Always well-known as one of the Midwest’s most popular vacation spots, the Lake of the Ozarks has also quietly developed into a top-rated bass reservoir throughout the years.
This 58,000-acre lake in central Missouri generates year-round action for both largemouth and spotted bass. Fed by the Osage, Grand Glaize and Niangua rivers, this massive reservoir runs 92 miles long and offers anglers more than 1,000 miles of shoreline and numerous deep-water structures to fish.
The lack of recreational boat traffic makes winter a popular season for bass anglers at the Lake of the Ozarks. On mild days in December and January, local anglers concentrate on main lake points for largemouths and bluff walls for spotted bass. Popular lures include a plastic grub or a Fat Gitzit on a 1/4-ounce jighead, which should be dropped to depths of 15 to 30 feet. The best wintertime spots are the clear-water areas close to the dam, the lower Osage arm and the mouths of the Niangua and Gravois arms.
More patterns start to develop in February. Weighted deep-diving stick baits work best along main and secondary points in the Grand Glaize, Niangua and Gravois arms. Bass start moving shallower in these tributary arms since the water tends to warm faster than the main lake. Bass can be taken right along the bank on the Niangua arm, but in most areas of the tributaries the fish hold at 6 to 8 feet deep. Some of the most productive spots are big chunk rock secondary points in the backs of the major coves. Bluff-end points also hold plenty of staging fish.
The weighted stick bait pattern usually produces best in late February through March. Anglers use either the manufacturer’s suspending models or modify floating stick baits with a variety of weights. These lures are one of the more prominent big stringer baits in March. The key to catching these lethargic bass in the cold, clear water is a slow retrieve which keeps the lure suspended in the bass’ strike zone.
In this late winter-early spring stage, bass also start gorging on crawfish in the shallows. Storm Wiggle Warts or Bomber Model A crankbaits produce best during this time. On warm, sunny days, you can also catch bass flipping a jig and pork frog in the upper arms of the tributaries.
The lake usually yields its heaviest stringers of bass from March through the end of April. Bass will be in the pre-spawn and spawning stages in April and May when a multitude of patterns unfold. Some of the top-producing lures in the spring include jerk baits, crankbaits, jigs and pork frogs and plastic lizards. Dragging a Carolina-rigged plastic lizard along pea gravel banks and pockets in the backs of the big creeks and coves is one of the most productive springtime tactics.
Anglers can sight fish for bedding bass in the clearer arms of the lake, such as the Gravois and areas around the dam. However, some anglers prefer running up the Osage arm to find dirtier water, which causes bass to spawn shallower and hit lures more aggressively. The upper Osage becomes an excellent area to flip a jig when the lake level rises and floods the shoreline bushes. Depending on the weather, the spawn usually starts anywhere from the second week of April and runs into late May.
Some fish start using the lake’s numerous docks as cover for spawning in the spring. The best dock patterns usually run from the post-spawn stage through fall.
After the spawn, bass pull back to the main lake points or steep bluff banks and suspend under docks which offer cover and shade. Post spawn is a prime time to catch bass on a variety of topwater lures.
Fishing can be good during the summer if you avoid the peak times of recreational activity. Early and late in the day, bass move up shallow on the points to feed, but when the pleasure boating activity increases, the fish drop down to the bottom even as deep as 35 feet on main-lake points or under docks along steep banks.
The best fishing for the average angler occurs in the early morning. Try throwing small topwater lures, such as a Rebel Pop-R or Heddon Tiny Torpedo to catch spotted bass along main lake points in the clear-water areas from the dam to the 22-mile mark. Other productive morning lures include Zara Spooks, crankbaits and plastic worms. From June through early September, the best methods for taking bass during mid-day is working Texas-or Carolina-rigged 7- to 11-inch plastic worms along points and in deep brush piles under docks.
The lake’s lower end also offers excellent nocturnal action for bass during the summertime. A 10- to 11-inch plastic worm worked slowly through main lake brush produces some heavyweight catches during this time. A general guideline for summertime fishing on Lake of the Ozarks is to concentrate on the dirty-water arms during the day and the clear-water areas at night.
The prime season for catching numbers of bass at Lake of the Ozarks is the fall. If the lake level rises and floods the shoreline vegetation, bass can be caught in the weeds on buzz baits or flipping jigs and plastic worms. Bass follow baitfish into the shallows of the creeks where they can be taken on plastic worms and lizards, jigs and pork frogs, topwater lures, spinnerbaits and stick baits.
Throwing a spinnerbait around shallow docks on the flats of the upper Osage arm is one of the most productive fall patterns. Working a Zara Spook around the same docks also takes bass, especially on cloudy days.
In November and early December, bass migrate out of the creeks back towards the main lake points. Along the route, bass suspend around docks that have plenty of brush or deep-water structure, such as creek channel swings, underneath the floating cover. The fish tend to stack up this time of year and seem to group by size as anglers can frequently catch several 3- to 4-pounders from one spot. One effecive technique for these bass is to cast a jig and pork frog around the docks and let the lure fall into the brush piles. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits retrieved through the suspended fish also work well then.
The Lake of the Ozarks has plenty of year-round accommodations available no matter which season you enjoy fishing. A multitude of motels and family resorts and private campground sites are spread throughout the lake area. Public campsites are available at the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. The lake also has numerous marinas, along with public and private launch ramps. 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. Although best known as a summer vacation hot spot, the Lake of the Ozarks has quietly become a choice Midwest location for bass anglers to visit during any season.
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.