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John Neporadny Jr.

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  1. Lake of the Ozarks showcases its superb bass fishing each year during national, regional and local bass tournaments. While he had not been on the Lake of the Ozarks for more than a decade, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mike McClelland said he was reminded of how much fun it was to fish there when he recently competed in the Missouri Invitational Fishing and Golf Championship at the lake. The Buena Vista, Ark., pro honed his skills fishing tournaments at Ozark highland reservoirs, including Lake of the Ozarks. The northernmost reservoir in the Ozark foothills has some similarities and differences in comparison to the other Ozark highland lakes McClelland has fished. “The biggest thing that makes Lake of the Ozarks such an incredible fishery is all of the boat docks on the lake (similar to Oklahoma’s Grand Lake)” McClelland said. “So many of the fish are protected from angling most of the year because of all the cover boat docks allow them to have.” “The lake is also extremely fertile and has a huge concentration of shad,” he said. “It just has a huge forage base including bluegill and crappie that is absolutely phenomenal. I really believe that more bass forage on crappie than we can ever imagine.” The Lake of the Ozarks features the same defined creek channels and turns as the rest of the Ozark highland reservoirs. “As an Ozark angler the one thing you really learn to rely on are fishing those channel turns and figuring out what part of the channel turns the fish are in,” McClelland said. “There are some days when bass are going to be on the very ends of those and there are times of the year when they are going to be in the middle of them. Once you figure out where the fish are set up in those channel bends in the major creek arms it can really be an easy way to duplicate the pattern throughout the course of the lake.” McClelland believes the major difference between Lake of the Ozarks and its Ozark highland neighbors is the lake’s productivity throughout its 54,000 acres. “What really amazes me about Lake of the Ozarks is the consistency of the lake from end to end,” he said. “The versatility the lake has to offer is unbelievable.” Any time he competed on the Lake of the Ozarks McClelland thought the tournament could be won in any section of the lake. “I really believed the lake could potentially produce a winning stringer nearly from (Bagnell) dam as far up the (Osage) river as you can go at any given time,” he said. “Whereas (the Ozarks lakes of) Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Beaver really fish sketchier and there are times when certain sections of those lakes are working and the rest of those lakes don’t seem to be on.” During March and early April most of the Lake of the Ozarks bass will be in the prespawn stage. McClelland recommends tournament competitors key on the black rocks Ozark anglers call “lava” rock. “Any of those areas where you have that dark-colored rock close to gravel transition areas are really key focus points for me that time of the year,” McClelland said. “I think the heat from those dark-colored rocks pulls up those fish especially when they are getting closer to that spawning period. “ McClelland’s favorite lures to throw for prespawn Lake of the Ozark bass in clear to stained water are Spro McStick 110 and 115 stickbaits and Spro RkCrawler crankbaits. “If the water gets really dirty, Lake of the Ozarks is a good spinnerbait lake in the spring,” McClelland said. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  2. While other Missouri lakes have up and down years of bass fishing, Lake of the Ozarks experiences good bass fishing every year. Stable water conditions and good shad production create good bass fishing year after year at this Central Missouri Lake. “There is really not a lot of variation from year to year so our (bass) spawning is pretty consistent,” says MDC Fisheries Biologist Greg Stoner. “It looks like we have a slug of fish that is coming on just below the length limit in that 12- to 14-inch range and I expect fishing to be better.” There is an abundance of keeper size (15 inches or longer) bass in Lake of the Ozarks now. Some guides believe The lake is probably as full of bass as they have ever seen it. They say 2-pound bass are thick in the lake now. Their clients have caught quality fish including a 10-pounder and some 8-pounders in recent years. The best patterns for catching prespawn Lake of the Ozarks bass are throwing Wiggle Wart crankbaits, suspending stickbaits and 1/8 or 5/16-ounce jigs with plastic chunks or craws to transition banks of chunk rocks and gravel. Most of the time a big fish comes from a transition bank. The prespawn stage varies from one end of the lake to the other and might last for two months. During the spawn, local experts target the backs of boat docks in protected areas where they cast a shad color tube bait or a jig-and-worm combo. Lake of the Ozarks is so good during the spawn because there are so many docks that fish can get anywhere and spawn. Spawning usually occurs during a couple of full moons during the spring months. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  3. The 10-mile Gravois arm is one of the oldest developed sections of the Lake of the Ozarks so its shoreline is dotted with boat docks. Whereas other sections have more docks for yachts and off-shore racing boats, the Gravois features more docks owned by fishermen who sink plenty of brush piles to attract bass and crappie. Fed by the gin-clear waters of the Gravois, Little Gravois, Spring Branch, Soap, Indian and Mill creeks, this arm usually remains one of the clearest sections of the lake throughout the year. The upper end turns murky quickly from rain runoff, but the flow from the creeks also flushes out the dirty water faster than on other arms of the lake. The warmer water from the feeder creeks causes the Gravois to warm quicker than other arms in the spring which makes the Gravois one of the most popular spots to fish for bass in February and March. The structure on this arm is similar to the NorthShore with plenty of deep water on the main channel and long creek coves filled with numerous gravel pockets that are ideal spawning banks for bass. Other attractive structure for fish on this arm includes plenty of main and secondary points, creek channels, bluffs, gravel flats and some old road beds. Missouri State Highway Patrolman Scott Pauley honed his skills fishing the Gravois arm while a member of the Eldon Bass Club in the early 1990s and relied on this section of the lake to lead the 1999 BASSMASTER Missouri Invitational at Lake of the Ozarks and eventually finish in 10th place. From December through March, Pauley usually depends on two lures to catch bass on the Gravois arm. He selects a Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue (silver/black/orange or clown color) for suspended bass or a brown Jewel Eakins’ Pro Model Jig tipped with a Jewel Eakins’ Pro Model Craw, Chompers Twin Tail plastic grub or a Bass Pro Shops XPS Single Tail Grub for bottom-hugging bass. When jerking the Rogue, Pauley uses 8-pound test line; he opts for 10-pound test fluorocarbon line for working his jig. The most productive spots for wintertime bass on the Gravois include main and secondary points and transition banks where the shoreline changes from bluffs to chunk rock and gravel. “The real key to Lake of the Ozarks is the angle of the bank and the types of rocks,” advises Pauley. “Once you figure that out you are on your way to putting a pattern together.” Classic examples of transition banks on the Gravois are spots where the creek channel swings close to a point and the bank changes from bluffs to 45-degree chunk rock shores or from the chunk rock to a flat pea gravel shoreline. During the winter and early spring, Pauley starts fishing the main lake points and then works his way into the coves until he finds the fish. He rates February and March as the prime months to catch big bass on the Gravois arm, especially after a three-or four-day warming trend. Another prime time to catch trophy bass on the Gravois is from the first week of November until Christmas. When the water temperature rises into the upper 50s and low 60s in the spring, Pauley switches tactics to catch prespawn bass. “Once the water starts warming it seems like the fish go to plastics right before the spawn and close to the spawn,” says Pauley. He drags a Carolina-rigged plastic lizard or split-shot rigged finesse worm or French Fry worm for bass along the pea gravel banks. His favorite colors for these soft plastics include watermelon or green pumpkin in clear water and dark colors (black-and-blue or black neon) for murky conditions. When the fish lock onto their nests Pauley relies on a Zoom finesse worm attached to a 1/8-ounce jighead. A tube jig also catches nesting fish in off-colored water. The best spots to find spawning bass are pea gravel cuts or backs of pockets with either steep or flat banks. During the postspawn stage, Pauley finds fish close to the spawning areas first and as the water temperature continues to warm he follows the migrating fish out to deep structure. The first area bass move to from the spawning banks are flat, rounded secondary points. A Zara Spook or Cotton Cordell Jointed Red Fin worked on 10- to 12-pound test line produces plenty of exciting topwater action for Pauley during the postspawn. If the fish are reluctant to attack his surface lures, Pauley switches to flipping a magnum tube bait or a 10- to 11-inch plastic worm in blue flake, tequila sunrise or electric blue. He Texas rigs the lures with a 3/0 or 4/0 wide gap worm hook that he ties on 20-pound test line. A 1/ 4-ounce weight works best for Pauley when flipping the shallows but he opts for a 1/ 2-ounce weight when he works his worm at depths of 20 feet or more. On sunny summer days, Pauley likes to pitch a Texas-rigged magnum tube bait (3/16-ounce Lake Fork Mega Weight and Owner Rig’N Hook on 20-pound test line) to any visible cover. He selects a green pumpkin tube for pitching in clear water and a black/red flake model for murky water. Night fishing produces the most consistent action on the Gravois during the heat of summer. Pauley opts for a 7- to 10-inch plastic worm in black or dark purple hues that he works through the sunken brush at depths of 15 to 20 feet. When the shad migrate to the backs of creeks in October and November, Pauley targets the baitfish schools to find bass. “The schools of shad roam on the big flats and are so thick that it seems like you can walk on them sometimes,” he says. Swimming a white Jewel Eakins’ Pro Model Jig and white Jewel Eakins’ Pro Model Craw produces bass for Pauley in the fall, but his favorite tactic involves a Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. During the Bassmaster tournament, Pauley caught a hefty limit to take the first-day lead while burning a shad-pattern Rat-L-Trap (green back and pearl sides) on 15-pound test line. On sunny days, bass in the upper ends of the creeks use isolated stumps, tree roots and lay-downs as ambush points so Pauley bangs his lipless crankbait into the cover to trigger a reaction strike. For information on lodging 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.
  4. The passage of cold fronts can be a tough time to catch bass, but Brian Maloney believes this situation negatively affects anglers more than bass. “You are freezing your tail off and you are thinking it is killing the fish, but you have to remember that those fish are already in their winter mode,” Maloney says. “Their metabolism is already shut down. So in the wintertime just don’t get wrapped up in what the front is doing. I think that is more the front messing with the fisherman than it is messing with the fish.” The former Bass Fishing League All-American champion notices cold fronts in the spring have a more drastic effect on bass than wintertime cold fronts. “In the springtime the fish are getting ready to spawn and all of a sudden they get hammered with a 30- to 40-degree change of a cold front that screws it all up,” Maloney says. Bass are already sluggish during the dead of winter when water temperatures plummet into the upper 30s or low 40s, so a cold front that drops air temperatures into the 20-degree range makes little difference to the fish. “I don’t think that hurts the fish as much but I do believe that they will seek out any source of heat they can come up with which might be a good chunk rock bank, slab rocks and brush piles, Maloney says. “If the water is clear enough the brush piles will absorb enough of the UV rays and hold the heat.” The arrival of a cold front works in your favor because bass will move up shallower on a rocky bank seeking the warmth of the rocks and taking advantage of the cloud cover to feed. Maloney suggests those bass will remain shallow the morning after the front passes until the sun shines on them. “If you go two or three days of cloud cover and then all of a sudden slap a bluebird sky on bass it messes with them,” Maloney says. “I believe as the day goes on with a bright bluebird sky it kind of messes with the fish’s eyes and they haven’t adapted to the light yet so they tend to pull off the bank and sink down a little deeper in the brush.” The former Forrest Wood Cup qualifier still keys on shallower shady areas the first day of sunshine after a cold front but has to move deeper to catch bass the second day after the front. Maloney agrees with the old axiom of fishing is toughest on the second sunny day of a cold front. “We struggle because we are not realizing what is going on with the fish and we are fishing what we had two days before when we had cloud cover,” he says. Water clarity dictates how deep bass will move after a winter cold front. Maloney suggests bass in off-color water might only drop down 2 feet but fish on clear-water lakes dive down 15 feet or deeper. On 45-degree rocky banks void of cover, post-frontal winter bass will move away from the rocks and suspend in open water. Baitfish also leave the bank and head for the middle of coves after a winter cold front. “The baitfish might be 3 to 10 feet deep maximum on good days but on those cold fronts you will see them push out and the next thing you know they are hugging the bottom at 20 feet,” Maloney says. The Missouri angler throws the same lures during and after a winter cold front. If Maloney has caught bass during a cold front with a suspending stickbait, Alabama rig or finesse jig along a chunk rock bank, he will continue to throw the same lures after the front in the low light of morning or shady areas. He has to probe deeper water with the Alabama rig or jig when the mid-day sun eliminates the shade option. Maloney claims he has dragged his A-rig 50 to 60 feet deep to catch winter post-frontal bass at Table Rock Lake. In the middle of winter, Maloney downsizes his suspending stickbaits to 2 1/2- to 3-inch models to catch finicky bass. When the larger gizzard shad start dying in late winter Maloney opts for bigger stickbaits such as Megabass Vision 110 and 130 models or magnum-size Rattlin’ Rogues. Maloney is a finesse jig fanatic so he continues to fish his 5/16- and 7/16-ounce finesse jigs throughout all wintertime conditions. Maloney advises a slow lure presentation is a must during the winter whether fishing before, during or after a cold front. “You are already slowed down on your baits,” he says. “The surface temperature is telling you to do that regardless of what the sky looks like. If it’s 35 to 40 degrees surface temperature you should already be going as slow as you can possibly go. So I don’t think you have to change up your approach or cadence.” When a winter cold front hits your favorite bass fishery, bundle up in layers of warm clothing and ignore the cold because bass are still biting. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  5. Lake of the Ozarks bass in November are on the move from the shallow foraging areas to their deep wintertime haunts. During their migration bass seek out some fast food spots where they can chow down on baitfish. These fast food spots are usually some type of cover found throughout the lake. Bass use the cover as rest stops and ambush points to nab a quick meal before heading out to their winter homes. Savvy bass anglers at the lake look for these hotspots to pinpoint migrating bass during late fall/early winter. Rocks are one of the best hotspots for finding bass in November at the Lake of the Ozarks. Baitfish and bass are both attracted to the warmth of the rocks that absorb and retain the sun’s heat even on cold November days. Former Bass Fishing League (BFL) All American champion Marcus Sykora looks for wind-blown rocky banks in November because he knows bass will be feeding heavily on baitfish there. “I actually like to fish hard transitions where the bank goes from big rock to little rocks or some sort of continuous blend of some ledge rock, gravel and some good size rock in it,” he said. Waking a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with tandem willowleaf blades is Sykora’s most productive tactic for catching bass on the rocks. “Waking a spinnerbait mimics a lot of the things bass are feeding on in the rocks and it causes not only a hunger strike but also a reaction strike,” Sykora said. “I also like to (wake spinnerbaits) a lot because it is a great way to cover water.” The tournament competitor positions his boat over 12 to 20 feet of water and points the boat’s nose at a 30- to 45-degree angle to the bank. By presenting his lure at that angle, Sykora can keep the spinnerbait in the strike zone longer. He retrieves the spinnerbait fast enough so its blades bulge the water but don’t break the surface. Sykora suggests always paying attention to where the sun rises and sun sets when fishing the lake in November. Even though the water is cooling down and the sun is providing warmth throughout the day, bass on the shady banks bite better than fish on the sunny shores. “Sometimes on those bright bluebird sky days it is really tough to catch bass,” Sykora said. “So that eastern bank in the morning is going to get a little more shade there throughout the day than on that western bank. So a lot of times in the morning I will run those east/southeast banks because they have shade.” On sunny afternoons, Sykora switches to the west/southwest banks because those banks have more shade then. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  6. Getting a different perspective on how to fish your home waters can keep you from becoming stuck in a rut. I have a bad habit of fishing the same old way and the same old spots on my home waters of Lake of the Ozarks, so when the Missouri Outdoor Communicators (MOC) met at the lake in early September and had a guide trip set up for MOC members I jumped at the opportunity. Even though I have fished the lake for more than 30 years I know I can always learn something from another local expert, especially one who gets to spend more time on the water than I do. During the pre-conference fishing trip I was paired up with fellow MOC member Emory Styron and Coast Guard-licensed guide Scott Melton for a morning of bass fishing. I had been catching a few 3- and 4-pound bass the last week of August flipping a finesse jig tipped with a flashy, flappy trailer (June bug Berkley Havoc Pit Boss and Havoc Devil Spear) to shallow docks in the back of creeks, but I could only catch one keeper per creek. I was hoping Melton could show me how to catch a limit of fish without having to run for miles from creek to creek. September is usually one of the toughest months to catch bass on the Lake of the Ozarks since the fish tend to move out of the brush and start to scatter and suspend with the balls of shad. A storm producing lightning and hail struck the night before and the morning of our trip featured calm weather and bluebird skies—the perfect recipe for a tough day of fishing. Melton took us on a milk run of some of his best sunken brush piles and showed me a jig tactic that produced hefty bass for him throughout the summer along rocky banks. Melton used a heavy swivel-style jighead and a Larew Biffle Bug that he constantly reeled like a crankbait along bottom. I had fished this technique before with some limited success, but I plan on trying it more often next summer after finding out about Melton’s catches on the rig. Despite the tough conditions, I still managed to catch a 3 1/2-pound largemouth and a smaller bass on a jig flipped to the shady area of a dock. Emory had some bites on a shaky head with a Senko-style worm but kept missing on the hookset. Once October arrives at Lake of the Ozarks, bass fishing turns on and continues to get better all the way to Thanksgiving. Bass follow the shad into the creeks and coves throughout this 98-mile lake and can be caught on a variety of lures in the shallows. Throwing a buzz bait along slab rock banks is my favorite tactic for catching Lake of the Ozarks bass in late October and all of November. That is one rut I don’t mind getting stuck in on my home waters. A swim bait ran along the same banks also produces if the fish ignore or short-strike the buzz bait. If you enjoy watching bass smash a buzz bait, try fishing Lake of the Ozarks this fall. For more information on lodging and guide services, visit www.funlake.com or call 1-800-FUN-LAKE. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  7. Lake of the Ozarks bass anglers need to “go with the flow” to get in on the best fishing action during September. By September, the summer heat has generated bath-water temperatures and depleted oxygen levels in the shallows of lakes and ponds throughout the state. These conditions make for some tough fishing during the month, but anglers can still catch plenty of fish at Lake of the Ozarks by seeking waters with plenty of current. When fishing the headwaters of the lake, bass anglers will discover the current in these waters create a cool, oxygen-rich environment that makes bass more aggressive feeders. So Lake of the Ozarks anglers should “go with the flow” for the best bass action at the lake during early fall. When September arrives, veteran tournament angler Mike Malone starts running up the Osage arm of the lake to catch bass. “Those fish are moving at that time and the baitfish are moving and bass get predominantly on those mud flats (on the upper Osage arm),” he says. “If you can figure out what area of that upper reach is on you are going to catch a bunch.” The Lake Ozark angler keys on the main lake flats rather than back in the creeks because current is more predominant there. “There is usually a two- to three-hour window where they turn on the water (at Truman Dam),” Malone says. “As long as there is movement to the water, those fish get positioned and are very predictable as to where they are going to be and how to catch them.” Malone usually finds bass around boat docks where the fish remain less than 4 feet deep. “I have a milk run where I might hit 30 to 40 docks up there starting at about Proctor Creek all the way up to the 88-mile marker,” he says. “Sometimes the fish are on the outside ends of the docks. If they are not running current the fish might be on the backs of the docks.” Malone’s favorite lures for throwing around the docks include a black/red flake flipping tube, black/chartreuse jig with blue plastic chunk, a 1/2-ounce white/chartreuse spinnerbait and black/chartreuse wake bait. Anglers unfamiliar with this section need to be cautious while navigating the upper lake because it contains lots of shallow mud flats on the main lake and in coves. “It’s not an area where you want to go fast if you don’t know where you are going,” Malone says. He recommends using good electronics and mapping to navigate safely in this section of the lake. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  8. Schooling bass show up just about anywhere during the summer at Lake of the Ozarks. You can usually find them surfacing near some type of point, channel or other areas that are close to deep water. There doesn't seem to be any particular time when these fish show up on the surface, so I always keep a rod rigged specifically for schooling bass. If you notice schooling fish surface one day at 10 a.m., chances are they will come up the next day at the same time and location. That isn’t always true, but it's usually a pretty good way to predict when schooling fish will surface. When approaching schooling fish on the surface, get on the trolling motor as quickly as possible to get to the fish. If you run the big motor you will spook them off. Pay attention to which direction the bass are heading and try to get in front of them. You will do a lot better if you use your trolling motor as little as possible. Tying two tube bats with 1/4-ounce jigheads on a rod is a great rig for schooling bass. Throw the double rig on 17- or 20-pound test line. The double tube rig is ideal for schooling bass because most of the time if you hook one fish than you're going to catch two. Tie the rig with a triangle swivel or a knot with two separate lines coming down from it. Keep the two lures about 8 or 10 inches apart. Any shad patterns will work for your tube bait colors. In clear water, one of the best color combinations is clear/silver flake/black back. If the water is a little bit stained than try pearl/black back or even chartreuse/black back. When you start throwing this double rig, you might try two different colors to see which one the fish prefer. If they keep hitting one color, then put two tubes in that same color on the rig. Sometimes big fish come to the top. However most of the time smaller bass chase baitfish on the surface while the bigger fish lurk underneath them waiting for an easy meal. When concentrating on the surfacing bass, use a fast retrieve while you crank and hop the lure. Make the retrieve as erratic as you can to imitate the action of the baitfish as it flees from the bass. If you let the rig fall a little deeper, you might catch some 3- and 4-pounders or even bigger fish hanging under the smaller bass. Once the bass drop down, sometimes you can let you lure fall deeper and still catch some. Schooling fish are odd characters though, once they go down, they seem to totally quit biting. They are like a bunch of wolves attacking the shad. They get into a school and hunt together so if you stay on top of that school you can still catch them. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  9. When crappie settle into the wide-open expanses of deep water during the summer, Lake of the Ozarks guide Terry Blankenship relies on his Humminbird 360 imaging system to pinpoint the fish. The guide mainly vertical jigs along bluffs and ledges or shoots docks for Lake of the Ozarks crappie in the summertime. HTre previously used side-imaging technology to find crappie in deep water, but now he favors the following advantages of the 360 viewing over side imaging. *Front viewing: “When you have side imaging you just scan whatever is in that scan line,” Blankenship said. “Most of the time it is behind you so the advantage of the 360 is that you can see fish in front of you.” *Tracking movements: “One huge advantage of using 360 around docks is to be able to keep an eye on where the fish are at because the fish tend to roam back and forth under a dock a lot of times,” Blankenship said. “So there have been times when I have fished and thought I had caught them all or they quit biting. Then I would pay attention to my 360 and notice they had moved.” Blankenship has seen on his 360 when crappie have moved away from him to the other side of a dock after he had caught several fish. “So I would go around to the other side and find them on my 360 and start catching them again,” he said. *Casting aid: Since he never uses an anchor, Blankenship depends on his trolling motor to stay on top or within casting distance of crappie schools. While waves or current can make it difficult to keep his boat in the right position, Blankenship looks at the radar-style imaging of the 360 to cast accurately to a piece of cover or a school of suspended crappie. The veteran crappie angler also notes the 360 imaging shows him if the cover or crappie school is at a 90-degree or 180-degree angle from the nose of his boat. “It is just a huge advantage to help you find the direction you need to cast.” Blankenship said. “So basically what a 360 can do for you is keep the fish pinpointed for as long as they stay within range of your unit’s reach.” Dialing in 360 settings For best viewing results, Blankenship manually adjusts the settings of his 360 system and always favors dialing on the high side. “I would rather run my settings higher than lower,” Blankenship said. “Water conditions sometimes dictate what I want to do (with the settings). One of the tricks of trying to figure out how to do the settings is once you spot something on the screen just freeze the screen by hitting the cursor button. Then just starting messing with your settings a little bit and see which way gives you the best detail.” Blankenship recommends adjusting these features of the 360 system rather than using the default settings. *Sensitivity: The auto setting for sensitivity is 10 on a scale of 1 to 20 so Blankenship usually starts at 13 and adjusts to a higher setting if necessary. *Contrast: Blankenship also starts at the same number (13) on the contrast scale as he does with sensitivity. *Range: The Missouri guide usually sets the range of his 360 system at 60 feet for the best results. “If you are looking too wide everything is so small that you miss some detail,” he said. *Boat speed: Although not a setting on the 360 unit, the speed of your boat while scanning with 360 will also enhance or diminish the images on the screen. Moving too slow or too fast will blur the imaging so Blankenship favors idling his boat at 3 to 4 miles per hour for the best readings. Combining 360 with sonar and side imaging Blankenship frequently splits the screen on his Humminbird unit to watch both the 360 imaging and sonar so he can get a better idea of the depth under his boat and how deep crappie within his casting range are suspended. One of the disadvantages of the 360 imaging is its lack of clarity compared to side imaging, according to Blankenship. So if he wants a clearer image of a piece of cover or details under a dock he was radially viewing, Blankenship will scan the area with side imaging next. Getting familiar with 360 During his guide trips at the lake, Blankenship notices his clients who own side-imaging units are puzzled by the 360 image they see on the screen. “The image is different (than side-imaging), “he said. “It is looking twice in a circle at things the whole time and it blurs things differently. There is just a different look that you have to get used to with a 360.” Blankenship offers the following tip for new 360 users to better detect what they see on the screen. “The best thing you can do is to take the unit out to something you know is under water, whether it is a brush pile or rock pile or a point,” he said. “Go out there and cruise around it a little bit and get a feel for what things are looking like.” Then you will be ready to track down those Lake of the Ozarks summertime crappie. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  10. Boat docks are high priority targets for Casey Scanlon whenever he practices for a tournament at Lake of the Ozarks. Scanlon admits targeting docks gives him confidence, especially since he guides on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, the 54,000-acre reservoir loaded with countless docks. So it is a given that the first piece of cover Scanlon checks out in practice will be a dock. Throughout his pro career, Scanlon has fished all sorts of docks ranging from the stationary wooden piers to floating structures secured with steel cables. Scanlon mainly fishes the floating-style boat houses attached to steel cables on his home lake. The FLW Tour pro considers docks ideal cover because the structures extend over a wide range of depths. “You can fish them from zero to 30 feet deep,” says Scanlon. “A lot of times home owners put brush under them (a bonus piece of cover).” The boat houses also allow bass to move up and down in the water column where they can suspend right under the foam of the floating structures or at a mid-depth range or hug the bottom. Boat docks attract plenty of forage fish for bass too. “Every dock is going to have bluegill underneath it and it is nice to find docks where the shad are congregating around as well,” Scanlon says. “There is always going to be bait present and mostly in the form of bluegill which I think bigger fish prefer.” Docks also create a lot of shade where bass can lurk and set up to ambush baitfish. “I always keep an eye on shade and am aware of it in case I start getting bites,” Scanlon says. “I always fish the shady side (of docks) a little bit harder.” Scanlon notes the only time he avoids the shady side of docks is during winter and early spring when bass seek warmer water. Then he keys on the sunny side of a dock, especially where the sunshine is hitting the black floatation, which generates warmer water. “An ideal dock to me is the biggest I can find without being a marina dock,” says Scanlon, who prefers large private docks that can cast expansive shade. The local pro also favors fishing isolated docks or if an area is loaded with boat houses, he keys on the first few docks heading into a creek, the last few docks in the back of a creek, or docks situated on a point or break line. “I rarely go down a row of 20 docks that are all in 15 feet of water,” he says. When he has to fish an area with rows of docks, Scanlon tries to pick out individual targets rather than fish a whole row. “I will side scan (the docks) with my Garmin electronics and look at my down view and see where the fish are positioned,” Scanlon says. “I am mostly looking for cover so if one of the docks has a brush pile underneath that is the one I am going to target. I also look for the biggest one and the ugliest one with stuff falling off of it. I also look for rod holders and fish baskets--just signs that a fisherman lives there.” Docks are productive year-round for Scanlon, so here are his tips on how to fish this type of cover throughout the four seasons at Lake of the Ozarks. Winter “A lot of the fish will either be around docks in the deep guts in the very back of the creeks or isolated docks on a secondary point or the main lake,” Scanlon says. “Basically I am looking for a dock that has a lot of depth under it and I am looking for a lot of shad. I look for docks where the fish don’t have to move a whole lot. If it is sunny they can slide up in 10 feet of water and then they can slide back the other direction by 10 or 12 feet into depths of 30 to 40 feet. “ On extremely sunny days, Scanlon will fish the back side of docks along steep banks, but most of the time he keys on the sides of docks or wherever he finds brush piles near the floating structure. “Bass like to suspend that time of year so if there is some brush on the side or if there is a brush pile behind the dock I will flip a jig there,” Scanlon says. He also concentrates on the front of large boat houses where bass hang around the steel cables that anchor the docks. Spring “I am looking for the transitions in the bank where the channel bank turns down into gravel, which is where the fish are looking to spawn,” Scanlon says. “So I like docks that are situated really close to the bank, especially if the back of the dock is up on the bank.” He believes bass flock to these shallow docks because the cover is similar to a laydown log that provides bass with shelter extending from the bank out to deeper water. When bass move to the bank to spawn, Scanlon fishes the back side of the docks then. Summer Similar to winter, Scanlon keys on deep-water docks that attract plenty of shad. “So I am looking for those isolated docks and trying to catch fish suspended on the front corners that are looking for bait,” says Scanlon, who keys on large docks on main lake points and channel swings. He also fishes brush piles near those docks and works his lures along the bottom for bass holding tight to the wood cover. Fall The touring pro concentrates on isolated docks along main lake flats or the last few docks on flats in the creeks. Tracking shad is the key to finding the most productive lures during this season. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  11. After bass go through the rigors of spawning, there is no rest for the weary fish as they make the trek to their summertime haunts on Lake of the Ozarks. When bass leave the spawning nests, male bass usually stay in the shallows for a while to protect fry while the females start on the migration route to deeper water. Eventually all the bass will travel the same route to their summer homes so the key to catching postspawn bass is intercepting them during this transition stage at Lake of the Ozarks. Fishing can be fantastic during this time because after a couple of weeks of fasting while on the nest, bass are hungry and will attack just about anything you put in front of them. You will experience some of the hottest bass action of the year if you can locate these transition fish throughout the postspawn stage. Some bass are still spawning along the pea gravel banks at the lake in early May while others are moving to the docks in the pockets where they are protecting fry. Local guide Ben Blankenbeker suggests looking for the postspawn bass 6 to 8 feet deep around the docks. The best lures for tempting these fish include crankbaits, Gene Larew Biffle Bugs, Strike King Rage Bugs or Reaction Innovations Sweet Beavers on wobble head jigs and a variety of Texas-rigged soft plastics. Some bass in the early postspawn stage will be holding in shallow brush piles along the gravel banks in the pockets. “They are not totally dug into brush deep like they are in the summertime but they start hanging around it,” Blankenbeker says. As postspawn bass move out of the pockets they set up 8 to 10 feet deep on the next stop along their transition route. “The fish will be working their way back out towards the main lake after the spawn,” Blankenbeker says. “That is when you want to start focusing on secondary points.” Blankenbeker targets docks along the secondary points and tempts the transition bass with spinnerbaits, jigs tipped with NetBait Paca Chunks, Texas-rigged plastic creature baits and tube baits. Topwater plugs such as Zara Spooks also catch plenty of postspawn bass along the secondary points. By late May postspawn bass use transition routes near deep water to move closer to the main lake. “Usually they like a creek channel coming out of the back of a cove and they like deep water nearby,” Blankenbeker says. He finds these fish holding at depths of 10 to 15 feet next to deep drop-offs. His primary lures for postspawn bass in the late stage include Zoom Brush Hogs, Texas-rigged magnum-size plastic worms and deep-diving crankbaits. Blankenbeker’s favorite area of the lake for postspawn bass is the mid-section of the Osage arm since he mainly guides in that area. He also favors the Gravois arm since it is loaded with creek channels transitioning bass can use. “The (Grand) Glaize is another area that has got some good transition routes in it,” Blankenbeker says. The local guide ranks May as a good month to fish his home lake. He claims anglers can catch up to 15 keepers (15-inch or bigger bass) in a day and 3- to 5-pound largemouth are common catches then. During 4-hour guide trips, Blankenbeker’s clients have caught 50 to 60 bass a day during the postspawn. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  12. When pollen coats the water surface of Lake of the Ozarks, Mike Malone knows it’s time to throw a floating worm. The pollen coating on the surface signifies bass are bedding on Malone’s home lake, but the tournament veteran suggests you can use other signs of spring in your region to determine when bass are spawning. When the spawn is on, Malone opts for the floating worm, a finesse bait that has produced for him for 20 years. “It’s a stealthy, finesse bait that doesn’t make a lot of noise when it hits the water,” he says. “You are able to skip it under cover such as boat dock ramps, cables and tree limbs, etc. in a real quiet presentation. It works best during the spawn when the fish are pretty skittish.” “Many times I have been able to fish behind guys who were flipping a jig, a worm or a tube and catch multiple fish with the worm,” Malone says. “I have had many 20-pound bags throwing that worm. It’s just a timing deal to catching the big ones and it is a pretty deadly bait for three or four weeks in the spring.” The local angler will throw the floating worm in sunshine or overcast weather but wind creates problems for him since it tends to blow his line and unweighted worm too much. “Wind is taboo,” he says. Finding the spawning banks is the key to Malone’s floating worm technique. On Lake of the Ozarks, Malone looks for pea gravel pockets or clay banks protected from the wind. He also throws the worm along indentations of bluff banks that hold spawning bass. Malone’s favorite bait for this presentation is a 6-inch Zoom Trick Worm in bright hues such as yellow and bubble gum but occasionally he will throw a green pumpkin or bullfrog color worm to imitate bluegills. He recommends experimenting with different colors until you find one the fish seem to prefer. “The fish do get conditioned to seeing stuff over and over again, so anything different is probably going to work,” he says. The Trick Worm is rigged wacky style by impaling a 1/0 Gamakatsu Drop Shot Hook slightly above the worm’s egg sack which gives the worm a fluttering action. “I want that worm to pulsate at both ends when I twitch it,” Malone says. His floating worm tackle consists of a 6-foot, 8-inch St. Croix Legend Elite medium action/extra fast tip spinning rod and Lew’s Tournament Pro Speed Spin spinning reel filled with 10- to 20-pound test Toray braided line in a low-visibility green. Making long-distance deliveries is a key to Malone’s floating worm tactic. “It is pretty important to make long, long casts if the water is clear because typically those fish will see you by the time you see them,” he says. “If I can just make a long cast into an area where I can see beds but I don’t really see any fish that is a good thing because those fish are just in the shadows just off the beds. Nine out of 10 times I can catch one there.” He also turns off his electronics to prevent spooking these shallow fish. Even though rigged without a weight, the Trick Worm sinks slowly throughout Malone’s presentation. Most of the time Malone retrieves the worm similar to a jerkbait with a twitch-twitch-pause cadence. He usually lets the worm sink for a second or two before repeating the sequence. The tournament competitor notices some days the fish want the worm moving but on other days he has to let it sink down to depths of 4 to 6 feet to trigger bites. Since bigger bass usually inhale the worm, Malone sets the hook immediately when he feels a tick. “I reel up the slack and I pop them,” he says. If he notices a bluegill biting on the worm, he lets the sunfish pull until it drops the worm and then gets ready for a bigger bite. “A lot of times that is when I catch a good bass because they hate bluegill,” he says. The floating worm also serves as a good follow-up lure when a bass blows up and misses a Luckycraft Gunfish topwater plug Malone also likes to throw during the spawn. “Those big fish if they don’t kill (the topwater lure), they slap at it,” Malone says. “So they are exposed then and I drop my Talons (shallow-water anchors) and I throw that floating worm on them. Seventy-five percent of the time I am going to catch them then.” When the floating worm bite is on, Malone recommends having plenty of worms on hand since you might be going through three to four bags of your favorite colors while catching 50 to 100 fish a day. The worm will produce both numbers and quality fish during the spawn. “I have caught a bunch of fish between 4 and 6 pounds on it,” says Malone, whose biggest bass caught on a floating worm was a 7-pounder. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  13. The spring crappie fishing outlook should be good to excellent whether you decide to dunk a minnow or pitch a jig at Lake of the Ozarks. Crappie abound throughout the lake and springtime crappie fishing heats up in early March and continues to excel on some parts of the lake until almost Memorial Day. Lake levels remain fairly constant throughout the years at Lake of the Ozarks so crappie reproduction is pretty consistent most years. Warm spells of two to three days in February can trigger some good shallow-water action, according to guide Terry Blankenship. “One of the most fun patterns for me in February is bobber fishing,” he says. “You can catch large numbers of fish in February because the crappie are starting to prepare for their spring fattening up for the spawn.” “That time of year the shallower long coves and creek arms will warm the quickest,” Blankenship says. “If there is a lot of south wind warming the water and rolling it onto the north banks, the baitfish will go to those shores which will bring in gamefish. “ Blankenship suggests you can catch the biggest fish of the year as shallow as 2 feet deep during the warm days of February and early March. His favorite lures to stick below a bobber are Bobby Garland Baby Shad and Baby Shad Swim’R soft plastics on 1/16-ounce jigheads. He also relies on a Bobby Garland 3-inch Slab Slay’R for dock shooting in the early spring. The veteran guide rates the Grand Glaize, Niangua and Little Niangua arms and Indian Creek on the Gravois arm as the best areas to try for early spring crappie action. Prespawn crappie usually bunch up in brush piles 8 to 15 feet deep in the coves throughout March and early April. The spawn begins on the upper reaches and tributaries of the lake in early April and spreads down lake to the dam by the end of April. Ideal spawning areas are pea gravel pockets laden with boat docks or laydowns. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  14. Most winters lately in this area have been mild with Lake of the Ozarks remaining nearly ice-free allowing anglers to fish throughout the winter. However during the coldest winters, ice buildup limits access to the lake and anglers have to wait for a thaw to get back on the water. When “ice-out” occurs, you might have to break through a thin layer of ice at the boat ramp or to get to a sweet spot, but it will be worth the trouble because you’ll have your best chance to catch some of the biggest bass of the year. During most winters on this lake, the ice starts thawing and breaking up in February. Bass are usually their heaviest this time of the year, so most of the fish you catch will be chunks. The best structure to try after the thaw is a little creek channel bend. Small pockets near the river or creek channel bands are also productive areas. Bass spend the winter in the channel bends and in the pockets as well. During the first warm spell, bass move up from deeper water to brush piles that are 6 to 10 feet deep in the pockets. Look for banks on the northern side of the lake that receive the most sunlight because the water in those areas will warm faster. Key on clear water areas because it’s harder to catch bass from cold, muddy water. Boat docks are also good places to fish for ice-out bass at Lake of the Ozarks. Some bass spend the winter under docks that have deep brush piles and are near the channel bends so look for docks that are along the bends of creeks. Fish a set of docks along one bend and then move across the creek to another row of docks on the opposite channel bend. Water temperature is not really a key factor during this time of year. I have caught bass during this time by throwing a suspending stickbait in areas where there would still be ice in the pockets. Warm, sunny weather activates bass this time of year and coaxes the fish to move up shallow. Sometimes it only takes one sunny day to get the fish to move into those shallower brush piles. A small hair jig tricks plenty of bass during ice-out. Another lure to try is a shad-colored tube jig, which looks like a dying shad when it falls to the bottom. A slow fall works best now so use hair jigs and tube bait jigheads in 1/8- to 1/4-ounce sizes. Let the lures flutter into the brush piles and slowly retrieve the baits through the cover. Working suspending stickbaits with a twitch-and-pause retrieve over the tops of the brush piles also triggers strikes from bass hanging around the brush. When the lake starts to thaw and heavyweight prespawn bass start migrating to the shallows, it’s prime time to be fishing Lake of the Ozarks to catch a lunker bass. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  15. Knowing the plans for preventing floods in the spring can improve your chances of catching wintertime bass on Lake of the Ozarks. AmerenMissouri annually draws down lake levels during the winter to prevent flooding in the spring, so Lake of the Ozarks anglers must adapt to the falling water to catch bass. A typical winter drawdowns usually leads to three phases that anglers must adjust to in order to keep track of bass throughout the winter and early spring. Phase One occurs when the drawdown begins and bass move from the shallows to deeper sanctuaries. Next comes Phase Two when the drawdown bottoms out and bass bunch up in certain holes during the dead of winter. Phase Three follows in early spring when the lake is still low and shoreline cover is high and dry, but bass have the urge to move shallower in search of warmer water. Here’s a look at how FLW Tour pro and Lake of the Ozarks guide Casey Scanlon tracks and catches Lake of the Ozarks bass during each phase of the winter drawdown. Phase One The first drawdown phase on Lake of the Ozarks usually starts slowly in late November or early December and then Scanlon notices the water levels drop sharply at some point. Scanlon keys on main and secondary points where bass are feeding on larger meals for winter. “Those fish are up there eating those big (gizzard) shad,” he said. During the early stages of the drawdown, Scanlon relies on a Luck E Strike Buzzbait or other topwater lures to catch bass chasing the gizzard shad. As the lake level continues to fall, bass start suspending on points and vertical structure on the main lake so Scanlon tempts these fish with a Luck E Strike RC STX Jerkbait or a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait that he slow rolls. Phase Two The guts of creeks and main lake pockets are Scanlon’s favorite targets during the bottom-out stage of the winter drawdown. He finds Lake of the Ozarks bass suspending at 8 to 10 feet over a depth of 20 feet or greater and casts his lures down the middle of the guts. “In the middle of winter, I use a (suspending) jerkbait and I am also going to throw some kind of an Alabama rig.” He throws an Alabama rig without blades in clear water on calm, sunny days but changes to a bladed version of the rig in windy or cloudy conditions. Phase Three This is the trickiest phase of the drawdown since bass want to move to warmer water in the shallows, but shallow cover is sparse and cold fronts can send bass retreating back to deeper water. Scanlon concentrates on boulders and docks in the shallows along points and bluffs in the backs of creeks. “I look for just any type of cover available on the bank and I will throw a (1/2-ounce Trophy Bass Company) jig with a big trailer to slow the fall rate down,” Scanlon said. He also throws a suspending jerkbait and a Luck E Strike G5 crankbait for bass suspended in deeper water. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com. Reprinted with permission from B.A.S.S. Publications
  16. Knowing the plans for preventing floods in the spring can improve your chances of catching wintertime bass on Lake of the Ozarks. AmerenMissouri annually draws down lake levels during the winter to prevent flooding in the spring, so Lake of the Ozarks anglers must adapt to the falling water to catch bass. A typical winter drawdowns usually leads to three phases that anglers must adjust to in order to keep track of bass throughout the winter and early spring. Phase One occurs when the drawdown begins and bass move from the shallows to deeper sanctuaries. Next comes Phase Two when the drawdown bottoms out and bass bunch up in certain holes during the dead of winter. Phase Three follows in early spring when the lake is still low and shoreline cover is high and dry, but bass have the urge to move shallower in search of warmer water. Here’s a look at how FLW Tour pro and Lake of the Ozarks guide Casey Scanlon tracks and catches Lake of the Ozarks bass during each phase of the winter drawdown. Phase One The first drawdown phase on Lake of the Ozarks usually starts slowly in late November or early December and then Scanlon notices the water levels drop sharply at some point. Scanlon keys on main and secondary points where bass are feeding on larger meals for winter. “Those fish are up there eating those big (gizzard) shad,” he said. During the early stages of the drawdown, Scanlon relies on a Luck E Strike Buzzbait or other topwater lures to catch bass chasing the gizzard shad. As the lake level continues to fall, bass start suspending on points and vertical structure on the main lake so Scanlon tempts these fish with a Luck E Strike RC STX Jerkbait or a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait that he slow rolls. Phase Two The guts of creeks and main lake pockets are Scanlon’s favorite targets during the bottom-out stage of the winter drawdown. He finds Lake of the Ozarks bass suspending at 8 to 10 feet over a depth of 20 feet or greater and casts his lures down the middle of the guts. “In the middle of winter, I use a (suspending) jerkbait and I am also going to throw some kind of an Alabama rig.” He throws an Alabama rig without blades in clear water on calm, sunny days but changes to a bladed version of the rig in windy or cloudy conditions. Phase Three This is the trickiest phase of the drawdown since bass want to move to warmer water in the shallows, but shallow cover is sparse and cold fronts can send bass retreating back to deeper water. Scanlon concentrates on boulders and docks in the shallows along points and bluffs in the backs of creeks. “I look for just any type of cover available on the bank and I will throw a (1/2-ounce Trophy Bass Company) jig with a big trailer to slow the fall rate down,” Scanlon said. He also throws a suspending jerkbait and a Luck E Strike G5 crankbait for bass suspended in deeper water. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com. Reprinted with permission from B.A.S.S. Publications
  17. Knowing the plans for preventing floods in the spring can improve your chances of catching wintertime bass on Lake of the Ozarks. AmerenMissouri annually draws down lake levels during the winter to prevent flooding in the spring, so Lake of the Ozarks anglers must adapt to the falling water to catch bass. A typical winter drawdowns usually leads to three phases that anglers must adjust to in order to keep track of bass throughout the winter and early spring. Phase One occurs when the drawdown begins and bass move from the shallows to deeper sanctuaries. Next comes Phase Two when the drawdown bottoms out and bass bunch up in certain holes during the dead of winter. Phase Three follows in early spring when the lake is still low and shoreline cover is high and dry, but bass have the urge to move shallower in search of warmer water. Here’s a look at how FLW Tour pro and Lake of the Ozarks guide Casey Scanlon tracks and catches Lake of the Ozarks bass during each phase of the winter drawdown. Phase One The first drawdown phase on Lake of the Ozarks usually starts slowly in late November or early December and then Scanlon notices the water levels drop sharply at some point. Scanlon keys on main and secondary points where bass are feeding on larger meals for winter. “Those fish are up there eating those big (gizzard) shad,” he said. During the early stages of the drawdown, Scanlon relies on a Luck E Strike Buzzbait or other topwater lures to catch bass chasing the gizzard shad. As the lake level continues to fall, bass start suspending on points and vertical structure on the main lake so Scanlon tempts these fish with a Luck E Strike RC STX Jerkbait or a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait that he slow rolls. Phase Two The guts of creeks and main lake pockets are Scanlon’s favorite targets during the bottom-out stage of the winter drawdown. He finds Lake of the Ozarks bass suspending at 8 to 10 feet over a depth of 20 feet or greater and casts his lures down the middle of the guts. “In the middle of winter, I use a (suspending) jerkbait and I am also going to throw some kind of an Alabama rig.” He throws an Alabama rig without blades in clear water on calm, sunny days but changes to a bladed version of the rig in windy or cloudy conditions. Phase Three This is the trickiest phase of the drawdown since bass want to move to warmer water in the shallows, but shallow cover is sparse and cold fronts can send bass retreating back to deeper water. Scanlon concentrates on boulders and docks in the shallows along points and bluffs in the backs of creeks. “I look for just any type of cover available on the bank and I will throw a (1/2-ounce Trophy Bass Company) jig with a big trailer to slow the fall rate down,” Scanlon said. He also throws a suspending jerkbait and a Luck E Strike G5 crankbait for bass suspended in deeper water. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com. Reprinted with permission from B.A.S.S. Publications This post has been promoted to an article
  18. Topwaters have long been considered lures for fishing in warm water, but a Lake of the Ozarks pro knows surface lures will trick bass—especially big bass—when the water temperatures are chilly. Whether it’s springtime when the water struggles to reach 60 degrees or fall when the water temperatures plunge into the 50s, a lure moving slowly across the surface is an easy target for even listless Lake of the Ozarks bass. So when bass are shallow in chilly water, a topwater lure remains a viable option. FLW Tour pro and Lake of the Ozarks guide Casey Scanlon throws a Heddon Zara Spook One Knocker or a Reaction Innovations Vixen in the spring when the water temperature climbs into the upper 50s and he starts seeing bass cruise the shallows of the spawning areas. He sticks with the same plugs in the fall when the water is even colder. “As opposed to the spring when the bass are still heating up, the fish are still active in the fall so when that water temperature starts dropping it seems like their activity level is still higher,” Scanlon says. “So I have caught them (on Spooks) in upper 40 water temperatures.” The local guide favors the versatility of a topwater walker in cold-water situations. “You can start it and stop it and fish it however fast you want,” Scanlon says. “You can also make it almost walk in place to where you don’t have to move the bait very far but it still has a lot of action. The other thing I like about it is when a bass misses it, if you resist the urge to jerk on the lure then, a lot of times they will come back and get on it.” A steady retrieve works best for Scanlon walking the surface plug in chilly Lake of the Ozarks waters. “In the springtime I twitch it slower but I keep a steady walk towards me,” he says. “In the fall I will fish it more erratically where I will twitch it real fast then slow it down for a few walks, the n twitch it real fast so it almost makes the lure break cadence and kind of come out of the water like a shad fleeing.” 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  19. Unsuccessful autumn bass fishing elicits a common lament from hard-luck anglers at the Lake of the Ozarks. Whether they're tournament veterans or weekend warriors, they blame the lake turnover for their unlucky days on the water. During the summer, surface water is warm and light, while the lower layers are cooler and heavier. The top and bottom layers contain less oxygen than the middle section, so the fish tend to hold in the oxygen-rich middle. In autumn, the surface water cools and sinks, mixing with the lower layers. The process causes currents, which mix the sinking surface water and the colder layers below. Wave action from fall winds result in the circulation of the various layers (turnover) and the mixing of the whole lake. By late fall the water has cooled off to 39 degrees from top to bottom. The change causes a good supply of oxygen at all levels of the lake, and the fish will tend to spread out and seek new habitat. Savvy anglers are unsure what happens to bass during the turnover on their home lake, but they agree that the fish are affected. Some local experts think it almost affects bass like a cold front situation and disorients the fish a little bit. Before the turnover, fishing tends to improve with the cooling water conditions. During and after the turnover, however, fishing tapers off. The average fisherman can use the turnover as a good excuse for a poor fishing trip, but they don't have to. At times, it's probably the No. 1 reason people don't catch fish for a certain period of time. It's not that they're doing a whole lot wrong, it's just that the fish aren't biting very well at all. So if they haven't made adjustments, they're not going to catch them. If anglers can make the proper adjustments, though, bass can be caught. The turnover makes bass tougher to catch and makes them hit differently, but you can still catch them. If an angler feels uncomfortable fishing in turnover conditions, he has some options. The majority of the time you can try to avoid the turnover. You can pull into one cove and it can be turning over, and you can run three or four miles down the lake and you do not have the turnover problem. Even if you're locked into one cove, there's going to be certain areas in that cove that the turnover isn't going to affect as much. The back half of a cove will turn quicker, or it might be unaffected by the turnover if a creek is flowing into it. If you've got good current, more than likely you're not going to have turnover. Current is absolutely great for avoiding the turnover. Anglers can merely glance at the water to tell whether or not they're fishing the dreaded condition. The affected area almost looks like sewer water with decaying material releasing from the bottom and floating to the top. Turnover water will have a different color (usually pea green) and "foamy stuff" from the rocks will be floating on the surface. You can follow that right down the lake and get ahead of it and generally catch more fish than you would fishing right in the middle of it. The affected area will look like a watery graveyard--devoid of fish and fowl. So if you can find an area that's got the water birds and shad, it's a good indication that it hasn't turned over yet. The length of time the turnover affects fishing at Lake of the Ozarks varies. It can knock fish for a loop for two to three weeks. A real protected area can be real messed up for quite a while. Severe cold weather, wind and current accelerate the turnover. While fishing in the turnover, try to find the most stable water, which is usually in the 1- to 2-foot range. That little layer of water hasn't really changed a whole lot, so get to the bank and beat the shoreline. Concentrate on the shallow brush, which usually holds more active fish. If the weather conditions have been bad, get in tight to whatever cover you can find, whether it's a shallow boat dock or lay-down tree. The turbid water caused by the turnover can actually work to the fisherman's advantage in this situation. Limited visibility prevents bass from detecting anglers working closer to the bank. Once you find the active fish, determine which lures and retrieves will work best. As a rule, just slow down. Sometimes it takes 10 to 12 casts to the same brush pile before a bass will strike. Fish smaller baits, such as 1/8- or 1/4-ounce crankbaits and jigs. The weather also determines lure choices. If the weather is stable, throw a 3/8-ounce chartreuse or white buzz bait and retrieve it slowly around stumps and lay-downs. In an area that receives heavy fishing pressure, switch to a 3/8-ounce buzz bait with a clacker because it produces more noise to agitate the fish. If you're getting a few strikes on something or not a lot, or if you're missing some fish, or if the fish aren't really taking the bait, then you need to experiment with sound, size or color. If you've got two guys in the boat, one guy should be throwing something different than the other. When the weather turns nasty, switch to a blue or black 3/8-ounce jig and a black plastic chunk in clearer water, or a black-and-chartreuse or black with bright green combination in murkier water. Flip the jig into the heaviest cover you can find. A third option is to cast a 3/8-ounce chartreuse or white spinnerbait with gold blades and a 4-inch plastic trailer. Slow roll the spinnerbait through the shallow cover. When the turnover ends, don't expect a fishing bonanza. The fishing usually improves gradually after the turn. 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.
  20. Lake of the Ozarks bass anglers need to “go with the flow” to get in on the best fishing action during September. By September, the summer heat has generated bath-water temperatures and depleted oxygen levels in the shallows of lakes and ponds throughout the state. These conditions make for some tough fishing during the month, but anglers can still catch plenty of fish at Lake of the Ozarks by seeking waters with plenty of current. When fishing the headwaters of the lake, bass anglers will discover the current in these waters create a cool, oxygen-rich environment that makes bass more aggressive feeders. So Lake of the Ozarks anglers should “go with the flow” for the best bass action at the lake during early fall. When September arrives, veteran tournament angler Mike Malone starts running up the Osage arm of the lake to catch bass. “Those fish are moving at that time and the baitfish are moving and bass get predominantly on those mud flats (on the upper Osage arm),” he says. “If you can figure out what area of that upper reach is on you are going to catch a bunch.” The Lake Ozark angler keys on the main lake flats rather than back in the creeks because current is more predominant there. “There is usually a two- to three-hour window where they turn on the water (at Truman Dam),” Malone says. “As long as there is movement to the water, those fish get positioned and are very predictable as to where they are going to be and how to catch them.” Malone usually finds bass around boat docks where the fish remain less than 4 feet deep. “I have a milk run where I might hit 30 to 40 docks up there starting at about Proctor Creek all the way up to the 88-mile marker,” he says. “Sometimes the fish are on the outside ends of the docks. If they are not running current the fish might be on the backs of the docks.” Malone’s favorite lures for throwing around the docks include a black/red flake flipping tube, black/chartreuse jig with blue plastic chunk, a 1/2-ounce white/chartreuse spinnerbait and black/chartreuse wake bait. Anglers unfamiliar with this section need to be cautious while navigating the upper lake because it contains lots of shallow mud flats on the main lake and in coves. “It’s not an area where you want to go fast if you don’t know where you are going,” Malone says. He recommends using good electronics and mapping to navigate safely in this section of the lake. 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. For copies of John Neporadny’s THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide call 573/365-4296 or visit www.jnoutdoors.com.
  21. The heat and humidity of a summer day in Missouri make fishing a survival test rather than a relaxing time on the water. Combine the steamy weather and searing sun with rolling waves from an armada of pleasure boaters and your fishing day becomes a hot and frustrating experience. The heat, sun and boat traffic must have about the same affect on largemouth bass as well, because the fish seem reluctant to bite on busy Lake of the Ozarks during a summer day. All is not lost though if you want to catch bass during your summer vacation at one at the lake. Changing your fishing time schedule to take advantage of the night life of Lake of the Ozarks allows you to avoid the heat and recreational boat traffic and experience the best bass action of the summertime. Everything changes for the better once the sun sets on the lake. The air cools down, the pleasure boats disappear and the bass become more aggressive in the low-light conditions. Now’s the prime time to be casting to your favorite bass spot even if you can’t see it. Limited visibility can make night fishing hazardous, but you can make it a pleasurable experience by taking some precautions and carrying the proper equipment. Missouri state law requires that any fishing boat when underway must exhibit red and green sidelights that are visible for at least one mile on a dark clear night. The boat must also have an all-around white stern light that is visible for at least two miles on a dark clear night. All boats are required to use a white light visible from all directions whenever the vessel is anchored between sunset and sunrise. The best way to minimize navigation problems after dark is to scout the areas you plan to fish a couple of hours before sunset. Use your electronics to determine the structure and depth you will fish that night. Ideal summertime structure to look for on the lake includes drop-offs and river or creek channels. Sunken brush piles at depths of 10 feet or deeper make ideal starting points for a night trip. While scouting spots in the daylight, look for familiar landmarks on the bank that you will be able to find again after dark. Plan a milk run of spots and pay close attention to the route you take to each spot so it will be easier to find your way around once the sun sets. Starting at your favorite spot at sunset is another way to minimize your nocturnal movements. Special equipment you should use for nighttime tactics include flashlights and a black light that you can position on the bow of your boat. Using a black light and high visibility line in blue fluorescent or solar green hues makes strikes easier to detect since the black light illuminates your line and makes it look like a laser beam shooting through the inky darkness. Flashlights or headlamps are handy for finding tackle in the boat or tying knots. Carrying insect repellent in your boat is also recommended because mosquitoes can ruin your nocturnal outing if you leave your skin unprotected. I usually wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts to deter the mosquitoes as well. A bunch of tackleboxes and rods and reels strewn out all over the boat’s deck after dark can result in broken tackle or a quick trip overboard. So keep your boat deck clean and prevent any mishaps by picking a handful of productive lures for nocturnal bass. Minimize your lure choices to plastic worms, soft plastic creature baits, jigs and plastic trailers and spinnerbaits for your nighttime trip. Before darkness sets in, you should have your boat organized with plenty of walking space available and lights positioned in strategic locations. A moonlit night increases your visibility, but it isn’t a necessity for catching nocturnal bass. I’ve caught bass at night in the rain and in the moonlight. The type of day probably affects the night fishing more than the nighttime weather. If the day has been cloudy or rainy, the best fishing sometimes occurs during the late evening or the first couple of hours after sunset. If there has been a few weeks of real hot weather with nothing but sunshine and bluebird skies, the fish tend to bite all night long on some reservoirs. Heavy boat traffic makes the lake nearly impossible to fish during a summer day, yet it is probably one of the best lakes to fish at night. Lights from hundreds of docks and heavily developed shoreline makes it easy to see and navigate after dark and a plethora of sunken brush piles provide plenty of nocturnal haunts for bass. In the middle of summer, Skip Surbaugh of Lake of the Ozarks Guide Service, targets brush piles he has planted on the lower end of the lake from the dam to the Lodge of the Four Seasons. “I probably don’t fish as deep of brush piles as a lot of guys do,” admits Surbaugh. “I fish brush piles from 10 to 15 feet generally located close to deep water (channel drops of 25 to 40 feet). On calm nights, Surbaugh opts for dark-colored 10-inch Berkley Power Worms or 5-inch Berkley Power Hawgs that he Texas rigs with a 5/8-ounce weight. “I want the weight heavy enough that I can get the bait down into the bottom of the brush piles, so I work it real slow in the brush,” describes Surbaugh. “I like to hit every limb as I am bringing it out.” If the wind blows at night, Surbaugh switches to a black 3/4-ounce spinnerbait with a number 7 or 8 gold or black Colorado blade. He throws all of his nighttime lures on 15-pound test line. The guide believes the key to successful night fishing at Lake of the Ozarks is to make a milk run of brush piles rather than counting on one brush pile to produce several keepers. The night action here produces plenty of bass in the 5- to 6-pound range. “We actually catch some of our bigger fish at night than we do during the day,” says Surbaugh. “This lake right now is loaded with 4- to 5-pound fish.” The night life was good for Surbaugh’s clients last summer. “We would catch about 15 to 20 fish a night with about two-thirds of them being keepers,” says Surbaugh. “There were lots of nights last year where we were catching 30 to 40 fish a night with 20 keepers.” When the sun sets and the air cools, take a break from the summer heat and enjoy the bass fishing night life at the lake. 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.
  22. Even though the trees were cleared by workers during the construction of Bagnell Dam in 1931, the Lake of the Ozarks now contains plenty of fish-attracting brush. SuLake of the Ozarks Full of Manmade Fish Attractors nken brush piles abound throughout the lake, thanks to resort and property owners and other anglers who construct and sink the fish attractors. The brush piles are mainly put in to attract crappie, but they also serve as cover for largemouth bass. Groups of resort owners on the Niangua arm of the lake have ben sinking brush piles for years to attract customers to their area. Sinking brush piles is more of an individual effort on other arms of the lake though. These are more secretive projects done by dock owners or anglers wanting to establish their own honey holes for crappie or bass. But since everyone has the right to fish the lake, these sunken treasures are available to you as well if you can find them. One crappie fishing expert who knows how to find sunken brush piles on Lake of the Ozarks is Guy Winters of Camdenton, Mo. The most obvious places to find brush in Lake of the Ozarks are the docks. There are plenty to choose from on this lake, but not all docks have crappie beds. "You can read the docks to tell whether or not it has a brush pile around it," Winters says. The best indicator on the dock is a well-kept fish-cleaning station. "That tells you there are fishermen who live there," says Winters. Other signs include a live box and minnow buckets on the dock. Once you find a likely looking dock, then you have to determine where the brush is located along it. "That's where a locator on your trolling motor is valuable," says Winters. "It only takes a few minutes to run around that dock with the trolling motor to find where the brush is." Remember that the brush will most likely be within casting distance from the dock. If you don't have a depth finder on your boat, there are other ways to tell where the brush is located along the dock. Corners of docks and inside the dock wells are always good spots to look for brush. Rod holders on the docks are usually positioned near the brush pile and sometimes you'll see a rod that has a line out with a bobber, which is usually floating over the top of the brush. Winters notes that some dock owners also have a light hanging off the end of their docks, which is positioned over the top of the brush for night fishing. Another key to finding the location of brush piles is to look at the direction chairs on the dock are facing. "If the chairs point towards the well, that's where the brush is at; if they point the other way, then the brush is on the outside of the dock," Winters says. A shallow dock will be unproductive most of the time, even if it has plenty of brush near it. The best year-round docks are either in or near deep water. Even a deep-water dock with sparse cover will produce more often than a shallow dock with lots of brush. Sunken brush piles lie in other spots on the lake, but these are the most difficult beds to find. Some type of depth finder is essential when looking for these sunken trees. "I wouldn't fish without one," says Winters. "It's one of the most important tools a fisherman can have. Any cove I'm not familiar with, I just leave my locator on and normally try to keep the boat in 12 to 15 feet of water." Winters concentrates his search on the channel side of the cove or the main lake. The most likely places to hold sunken brush are pea gravel banks and bluffs. Any type of rocky or gravel pocket is also worth investigating. When the lake level is low, any brush found 14 to 15 feet deep produces best in the spring, fall and winter, the crappie expert says. Telltale signs along the bank also help you find brush piles. Look for a stump, which usually indicates the rest of the tree is somewhere below you. Sunken small sycamore trees have a different indicator. "There won't be a stump," says Winters. "There will be a piece of trunk standing up about 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall with a bunch of little limbs growing out of it. That's one of the signs that a lot of people overlook." Also watch for old, black telephone cables running down the bank which are usually tied to brush piles. This method of sinking trees is usually done along bluffs or other areas close to a river or creek channel. While the Lake of the Ozarks appears to be barren of fish-attracting cover on the surface, underneath lies thousands of brush-pile condos for crappie and bass. 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.
  23. On May 23, 1997, Governor Mel Carnahan signed a bill designating the channel catfish as the official fish of Missouri. The governor’s choice was a wise pick considering channel catfish can be found in nearly all waters throughout the state including Lake of the Ozarks. Blue and flathead catfish are also abundant in the lake so Lake of the Ozarks anglers have plenty of opportunities to catch some type of catfish, especially in the summertime. Fishing for Mr. Whiskers in June can be great or tough since catfish can be in various stages of the spawn throughout the month and are more concerned with building or protecting nests than eating. Drift fishing is the best way for the clients of Lake of the Ozarks guide Jack Uxa to catch catfish in June. Uxa sets up his clients with 7-foot medium-heavy spinning rods and spinning reels filled with 30-pound SpiderWire line. He has his clients drift with a magnum drop shot rig of a 6/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook followed by a 1 1/2-foot drop line tied to a 1-ounce barrel weight. The guide baits his hooks with chunks of freshly cut bluegill, green sunfish or shad. Finding baitfish with his side-imaging unit is the key for Uxa in setting up a successful drift. Since baitfish tend to roam, Uxa checks out flats or points on the main lake and in coves. He prefers drifting areas that have consistent depth, usually in the 20- to 35-foot range. Uxa favors drifting the middle section of the lake from the Hurricane Deck Bridge down to the toll bridge. His drifts during June produce “some bonus channels” but mostly blue cats in the 3- to 5-pound class. “You never know what you are going to catch though,” he says. “Sometimes you can catch 20-, 30- or 40-pounders.” Limb-lining along bluffs and channel swing banks with live crawfish, green sunfish or large goldfish works best for bigger flathead cats. Anglers can also catch flatheads tight-lining with a big wad of nightcrawlers other other live baits. Tight-lining off of docks is a productive tactic for catching channel catfish throughout the summer. Productive baits for channel cats include live green sunfish, cut bait, prepared baits and nightcrawlers. For information on lodging 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.
  24. Plop, plop, plop. Ka-Woosh. Any Lake of the Ozarks angler who has experienced the thrill of topwater action knows these sounds of a plug popping across the surface followed by the attack of a largemouth bass. All other tactics for catching bass pales in comparison to the excitement of a largemouth busting the surface to engulf a topwater bait. Lake of the Ozarks bass can be coaxed into attacking topwater lures from late spring to late fall but late April through May is the prime time for surface action. During this time bass will be feeding heavily before going on the nest, guarding a nest or guarding fry which makes them vulnerable to any lure buzzing, popping or walking above them. During the summer, you have to throw surface lures early and late in the day to trigger strikes, but I have experienced good topwater action all day long—even on sunny afternoons—during May. Water clarity often dictates which topwater lure works best. Buzz baits generally produce best in murky water while a variety of surface plugs catch bass in stained to clear water. Largemouth on my home lake usually start busting surface lures in late April when the fish are on the beds, and the topwater action heats up in May during the postspawn. My favorite topwater for Lake of the Ozarks is the Heddon Zara Spook in either baby bass or flitter shad (known locally as the Christmas tree color). The Spook is so effective because it can be worked at various speeds, but I have found the best presentation is a steady walk-the-dog retrieve. On many occasions I have seen fish follow the lure and I have drawn more strikes by speeding up my retrieve rather than stopping the lure. I prefer fishing the clear-water section of the lake from the Gravois arm to the dam area where I key on the protected gravel pockets during early May. Male bass will either be on nests behind dock cables or along sea walls from 3 to 6 feet deep, but the hefty females will usually be suspended along the sides of the docks. You can catch plenty of 2-pounders working the Spook along the sea walls and open banks, but you need to walk the plug along the back or the shady side of a dock to catch 4- to 5-pounders. This is the only time of the year when I prefer fishing topwaters on sunny afternoons. The sunshine warms the water to activate bass and baitfish and the bright conditions position the bigger fish in the shady areas under the dock, which makes them susceptible to the Spook sashaying in front of them. From the middle to the end of May bass have moved out to either secondary or main lake points. The fish will still hit a Spook, but these open areas tend to have more wind so a Rebel Pop-R usually works better. On the windiest days, I switch to a Gilmore Jumper, a large double-blade prop bait that produces a lot of splash when jerked hard. For information on lodging 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.
  25. Find a shallow brush pile and drop an anchor. Cast out a couple of minnows with bobbers and start hauling in crappie. Springtime crappie fishing used to be that easy, but heavy fishing pressure has caused many anglers to change tactics. Prime spawning spots get worked over daily. If you're the first angler to dunk some minnows at one of these spots, you have a chance to catch some fish. But if you arrive after the area's been visited by four or five other boats, your chances diminish drastically. This trend has led some anglers to adopt bass fishing's run-and-gun philosophy of moving around to several spots and firing off a couple of casts in each area. Aggressive fish can be taken this way, but complicating the situation are detractions such as high pressure weather fronts and falling water levels. During these conditions crappie tend to leave the shallows or cling to cover and develop a case of lockjaw. There are some techniques to overcome tough conditions you face during the crappie spawning cycle at Lake of the Ozarks. You can track down fish in three different stages of the crappie's procreation cycle. The stages are pre-pre-spawn, pre-spawn and spawn. In the pre-pre-spawn, the fish suspend in schools along the mouths of creeks and coves. The fish will suspend at various depths depending on the weather. On warm, sunny days, the fish will be up higher. Crappie in the first stage are least affected by weather conditions and falling water levels since they reside in deep water (20 to 30 feet). But they can still be hard to find and even more difficult to catch Your electronics make the search much easier. Watch your graph and keep a marker buoy in hand while cruising along potential staging areas. When you find a school of crappie, drop a buoy and start fishing over it. Either fish vertically over the school or use your trolling motor and the wind to drift your lure through the mass of crappie. Keep track of the school and determine the depth of the fish of fish by constantly watching the fish finder on the bow of your boat. After determining the depth of the greatest concentration of fish, set your lure at that depth to keep it in striking range. After catching a fish, work the area thoroughly because you have a good chance to catch some more. When you have that many fish together, some of them are going to hit. If you're lucky enough to be out there when they're feeding, you can catch one about every time you drop your line in. To increase your odds, use a dual jig setup, which sometimes results in catching two fish at one time. Tie on a plastic-skirted jig with a 1/32-ounce head first, then adds a 1/16th or 1/8th-ounce plastic-skirted jig of a different color 18 inches to 2 feet below the first lure. The selection of jig colors depends on water clarity. In clear water, select bright colors such as yellow or fluorescents. The best hues for murky water include red or purple. The first phase of the spawning migration usually lasts one to two weeks. During stage two (pre-spawn), the crappie move back into the coves and closer to the bank. They're not actually in the spawning beds yet; they just relate close to them. The fish will be staging 12 to 16 feet deep. Some will be suspended and others will be moving in and out of the shallows checking on spawning conditions. Crappie in the second stage tend to be more moody. Let the fish tell you how to fish for them because sometimes they want the jig held perfectly still and other times they'll want a horsehead-type jig with a blade on it reeled steadily. You should try different colors and different retrieve speeds until you find what triggers the fish. High barometric pressure or cold fronts push the fish into deeper water. You have to slow your presentation down and stick it right in front of their nose then. During these periods, you might have to resort to vertical jigging and drifting methods or a "dead fall" technique. When you cast and retrieve, the jig moves a lot faster than it does on a dead fall. The "dead fall" method resembles a light-tackle version of bass fishing's flipping technique. Trade in your dual jigs for a single 1/16th-ounce jig then. Before flipping, measure out about 10 to 12 feet of line. Flipping the jig propels it to the shallows pulling along the unspooled line. A longer rod helps keep slack out of your line and gives you a better feel of the lure as it falls back towards the boat. Most of the time, you impart little or no action to the lure as it drops. The slow-falling jig tempts crappie into investigating the intruder that has moved into their domain. Since fish don't have hands, the only way a fish can tell what something is, is to swim up and grab hold of it with their mouth. When you feel the fish need coaxing, try twitching the lure to trigger a fish into hitting. Crappie think it's trying to get away or is injured and other times they hit it out of curiosity more than out of a desire for food. Using the "dead fall" method, you can catch fish that are suspended when the lure sinks and also take fish on the bottom as the jig drags along after it has fallen back toward the boat. Sometimes you can let the jig drag along the bottom while flipping out another line. By keeping track of both lines you can catch fish cruising in the shallows and the crappie staging in the deeper water next to the spawning bank. Catching crappie gets easier when the fish move into the spawn stage because the fish hit at anything that moves into their bedding area. When the fish are spawning, they're not really feeding, they're protecting their territory. They grab hold of your bait and try to get it out of there. The spawning period offers the best opportunity to catch fish shallow, but the fishing can be spotty at times. One day you'll work along the bank and load up the livewell, but the next day its as if the fish disappeared. Remember that not all the fish move to the bank at one time, and there will be crappie in the 10- to 12-foot range near by. If you work the shore and don't catch any fish on the beds, back up a little bit. There will be fish out a little bit deeper from where you caught them the day before spawning. Probing the deeper water can also result in catching larger crappie. If you continually catch small fish along the bank, turn your boat around and start working the same area in a little deeper water. Bigger fish usually spawn first and they usually spawn deeper. When the fish establish themselves in the shallows, they usually stay put. Once it gets to where conditions are right, it's hard to keep them from spawning. Rather than abandon the shallows during high pressure or cold fronts, the crappie will burrow into the thickest cover they can find. Since casting to these areas usually results in your lure becoming a brush pile decoration, flipping becomes the most effective way to haul the reluctant fish out of the cover. Look for the best looking cover available along the spawning bank. The bigger fish always get the choicest spawning and feeding spots. If you fail to catch a fish or take only small fish along the outer edges of the cover, flip your jig into the middle of the brush where you can usually catch slab-size crappie. If your favorite spawning bank fails to produce this spring, remember that the fish are still there and can be caught by slowing down your presentation and maybe fishing a little deeper. 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.
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