Lake of the Ozarks Fast Lane to Great Fishing
While cursed by many anglers, recreational boat traffic is a blessing in disguise for bass at the Lake of the Ozarks.
“Bass don’t get any fishing pressure here in the summertime,” says 1997 BASS Masters Classic champion and FLW pro Dion Hibdon, who started guiding on this central Missouri lake before he even got his driver’s license. “We get very little fishing pressure even during the spawn because most of the bass spawn in May and a lot of the big boats are already out by then.”
When balmy weather arrives in May, the fleets of cabin cruisers, off-shore racing boats, pleasure boats, house boats and jet skis churn the waters and chase bass anglers off the lake. Hibdon believes this lack of fishing pressure helps bass recuperate from the spawn and protect their fry, which increases the survival rate of young bass. “The boat traffic then gives those young bass a good start and it shows,” the Stover, Mo., angler says. ” We have just as good of a bass population as any lake in the country.”
Constructed during the Great Depression, 54,000-acre Lake of the Ozarks was the largest man-made lake when it officially opened May 30, 1931. Fed by the Osage and Niangua rivers, the reservoir can be divided into three distinct sections. The lower end near Bagnell Dam typifies a highland reservoir with its deep, clear water. The mid-lake section still has steep banks, but the water turns stained. As you move up the Osage and Niangua arms, you run into typical river conditions of shallow, dirty water and lay-downs scattered along the banks.
“The lake has an extremely good river system that is partly current-oriented,” says Hibdon. Bass can be caught 2 to 3 feet deep year-round in the riverine sections of the lake. Bass-holding structure throughout the lake includes creek and river channel bends, bluffs, points and flats. Most of the banks consist of either chunk rock or pea gravel.
Potential bass cover vanished when developers removed most of the timber before the lake was filled. But bass found new havens when boat docks spread over the impoundment. “That’s kind of the ultimate cover,” says Hibdon. “You can get a bait down through grass or brush, but there is absolutely no way you can fish a boat dock completely. Docks also have lots of places for bass fry to hide behind and get bigger.”
Docks usually have another piece of man-made cover nearby. “Every boat dock has a little dab of brush around it,” says Hibdon. Thousands of docks dot the lake, but certain ones produce more bass.
The pre-spawn (March and April) rates as Hibdon’s best time to catch quality bass and numbers of fish. The whole lake produces consistent action in the late spring and throughout the summer, Hibdon says. During early summer, the touring pro relies on shad-pattern crankbaits to catch bass roaming along points or 7- and 8-inch plastic worms for fish holding in brush less than 10 feet deep. He prefers a motor oil worm in the clear water and black or tequila sunrise worm in the stained sections of the lake. Later in the summer, Hibdon works a 10-inch plastic worm or a deep-diving crankbait through the brush. The boat traffic drives bass 15 to 20 feet deep on the lower end of the lake. You can catch bass in shallower brush the farther you move up the rivers.
The summer heat and increased boat traffic turn bass into nocturnal feeders. Night fishing is excellent on the Lake of the Ozarks from the end of June through September on the lower end of the lake. A five-fish limit weighing more than 20 pounds is sometimes required to win local weeknight tournaments running 3 1/2 hours.
A black spinnerbait worked through the brush produces at night through June. Later in the summer, local anglers switch to a 10-inch plastic worm which they crawl along the rocky bottom or through brush on main and secondary points.
The lake is an ideal spot to combine a fishing trip with a family vacation. Nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks, the lake’s 1,150 miles of shoreline and its surrounding communities draw more than 3 million visitors a year to partake in the area’s limitless recreational opportunities. Water sports include swimming at beaches and pools at the area resorts, motels or condominiums, waterskiing, parasailing, and boating. Full-service marinas rent speedboats, houseboats, pontoons, jet skis, fishing boats, paddleboats and sailboats. Other recreation available in the area includes golf, horseback riding, tennis, hiking, bowling and trap shooting.
Numerous restaurants, ranging from fast-food to gourmet, are scattered throughout the lake area, including several eateries located on the lake with access by land or water. Many lodging facilities are available ranging from cabins and condominiums to hotels, motels and luxury resorts. The lake also has plenty of public campgrounds and tent and trailer campsites in the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. The 17,203-acre park, the largest in the Missouri park system, also has two free swimming beaches, boat launching facilities, boat rentals and hiking trails. Tourists also visit Ha Ha Tonka State Park to view the area’s scenic valley, high bluffs, rocky slopes and the ruins of Ha Ha Tonka castle, a European-style mansion built in 1922 but gutted 20 years later by a fire.
Another tourist attraction is the mile-long area near the dam known as “The Strip.” This area houses boutiques, craft, souvenirs and T-shirt shops, restaurants, arcades and amusements for the whole family. Families can also be entertained at the lake’s amusement centers such as Big Surf Water Park, Big Shot Fun Park, Miner Mike’s Adventure Zone and the area’s numerous miniature golf courses and go-kart race tracks.
Shoppers can visit the Factory Outlet Village in Osage Beach or other craft and antique shops around the lake. The area also hosts a variety of festivals and special events throughout the year and offers traditional Ozark-style music shows. Scheduled shows normally run from April through October with Christmas shows in November and December.
The Lake of the Ozarks is the only tourist destination in the United States with four show caves within 30 miles of each other. Guided tours are available at Bridal Cave, Jacob’s Cave Fantasy World Caverns and Ozark Caverns.
There’s enough attractions and recreational activities at the Lake of the Ozarks to keep your whole family entertained during a summer vacation. The highlight of your trip though will be the early morning topwater action or nocturnal thrills of fighting a hefty bass burrowed in a brush pile.
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.
(Reprinted with permission from Bassmaster Magazine)