Lake of the Ozarks Crappie Fishing

Lake of the Ozarks’ Niangua arm popular spot for crappie anglers

By John Neporadny Jr.

It’s farther away from the popular tournament site at Lake of the Ozarks State Park PB2 access so the Niangua arm 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.

The winding Niangua arm resembles a large river more than a reservoir since it has few major coves and a narrow main channel for most of its length. No major creeks run into the Niangua, but it is fed by another large tributary, the Little Niangua River.

Guy Winters lives on the Niangua arm and has fished for crappie on Lake of the Ozarks for more than 20 years. He also has conducted seminars on crappie fishing at boat shows throughout the Midwest.

Vertical jigging the brush piles and big rocks along the bluffs and channel breaks is Winters’ best tactic for catching wintertime crappie on the Niangua. The fish will move up to 15 feet deep if the barometer has been steady, but will drop to the bottom 18 to 25 feet if the weather turns nasty. Winters relies on Laker Nailer tubes and Curlybugs (red-and-white or smoke-and-pearl) attached to 4-pound test line.

During the prespawn stage (55- to 60-degree water) crappie move up to brush piles 10 to 12 feet deep and progressively move shallower as the water continues to warm. Winters targets the north banks, which warm up quicker, and looks for chunk rocks. He switches to a 1/16-ounce jighead and Curlybug that he retrieves at a slow pace. If the water is muddy, Winters opts for a chartreuse or chartreuse-and-pearl Curlybug, but if the water is clear, he selects the smoke-and-pearl model.

“The Niangua is a shallower arm of the lake so consequentially it warms up quicker and cools down quicker and the timing is different there,” suggests Winters. “The fish will spawn earlier because the water warms up faster, and they will move toward deep water earlier in the fall of the year than they do the rest of the lake.”

The spawn on this arm usually occurs the last week of April or the first week of May when the water temperature is 64 to 65 degrees. Winters uses a 1/16-ounce Curlybug and 8-pound test line so the lure will fall slowly in the shallows. Some fish will stay in the brush piles 10 feet deep while others move 4 to 5 feet deep or as shallow as 18 inches if the water is dingy. “The lake has been clearing up over the years so you might have to fish in 6 to 8 feet of water,” advises Winters.

After the spawn, Winters follows crappie along the same migration route the fish used during the prespawn. If the wind is blowing he can catch crappie all day on a Curlybug and 6-pound line, but on sunny calm days, the best action is early in the morning and late evening.

Catching crappie can be tough during the summer; so Winters suggests fishing off of docks with lights at night. The best docks sit over a least 20 feet of water and have plenty of brush underneath. A light shining into the water attracts baitfish and crappie.

“The bigger fish are on the outer perimeter of the light almost in the shade of it,” discloses Winters. “There is also a bottom perimeter of light because it only penetrates so deep. You catch a lot of little fish in the light but a lot of times I use an 1/8-ounce jighead to get it down through the smaller fish and work the outer perimeter to catch bigger crappie.” His favorite jig colors for night fishing include chartreuse, black-and-chartreuse or shad patterns.

A fall feeding binge usually occurs for about two weeks when the fish move as shallow as 3 feet. This feeding spree can run any time from October to December depending on the weather. A drop in the water temperature into the low 50s triggers this action, and it usually ends when the water dips below 42 degrees. Winters catches these active fish on the same lures he uses in the springtime.

101 Bass Fishing Tips, John Neporadny Jr.

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“The fall fishing is the best on the Niangua,” hints Winters. “There is less competition then, and you are going to catch bigger fish than you do during the spawn because the females feed more in the fall than they do in the spring.”

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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