Lake of the Ozarks is fishing jewel

By John Neporadny Jr.

Known as one of the Midwest’s most popular vacation spots, Lake of the Ozarks also has a reputation of being one of the best fishing lakes in the country.

Although younger reservoirs appeal to an angler’s eye with flooded timber and undeveloped shorelines, the Lake of the Ozarks entices fishermen with its hidden charms. This 54,000-acre lake lost most of its natural cover when the standing timber was cleared before the lake was formed. New cover has developed over the years as dock owners and anglers have planted brush piles throughout the impoundment. Other fish-holding structure includes steep bluffs, creek channels, humps, and points. Docks provide plenty of shelter for a variety of fish, while lay-downs and log jams are the primary cover for bass, crappie and catfish in the undeveloped sections of the lake. The maximum depth of the lake is around 100 feet.

Summer pool elevation for the lake is 660 feet above sea level, but winter draw down usually drops the lake level to around 652 to 654. Siltation causes the upper end of the lake to remain turbid most of the time, while the lower end of the lake contains clear water. The lake bottom consists primarily of rock, gravel and sand, except in some of the coves, creeks and rivers where siltation has taken place.

Situated in the Osage River basin, the Lake of the Ozarks is fed by two major rivers: the Osage and Niangua. Other main tributaries flowing into the reservoir include the Little Niangua River, Linn, Grand Glaize, Gravois and Little Gravois creeks. The lake is also fed by approximately 1,000 springs and the largest, HaHa Tonka Spring, delivers about 48 million gallons of water a day into the Niangua arm. The Osage arm of the lake runs 92 miles from Bagnell Dam to Truman Dam and the overall shoreline length of the lake is more than 1,150 miles.

The lake is conveniently located in central Missouri, about 175 miles from St. Louis and 165 miles from Kansas City. Many amenities for anglers are available at the lake including more than 100 marinas or marina-related services, over 100 restaurants with more than 40 waterfront establishments, along with numerous campgrounds, resorts, hotels and condominiums.

Lake of the Ozarks came into existence through the Great Osage River Project during the Great Depression. Union Electric, now AmerenUE, started construction on the dam on Aug. 6, 1929 and the lake opened to the public on May 30, 1931. At that time, the Lake of the Ozarks was the largest man-made lake in the world.

Although it has lost its distinction as the largest impoundment in the world, Lake of the Ozarks remains the largest private reservoir in the state and a top destination for anglers throughout the Midwest.

At first glance, the lake resembles a pleasure boating paradise more than a productive fishery. Sprawling condominiums and lavish homes blanket the shoreline. Countless docks harbor offshore racing boats, jet skis, runabouts and yachts.

But looks can be deceiving. Under the water’s surface lurk massive populations of game fish, including largemouth and spotted bass, black and white crappie, white bass, hybrid white bass/stripers, bluegill, walleye, and channel, flathead and blue catfish.

Renowned for its bass fishing, Lake of the Ozarks draws numerous tournaments ranging in size from 10-boat bass club events to 150-boat national circuit contests, which are held each weekend just about year-round. With this sort of attention, the lake receives plenty of fishing pressure, yet still yields heavyweight stringers of bass to tournament competitors.

Heavy boat traffic on the lake during the summer limits most of the major tournament circuits to holding events on the lake in the spring and fall. One local tournament competitor believes this works to the advantage of out-of-town anglers. “Lake of the Ozarks is unique in the fact that in tournaments it is hard to have a local advantage because of the time of the year events are held here,” claims Roger Fitzpatrick, a two-time Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American qualifier from Eldon, Mo. “Tournaments are usually during times of the year when the fish are shallow to where anyone can catch them. There are usually not held here in July where a guy can catch them 30 feet deep on a hump somewhere. So it’s hard to take advantage of those really good spots on this lake that hold fish in the summertime because there are no major tournaments then.”

The lake also consistently produces some of the best crappie fishing in the state each spring and fall. Limits of keeper-size crappie (9 inches or longer) can be taken in the shallows from March through May and again in October through early December. The key to catching crappie the rest of the year is to find some of the hundreds of brush piles sunken at various depths throughout the lake.

White bass are another popular catch in the spring and the fall. Local anglers head for the riffles in the major creeks and tributaries to catch spawning whites in April and May. In the fall, they target wind-blown points and pockets to track down white bass chasing baitfish.

Lake of the Ozarks catfish are an obliging sort. They will eat just about anything you put on a hook and can be taken on a variety of methods throughout the warmer months. The three most popular species to catch at the lake are channel, blue (or white cats as the local anglers call them) and flathead catfish. The lake has a reputation for yielding big blue cats each year and has also produced a former state record flathead catfish, a 66-pounder caught by Howard Brownfield in 1987.

Three state record fish have come from the Lake of the Ozarks. Gene Snelling caught a state record muskellunge (41 pounds, 2 ounces) in 1981; Allen Schweiss landed a 36-pound, 12-ounce smallmouth buffalo in 1986; and Ronald Wagner made the record book in 1980 with a 40-pound, 8-ounce freshwater drum.

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.

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