Docks Harbor Lake of the Ozarks Bass
At first glance, the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri resembles more of a pleasure boating paradise than a productive bass fishery. But beneath the countless docks harboring off-shore racing boats, personal watercrafts and runabouts lurk schools of black bass.
When construction of the lake’s Bagnell Dam began in 1929, Work Projects Administration (WPA) employees cleared the timber from the areas that would eventually flood. This left the lake devoid of natural cover for fish, but housing development around the lake created new shelters for bass. “One thing that stands out is the amount of docks we have,” says Chad Brauer, who followed in his father’s footsteps by guiding on the Lake of the Ozarks before touring on the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail. ” Lake of the Ozarks has more docks than any lake I’ve fished in the United States. It provides probably more cover for bass to hide under than any other lake in Missouri including Truman and some of the other lakes that have standing timber because docks provide a lot more shade and cover than a tree does.”
Brauer believes this abundance of man-made cover makes his home reservoir one of the top three bass lakes in the state along with Table Rock and Truman. “I definitely rank it among the top 20 in the United States for overall quality and consistency,” says Brauer. “I’ve fished places that have a lot more bigger fish but I’ve fished a lot of places where you don’t catch the 3- to 5- pounders that you catch here.”
The bass population might change some over the years but the techniques for catching bass on Lake of the Ozarks remain about the same. “There are patterns that have remained pretty consistent year after year and a lot of that has to do with the amount of docks we have,” says Brauer. “That’s a pattern in itself. No matter what time of year you’re fishing or what the weather conditions are, you can always fish docks and catch some bass.”
Other structure and cover also produce good bass fishing at times. “Since we have a huge population of Kentuckies, when the fishing gets extremely tough, you can go down a bluff, down-size your bait and
catch spotted bass year-round,” Brauer suggests. Bass also key on the lake’s rocky bottom, especially the pea gravel in the spring, chunk rocks in the early spring or bluff walls in the winter. the lake’s upper ends also have lay-down logs that hold bass in the shallows. “The big secret on Lake of the Ozarks is the man-made cover–all the brush piles,” Brauer discloses. “It takes a lot of time to learn where they are, but once you’ve found them you’ve found fish.”
This 54,000-acre reservoir can be divided into at least three distinct sections. The lower end close to the dam resembles a typical highland reservoir with deep, clear water. As you move to the mid-lake
area, this section still has steep banks, but the water color becomes stained. You encounter typical river conditions of shallower, dirty water and lay-downs strewn along the banks as you run farther up the
Osage and Niangua arms.
March is Brauer’s prime month for catching heavyweight bass since the fish move shallow during the pre-spawn. “Once you key on where the fish are you can pretty much follow them all the way through
the spawn,” says Brauer who also rates March and April as the prime months for catching good numbers of bass. During the pre-spawn, Brauer pitches a jig and plastic chunk along 45-degree chunk rock banks. As the water continues to warm, the fish migrate to pea gravel banks to build nests. Brauer keys on the back sides of docks where walkways and pillars provided shade and protection for spawning bass. His favorite lures during this time are a spinnerbait or crankbait for the most active fish and a jig or plastic worm when bass want a slower presentation.
Most bass have finished spawning by the end of May, so Brauer starts following the fish out towards the end of the docks where they suspend 3 to 5 feet deep under the foam of the floating structure. Effective lures for this post-spawn pattern include Zara Spooks and soft plastic jerkbaits.
Heavy recreational boat traffic limits bass fishing to a nocturnal activity throughout the summer, but some good daytime action returns in the fall. “What you’re doing then is looking for shad,” says Brauer
“When you find the shad you can find the bass as well as all the other species such as white bass and hybrids.”
In early fall, bass move out of the deep brush and suspend under the foam of docks again. A productive pattern during this time is to locate baitfish near the docks and then run a buzz bait, Zara Spook or jerkbait along the dock’s sides. As the water cools down in late fall, the baitfish and bass migrate to the backs of creeks where they can be found on the back sides of shallow docks.
With all those docks floating overhead, Lake of the Ozarks bass have plenty of places to reside year-round.
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.
Reprinted with permission from Bassmaster Magazine.