Upper Lake of the Ozarks Is Summer Bass Fishing Getaway
By John Neporadny Jr.
Bass fishing on Lake of the Ozarks in August? Even the most die-hard bass angler cowers at the thought of having to venture on this pleasure-boat mecca during the heat of summer.
Yet despite all the rocking and rolling waters on most of the lake, the upper reaches of the lake’s Osage arm offer refuge from the pleasure boating crowds—and some good bass action with a minimal amount of fishing pressure. “From Memorial Day to Labor Day there’s not much bass fishing pressure,” says Roger Fitzpatrick, an Eldon, MO, angler who took third place in the 2001 Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American. He notes a few club tournaments are held in August at Drake Harbor, but most of the fishing pressure in that area comes later in the month when tournament anglers begin pre-fishing for fall events.
“Fishing pressure is a lot less up there than it is on some of the other parts of the lake,” says Chad Brauer, a former B.A.S.S. titleholder from Osage Beach, MO.
The run from the lake’s most popular tournament site at Grand Glaize Public Beach 2 to the upper Osage (a one-hour ride even on smooth water) contributes to the lack of angling pressure. “That automatically eliminates quite a few boats from committing to make that long of a run, especially in August,” says Brauer. “If it’s on a weekend you’re going to have 30 miles of real rough water.”
The upper Osage (from Little Buffalo Creek to Truman Dam) is similar to the higher reaches of the Grand Glaize, Niangua and Gravois tributaries. All have stained to murky water and mud flats dotted with lay-downs and submerged logs and brush. However the larger Osage arm contains more mud flats and its water clarity varies more often. “Some of the dirtiest water can typically be found from Cole Camp Creek to the Buffaloes, but then right below Truman Dam can have really clear water sometimes,” discloses Fitzpatrick.
The lake turns into a slow, meandering river in this section and navigation becomes more treacherous. Siltation has filled in the mouths of the feeder creeks, coves and sloughs so anglers need to use extreme caution when navigating on the upper end. Keeping an eye on their electronics helps them follow the channel when running the main lake and find the boat lanes to get into the creeks.
The numerous feeder creeks in this riverine section make it distinct from other sections of the Lake of the Ozarks. “It’s one of the areas on the lake that actually has some of the big creeks that look like traditional creeks with actual channels and bluff banks in the back of them,” says Brauer. “Whereas in the lower end of the lake many of the creeks are big coves that really don’t have distinctive channels.” The backs of the upper Osage arm creeks also contain mud flats, plenty of lay-downs and other natural cover, and a constant flow of water throughout the year.
The most prominent feeder streams in this area include Little Buffalo, Big Buffalo, Deer, Cole Camp and Turkey creeks. Brauer has had plenty of success in Cole Camp and Turkey, but he believes all of the upper Osage creeks produce bass. “There is really not a bad one in the bunch,” he says. “I can think of times when I’ve caught good fish in all of them. They all seem to have good populations of fish.”
If the water level is up, the sloughs within four miles of Truman Dam also produce bass action. “Those are actually a little bit better at times because they don’t get quite as much pressure as the bigger creeks do,” says Brauer. “Maybe they don’t have as many fish in them, but you don’t have as many people going in them. So the fish in there are a little easier to catch.”
The water level determines where Brauer fishes the upper end. His first choice is the creeks if the water level is up. “You start to see more baitfish move toward the backs of those creeks,” says Brauer. “That’s a big key to see a lot of baitfish swimming up on the flats. The weather is still pretty hot but bass are following those baitfish so they really don’t mind that warmer water temperature in the shallows. So that’s really the first place on the Lake of the Ozarks where the fall shallow bite comes on.”
Isolated logs and boat docks along the flats are key targets for Brauer. He usually finds bass anywhere from 1 to 5 feet deep at this time. “The fish get shallower and shallower as the water gets cooler,” he notes. Brauer also concentrates on docks or lay-downs along bluff banks where bass are suspended 2 to 3 feet deep over depths of 10 to 12 feet.
The main channel also produces bass, especially in low-water conditions. “It’s basically the same pattern,” suggests Brauer. “Get out on those flats and fish isolated cover. You’ll see the baitfish there and you know the bass will be there once you see the baitfish move up.”
Brauer relies on two lures to take bass from the upper Osage in August. He usually starts swimming a white 1/4-ounce Strike King Pro Model jig and white pork or plastic grub trailer around the isolated cover or the boat docks. A white or white-and-chartreuse Strike King Elite spinnerbait also works for Brauer. “It’s a matter of getting the spinnerbait around that cover,” says Brauer. “Sometimes you can burn it and then kill it to get strikes.” On cloudy days, Brauer likes to throw a buzz bait along the flats.
A lack of tournaments in August has prevented Fitzpatrick from fishing the upper Osage lately, but throughout the years the Missouri angler relied on boat docks to produce the best pattern in late summer. If the lake was high, Fitzpatrick also ran to the back of creeks to fish the shallow cover.
“I don’t fish anything deeper than 5 feet,” says Fitzpatrick of his targets on the upper end. Fitzpatrick keys on selected docks with brush piles both on the main channel and in the creeks. “There are times when you’ll get bites on both of them but usually if you fish 15 of the best out of each of them you can determine whether the dock pattern on the main lake or in the coves will be the strongest.”
Swimming a jig around the docks is his favorite technique on the upper Osage during August. Fitzpatrick selects a white 3/8-ounce jig tipped with a white plastic grub trailer.
During other times of the year, current affects the fishing in this area. “But in August there usually isn’t any or very little,” says Fitzpatrick. “There are times when the current is going that the fish tend to get around points better but I can only remember a handful of times when there was current in August.”
Brauer also believes water flow has little effect on his patterns then. “Sometimes you’ll get a little bit of current that may stir the baitfish up a little more or get the bass a little bit more active,” he says. “But once the fish move on those shallow flats in the backs of the creeks, current really doesn’t play as much of a role as it does in the summer when the fish are a little bit deeper.”
Largemouth bass dominate the catch on the upper Osage. “You can catch small fish, but it seems like that end of the lake doesn’t have quite as many numbers of 12-inch fish,” says Brauer, who caught his first bass weighing more than 7 pounds on the upper end in August. “You seem to get better quality fish. On a good day on the lower end you might catch 20 to 30 fish. On a good day up there you might catch 15 but your five best are going to be bigger.”
Fitzpatrick offers about the same assessment of the upper Osage’s bass population. “You don’t usually catch a lot of 6-and 7-pounders but there are plenty of 4- and 5-pound fish,” he says. “You are more apt to catch those size fish and lots of keepers.”
Catching quality bass in August on Lake of the Ozarks? It’s possible if you leave the lower lake to the pleasure boaters and seek the solitude of the upper Osage.
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.