Catering to anglers of all ages and skills, the Lake of the Ozarks has a rich tradition of introducing its visitors to the sport of fishing.
Whether competing in a bass tournament or relaxing on a dock and tight-lining for catfish, you have plenty of opportunities to catch fish from this 54,000-acre reservoir. Competitive anglers flock to the lake because they know it contains a quality bass population. The lake’s numerous crappie, white bass and catfish also provide lots of action for recreational fishermen throughout the year. But the lake’s most abundant– and probably it’s best– fishing asset is the sunfish.
While they pursue bass, crappie, catfish and white bass now, skilled anglers visiting the Lake of the Ozarks probably got started in the sport by catching bluegill, green sunfish, pumpkinseeds and other small sunfish. These diminutive panfish abound in the Lake of the
Ozarks and each year introduce a new generation of anglers to the sport.
The lake also offers plenty of comfortable and easy places to catch sunfish with it numerous boat docks. When my wife was a child, she caught her first fish at her uncle’s dock and our daughters were introduced to the sport by catching bluegill at the same dock.
The best time to catch bluegill is a hot, sunny summer afternoon, which makes covered docks ideal spots for kids to fish because the floating structure provides plenty of shade and reduces the risk of sunburn. The docks also offer shelter and food for the throngs of sunfish swimming under the piers. Plenty of sunfish and other gamefish are attracted to resort docks because the owners or caretakers sink brush piles in the wells and along the sides of the docks. These spots provide hours of consistent fishing action, which is necessary to get the beginning angler hooked on the sport .
After fishing for bass or crappie from your boat in the morning, you can spend the summertime afternoon on the resort dock teaching your children how to fish. Even though they’re on a flat, stable surface, children should wear a life jacket while fishing on a dock. Sometimes the excitement of hooking a fish can cause youngsters to lean over the water to look at the fish, and they could end up in the lake.
When introducing children to fishing, I recommend you equip them with a short, lightweight rod and a simple spincast reel, such as the Zebco 202 model, filled with 8- or 10-pound line. Light line works best even for these aggressive sunfish, because the panfish become wary of the monofilament after a couple of fish have been hooked. Since sunfish have such tiny mouths, you should tie on small hooks such as a size 4 or 6 straight-shanked model. You can either drop your bait straight down and tight-line with a BB split shot or without any weight. For the first-time angler, I suggest attaching a small BB split shot to the line and the smallest bobber you can find. This makes it easier for beginning anglers to detect strikes
because they can just watch for the bobber to submerge. If you attach too large of a bobber, the float causes too much resistance when the fish grabs the bait, which causes the bluegill to spit it out. Novice anglers tend to let sunfish run too long with the bait and the fish tend to swallow the hook, so you also need a pair of needlenose pliers for dislodging hooks.
Despite their small size, sunfish have large appetites and aren’t choosy about what they eat. Some baits we have used over the year to catch these panfish include worms, a piece of hot dog, wax worms, corn and artificial baits such as Berkley Power Wigglers. We have even caught some green sunfish (the most voracious eaters in the lake) on bare hooks.
When using a worm cut it into pieces, so the bait will be easier to thread on the hook and harder for the sunfish to take off without getting stuck. Putting the whole piece of worm on the hook allows the bluegill to bite off pieces of the worm and avoid the hook. Since cutting worms into pieces creates such a mess, I prefer baiting a youngster’s hook with a cricket. Bluegill crave these insects, which are easy to place on a hook without all the mess. Simply stick the hook through the collar behind the cricket’s head and thread it through the body and out the bug’s belly for the best results. I recommend taking along 50 to 100 crickets for a day on the dock because sunfish devour these bugs in a hurry and you’ll also lose some when you’re trying to hook them and they jump out of your hand.
If you’re too squeamish to hook on a messy worm or a fidgety cricket, you can use the easiest and cheapest bait for sunfish. Rolling up a piece of bread and kneading it onto the hook will also catch plenty of sunfish. One trick for catching these little fish when the action slows is to tear up pieces of bread and drop them into the water. The falling bread crumbs attract sunfish from all directions and triggers a feeding frenzy. Have your children drop their pieces of bread on a hook into the middle of this action and they’ll immediately get bites.
The resort docks at the Lake of the Ozarks are great places to teach a kid how to fish. Spending a couple of hours with them catching bluegill off the dock will introduce your kids to a sport they can enjoy the rest of their lives and then carry on a family tradition by teaching their children when they return to the lake for their summer vacations.
For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 162-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.