By Marc Rogers
Located in Southwest Missouri, just minutes from Branson, is a beautiful body of water often overlooked by tourist seeking entertainment along Branson’s famous Highway 76 strip. Table Rock Lake is an Ozark impoundment featuring deep pristine water created with the construction of Table Rock Dam on the White River in 1958. The lake covers over 43,000 surface acres at 915 feet above mean sea level and has shoreline of 745 miles. All but a small area of the lake is within the borders of Missouri. A small portion is in Arkansas.
Table Rock Lake is home to many species of fish but the most sought by anglers are the Largemouth, Smallmouth and Kentucky (Spotted) Bass. There are fishing tournaments available for competitive anglers almost every weekend of the year. Table Rock Lake has been host to national events by B.A.S.S. and FLW Outdoors featuring professional bass anglers from around the world.
The lake receives most of its recreational pressure from late spring to early fall by water-sport enthusiasts seeking opportunities for boating, scuba diving, water skiing and fishing. During the winter season the temperatures seldom get cold enough to cause freezing on the lake’s surface providing anglers with a year-round fishery. Some of the best fishing opportunities are during the winter when seasonal anglers do not frequent the lake. Many times seasonal anglers prefer not to fish in the colder temperatures and/or do not have the knowledge to catch bass in the colder water.
Most local anglers feel the Table Rock Lake has made the transition to winter conditions when the lake’s surface temperatures fall into the 40-degree range. During this time the successful angling techniques of spring through fall have changed drastically. Two Table Rock Lake professional guides have agreed to share their most productive methods for bass fishing on the lake during the winter season.
Don House is a full-time licensed guide on Table Rock Lake with over 15 years experience on the lake. He has honed his skills fishing tournaments and guiding clients and is an expert deep-water angler. Chris Tetrick is a full-time licensed guide on Table Rock Lake with over 20 years fishing these beautiful waters. He has perfected the skills necessary to offer clients the opportunity to catch Table Rock Lake bass throughout the year. Both Chris and Don spend over 250 days on the water keeping up with the seasonal patterns of the bass that call Table Rock Lake their home.
Chris and Don both feel winter fishing techniques prevail when the surface water of the lake reaches the middle to upper 40-degree range. These two expert anglers agree that a jerkbait is very effective for catching cold-water bass. Don prefers a Megabass X-80 Trick Darter in Tennessee Shad and Table Rock Shad colors while Chris likes a Suspending Rogue and McStick. Don added he puts the finishing touches on the Megabass lure by “placing a stick-on, 1/16 ounce weight just in front the rear hook to give the bait a downward suspension of the tail. Not to much weight or you lose the suspension feature of the bait”, he says.
Both also frequently use a spoon to take wintertime bass positioned deep in the lake. Common weights are ½ – ¾ ounce spoons and colors range from silver, white and chartreuse. Don added “The only thing I do is replace the treble hook with a High Performance wide gap treble hook and also add a stinger hook, single or treble on the line with a oval snap ring this allow the stinger hook to free fall on the line.” When presenting a spoon Chris and Don both target deep fish following schools of shad or suspended above submerged treetops. Chris says, “One of the more reliable patterns is looking for the deep fish. Mostly schools of Kentucky (Spotted Bass) following baitfish in the larger creek arms suspended 35 – 65 feet deep, over deeper water, either roaming with the shad or suspended in tree tops. I use both spoons and grubs on a jig head to take the deep fish.” Don agrees but says he prefers spoons for a deep presentation and his most productive depths are 25 – 50 feet deep.
Table Rock Lake is generally clear throughout the year but there are times when the water clarity is reduced because of heavy rain. If faced with less than clear water Don says, “I present a jerkbait with slower retrieves and longer pauses between jerks of the bait. Spoons require less jerking of the lure for a slower presentation.” Chris added, “There are no worse conditions than cold and muddy water. This condition requires a slower retrieve with any presentation.”
Both Chris and Don said their rod of choice for a jerkbait presentation is a 6’ 6” rod paired with a bait-casting reel featuring an adjustable braking system. Many times conditions require casting these lures into the wind and the braking system is essential in preventing backlashes. Chris says, “I like a 6’6” rod for the jerkbait to keep from hitting the water on twitches, one with a lighter tip action to absorb a violent strikes inflicted by the bass. For a vertical presentation I use a 6′ to 6 ½’ rod to help keep the bait in the transducer cone better.” Don says, “I use a 6’6” Grandt All-American Crankbait casting rod for jerkbaits teamed with a Ardent XS-1000 (6.3:1 gear ratio) with a Ardent replacement high volume spool. For spoons I use a 6’6” Grandt All American medium heavy casting rod paired with an Ardent F-700 Flipping reel.”
Don and Chris do not share the same feelings about the choice of line. Don says, “I use nothing but Seaguar Invix Fluorocarbon. Eight – ten pound test for a jerkbait and 15 pound test for a spoon.” Chris agrees about the benefits of fluorocarbon line for jerkbaits. He says, “Fluorocarbon sinks, getting a jerkbait down a bit deeper but it is harder to work with. I think the benefit of the depth may be worth the added stiffness in the line. For a vertical presentation, using a spinning outfit, monofilament falls off a spinning reel better because it is more pliable, especially in the cold.”
Both Don and Chris stated that having high quality electronics on their boat are essential for locating deep fish. They also agreed that an angler must know how to use each feature of the units to be effective in locating bass.
Any angler who can brave the cold weather should visit Table Rock Lake during the winter season. Some of the best fishing the lake has to offer can be found during winter. Chris Tetrick and Don House can be contacted using the following information.