Bass Fishing in the Snow
The first winter storm of the season for central Missouri arrived just as competition began for the 1997 BASSMASTER Central Invitational at Lake of the Ozarks.
The heaviest snowfall occurred on the first day of competition when some areas around the lake received 1 to 2 inches of accumulation. Light snow mixed with rain was the norm for the next two rounds.
Snowy days scare off fair-weather fishermen, but hard-core anglers know it’s worth the trouble to bear the wet and cold because snow turns on bass. “I think it makes (fishing) pretty good actually,” says Jay Yelas, the winner of the Lake of the Ozarks event he has dubbed the Snow Bowl. “The first thing it does is it acts like a rainstorm. It’s a low-pressure system coming in and it gets real dark. You can catch fish a variety of ways then.”
The Texas angler relied on a slow presentation with a 1/2-ounce Berkley Rattle Power Jig and a Berkley Power Frog to take 11 bass weighing 41 pounds, 4 ounces during three days of miserably cold and wet weather. Yelas’ pattern consisted of crawling the jig-and-frog combo through brush piles and along the rock bottom about 10 feet deep next to docks. Even though the dark skies should have kept the fish active throughout the tournament, Yelas stuck with his slow presentation because he believed the dropping water temperature drove his fish to the bottom.
The weather prior to a snowstorm can affect how bass react. Bass become active if the weather has been warm for awhile and then a drastic change leads to a snowstorm. However, if it snows after several days of cold, big bass in particular get locked on the bottom.
One Lake of the Ozarks angler looks forward to snow days. “I like to fish those days,” says Roger Fitzpatrick. “Normally (the snow) makes it a lot better. If it is snowing there’s a front coming through and whenever that happens any time of the year the fishing is a lot better. But the day after when it’s gone and there are bluebird skies is when it gets tougher. That even holds true during the winter. When you have wind and clouds and the water is clear, the fishing is a lot better.”
While some guys stay inside when it’s sleeting or snowing on practice days of a tournament, Fitzpatrick bears the inclement weather. “If I’ve got a day off or a chance to go fishing, I go regardless of the weather because sooner or later that is going to happen on a tournament day,” says Fitzpatrick. “And then I will know those spots where a load of big bass might show up on those type of days, whereas under normal conditions those big fish don’t bite.”
Snowstorms throughout the seasons affect fishing differently. “The fishing is a lot better during a fall snow than it is during a spring snow,” suggests Yelas. “A spring snow just knocks the water temperature down so low that there is hardly any activity, but generally in the fall the main lake is still petty warm so the falling water temperature doesn’t affect the fish nearly as much.” The situation is reversed in the spring as the main lake is cold and active fish are in the warmer, shallow pockets. So when the snow and cold hits, the water temperature drops drastically in the shallows and bass become lethargic.
Fitzpatrick has taken Lake of the Ozarks bass during snowstorms in the fall, winter and spring. He recalls catching bass on a buzz bait on a day mixed with snow and sleet around Thanksgiving. “That’s different,” Fitzpatrick says of the fall snow days. “The water hasn’t gotten cold yet and the fish are feeding up for the winter.”
During the mid-November 1997 Bassmaster invitational at Lake of the Ozarks, some of the contestants fared well on buzz baits and spinnerbaits during the snowy weather. “Any time it’s raining or snowing, a general rule of thumb is to pick up a spinnerbait,” advises Yelas. He recalls Springfield, MO, competitor Basil Bacon took second place and caught a limit all three days on a spinnerbait. The tournament veteran used his Brush Rat spinnerbait, a long-armed 3/8-ounce model with a pair of large Colorado blades, that he waked over launch ramps and secondary points where the bank changed from gravel to chunk rock.
Van Buren, AR, angler Ricky Scott tied for third in the Bassmaster event by relying mainly on a crankbait pattern in the snow. Scott bumped a shad-colored Bandit crankbait into the tops of brush piles to take most of his fish. A fast-moving bait also worked for St. Charles, MO, angler Chris Randell as he finished fifth in the Snow Bowl event. Despite the dropping water temperatures, Randell stuck with a 1/2-ounce white Strike King Pro Buzz with a red blade and finished with a three-day total of 12 bass weighing 37 pounds, 6 ounces.
During the winter and early spring, Fitzpatrick drags a plastic grub along the bottom on calm, sunny days, but when the wind starts to blow and the snow falls he prefers a faster moving lure to catch heavyweight bass. If the water temperature is frigid, he depends on a suspending stickbait for snowy days. When a snowstorm hits in March after the water has warmed into the upper 40s, Fitzpatrick uses either a spinnerbait or Storm Lures Wiggle Wart crankbait.
Water clarity plays a key role in determining where to fish on snowy days. Both Yelas and Fitzpatrick prefer fishing the lake’s clear water when it snows. During the BASSMASTER invitational, Yelas noticed the action continued to slow up the Osage arm where the water was dirty. So he concentrated on the clearer water of the Osage arm around the Grand Glaize bridge. Bacon consistently caught fish each day in the clear-water stretch from the Grand Glaize bridge to the Shawnee Bend bridge and Randell also took his fish on the lower end of the Osage.
Any time it’s cloudy, windy, rainy or snowy, Fitzpatrick seeks the clearest water he can find. Even when he’s fishing the stained upper end of the lake, Fitzpatrick looks for the clearest water available if the weather turns from sunny skies to clouds and snow. “The fish can see the lure better (in the clear water) and I think they are feeding then so they are going to come and get it,” says Fitzpatrick.
Tournament anglers have proven throughout the years that snowstorms produce big sacks of bass from late fall to early spring. So the next time you’re on the Lake of the Ozarks and the skies look threatening, you might want to start singing that old Christmas jingle, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
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.