic lizards in green pumpkin or watermelon seed and chartreuse tail. Crawfish color Wiggle Warts and Bomber Model 6A or 7A crankbaits or a shad-colored Rapala Shap Rap also works well on the gravel banks.
During high and muddy water conditions, McGuire flips a black, black-and-blue or brown 3/8-ounce jig and number 11 or 1 Uncle Josh pork frog into flooded bushes along the secondary points and farther back in the coves. If the lake level remains high but just below the bushes, McGuire searches for the steeper chunk rock banks in the sunshine. “The fish will move right up in them rocks and right up on the banks in the sawdust, “McGuire says.
This section of the lake has the same structure and cover as the other areas, but it tends to have more stained water that warms up faster in the spring. The section also contains plenty of chunk rock and pea gravel banks bass prefer during that time of year. In the shallower muddy creeks or the upper end of the river, the water temperature could be in the 60- to 65-degree range by mid-April while the water down by the Hurricane Deck Bridge could be in the mid 50s.
“The river can be awfully good in April,” says Roger Fitzpatrick, who grew up fishing this section of the lake. “I like the Hurricane Deck area because there’s some ‘nothing looking’ banks there that nobody ever fishes with a crankbait.” Other areas he favors include the Little and Big Buffalo, Cole Camp and Turkey creeks.
Most fish in the river section will be in the prespawn stage although some will be attempting to nest. One of the biggest drawbacks to this area in the spring is the influence of Truman Dam. “If everything is stable up there at that time of year, you can really have a good day. If the fish are trying to go up on the beds and they are sucking the lake down, it makes it a little tougher there,” says Fitzpatrick, who suggests fishing down around the Hurricane Deck area since the staging fish in that section are less affected by Truman Dam.
Wiggle Warts and Bomber Model A crankbaits produce plenty of bass during mid-April on the upper Osage. Fitzpatrick suggests throwing the crankbaits on 10- to 12-pound test line and retrieving the lure slowly. The key is to keep the lure in contact with the gravel bottom in the coves. Fitzpatrick also targets lay-downs and boat docks less than 5 feet deep along the flats in the coves. He usually tries to catch a limit of fish by flipping a 3/8-ounce jig and craw in a black-and-blue combination, then he pursues kicker fish by slow rolling a chartreuse-and-white or yellow-and-white spinnerbait with gold blades.
When fishing the Lake of the Ozarks this April, remember the bass start to rock on this reservoir just before the recreational boaters do. 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 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.