Catching Bass on Lake of the Ozarks’ Niangua Arm
The winding Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks resembles a large river more than a reservoir since it has few major coves and a narrow main channel for most of its length. However this riverine section annually yields some big bass.
“Most of the banks there all look the same so you have to fish something with some type of drop-off to it,” suggests Marty McGuire, a veteran bass tournament competitor and owner of Marty’s Marine in Osage Beach. No major creeks run into the Niangua, but it is fed by another large tributary, the Little Niangua River.
Since it’s farther away from the popular tournament site at PB2, the Niangua seems to experience less fishing pressure from bass anglers. However, the arm receives plenty of traffic—especially in the spring–from crappie anglers, who launch their boats at the Larry R. Gale Conservation Access.
This section of the lake has a reputation of producing big bass each year. “There are a lot of great big fish on that arm, but you don’t just go up there and catch one of them,” warns McGuire, who believes the largest concentration of heavyweight bass are probably in the milfoil of the HaHa Tonka Springs cove. “You could go up there and fish a month and never get a bite and then pull up in there one day and catch 20 out of it, including a 10-pounder. Probably 90 percent of the fish that I’ve caught over 7 pounds on this lake have come from the Niangua.” He rates April as the prime time to catch a big bass on the Niangua, but September and October are also good months for lunkers there.
In extremely cold weather during January, McGuire relies on a 3-inch green pumpkin tube attached to a 1/8- or 1/ 4-ounce jighead. He slowly worksthe lure on 8-pound test line through brush piles and along points.
When the water temperature ranges from 39 to 45 degrees in January and February, McGuire depends on a medium-diving suspending stickbait that he twitches on spinning tackle with 8-pound line. His favorite hue for clear water is black back, yellow and green sides and chartreuse belly) while a gray ghost model (black back and gray sides) produces best for him in tinted water.
McGuire slowly pulls the Rogue over brush piles 10 to 12 feet deep along bluff points and pockets. “The slower you fish it, the better chance a bass has to eat it,” he advises.
When the water temperature climbs above 46 degrees, McGuire switches to a Storm Lures Wiggle Wart crankbait that he runs on 8- to 10-pound test along flatter banks leading into pockets. His favorite crankbait colors are black-and-chartreuse for dirty water and brown-and-orange in clear water.
The local angler also relies on a brown-and-chartreuse or brown-and-orange finesse jig tipped with a green pumpkin plastic craw that he ties on 8- to 10-pound line. McGuire pitches to the bank and crawls the jig back over big rocks and logs 6 to 8 feet deep. “The fish don’t seem to get awful deep there,” claims McGuire. “Even when the water temperature is around 40 degrees I catch most of my fish from 6 to 10 feet deep.”
During the spawn, some bass can be caught by sight fishing around docks in the clear water section near the Highway 5 Bridge. McGuire looks for nesting fish behind docks and along seawalls in the flat pockets. His favorite lures for bedding bass include white, pink or green floating worms and Zoom Flukes, white tube baits and a jig-and-craw combo. McGuire also uses floating stickbaits that he rips through the nest to trigger a reaction strike. Spinning tackle and 8- to-10-pound test line are McGuire’s choice for the soft plastics; he relies on bait-casting tackle and 15-pound test line for fishing the jig behind the docks. Depending on the moon phases and the weather, the spawn on the Niangua usually occurs in the middle to latter part of April, McGuire discloses.
A 1/2-ounce Crock-O-Gator buzz bait produces bass for McGuire during the post spawn. He favors a white buzzer on sunny days and a black model during overcast weather. If the fish blow up and continue to miss the buzz bait, McGuire switches to a Heddon Super Spook in black, clear or shad pattern hues. He works the topwater lures around big rocks, concrete pillars of docks or shallow brush in areas close to the spawning banks.
Bass sometimes can be taken flipping a jig-and-craw during a hot summer day. “It is so unpredictable there in the daytime of summer,” cautions McGuire. “You can go up the rivers, get on the mud flats and flip the shallow boat docks and one day you may catch 50 fish, but you may go back and not have a bite there for a month.” McGuire also flips a Texas-rigged magnum tube (green pumpkin or black with red flake) to the shallow docks.
The most consistent bass action on the Niangua is at night. McGuire opts for 10-inch Berkley Power Worms or 6- to 7-inch paddle tail worms that he drags through brush piles 10 to 15 feet deep along main lake points, ledges and steep banks. His favorite worm colors are red shad or black for the Power Worms and green pumpkin for the paddle tails. He throws the worms on 20-pound line throughout most of the summer, although he scales down to 15-pound test late in the season to get more bites.
In September, McGuire continues to flip the jig or tube along rows of shallow boat docks. When the water cools down to the lower 60s in October, McGuire runs a spinnerbait or swims a jig along the sides of docks. He selects a white 3/8- to 1/ 2-ounce jig combined with a white pork chunk to imitate shad in the fall and attaches the combo to 20-pound test line. Most of the time, McGuire steadily cranks the jig next to the dock’s foam and lets it drop at the corner of the dock before reeling it in for another pitch.
For information on lodging 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.