Missouri's Deep-Water Bass Options
September 30, 2010
The Show Me State is one of the nation's finest sources of enjoyable summertime angling -- provided that fishing deep doesn't intimidate you! Detailed here: a few of the best to try this summer.
Photo by Tom Evans
Summertime fishing: The days are hot, the water's hot and the bass are only biting deep, if at all. Even worse, you don't like to fish at night. What to do? All is not lost. For one thing, not all the bass are as deep as you think. And even if they are there are deepwater options available, good ones in fact. You just need to know where to fish -- and with what -- to enjoy summer daytime bassing success.
We'll cover five of the best in the state. All are accessible from major highways, have full service marinas, dining facilities, lodging and plenty of recreation for the family.
Lake Taneycomo, near Branson, is best known as a trout lake, but it'll produce good largemouths under the right conditions. To fish Taneycomo's waters properly, you need to understand a little of her history. This White River impoundment began life as a warmwater fishery when the Power Site dam was built in 1913 on the river at Mile Marker 506.8. Forty-five years later, conditions changed. In 1958 the dam at Table Rock was completed; it's located at Mile Marker 528.8.
In no time flat, Taneycomo was transformed into a coldwater lake. The water temperature dropped almost overnight. The frigid waters churning through the generators at Table Rock get the credit. (Or maybe, depending upon your point of view, the blame.)
According to Bill Anderson, the Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist assigned to the lake, Taneycomo is a great place for a big one. When asked, he defined "big one" as 6 pounds or better. (To be fair, however, it's not the best numbers lake.) Anderson, himself an avid angler, reports that the key to largemouth bass fishing here is the power-generation schedule. Because the water is so cold, the current flow affects the bass in a very immediate way. When the generation is slow or nonexistent, anglers will find most of the fish off the bank, holding near the deep, main lake ledges and along the main channel. Without a strong current flow the water warms and the bass seek relief in deepwater sanctuaries.
Any of the usual deepwater lures will provoke strikes. Try jig and pig combinations in black and blue, silver or gold blade baits and Carolina rigged plastics. Lizards, creature baits and big worms are all popular and effective. The better colors are purple, watermelon and red flake against almost any translucent background. Drag or hop your lure along the shallow side of a ledge or channel. Every now and then allow the bait to drop over the edge of the break into deeper water.
If the plant is generating, fish shallower areas. The generation chills the water very rapidly, causing the largemouths to look for any warmth they can find. In most cases, that'll be in spots with little or no current and lots of strong sunlight. Typical locations include boat docks, marinas, submerged brushpiles and rock.
Work these areas with spinnerbaits, shallow-running crankbaits and even topwater plugs if the water is less than 10 feet deep. Match your lure color to the prevailing water clarity. If it's clear, throw light natural colors. If the water is stained, try bright colors and combinations of high contrasting colors.
Professional guide Bill Babler, (417) 332-7016, has a very different view of summer bassin' on Taneycomo. He recommends ignoring the generation schedule and fishing the numerous coves and bays, especially those on the east side from the Old 65 Bridge to Forsyth.
He points out that no matter the generation schedule, there's no current in the backs of these coves. And, even though the water ranges between very shallow to around 10 feet, deep the bass are usually holding shallow, and will hit shallow-running baits with abandon.
One of his favorite lures for cove bass is a floating worm. Nothing fancy here: Tie a circle hook to your line, run the hook through the worm at the egg sac and toss it out. Let it float down to the bottom with no help from you. The ends will flutter and quiver as it falls. Bass like that.
If the fish are hesitant or the bite is a bit slow, modify your worm by inserting a small nail into the head. Carpet tacks are just about right for most applications. The nail will cause the worm to spin slowly as it falls towards the bottom. Sometimes that spiraling action will do the trick.
Another top producer is the venerable buzzbait. Throw it along the bank and at any visible cover you spot. Don't worry about what time it is or how bright the sun is shining -- they'll hit it.
This lake gets a lot of fishing pressure. Babler reports that it's not unusual to see three or four boats, one lined up after the other, fishing along these coves. That amount of pressure conditions fish. You'll need to make modifications to your lures if you expect to be successful.
Floating worms can be modified with a little dye. Don't always think about changing the tail color, however. Put stripes, spots, squares and spirals along the body of the worm. Give them something they haven't seen before.
You can also make your buzzbait look and sound different on every pass. Modify it for a different sound, action and splash. An easy change to make is to bend the blades in or out. Bending the blades in will quiet the splash. Bending them out will increase the commotion.
You can try changing the head or skirt color. Frankly, most buzzbaiters believe color, other than perhaps light and dark, is of no importance whatsoever. If you disagree, have at it. All you need are a few bottles of fingernail polish and several skirts in different colors. (For unique colors of nail polish, try fashion outlets catering to punk rockers and metalheads.)
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
LOZ is a top pick for big, healthy largemouths during the summer months, particularly if anglers follow a few common sense suggestions from Greg Stoner, the MDC fisheries biologist assigned to the impoundment.
Lake of the Ozarks is nearly equally distant from St. Louis and Kansas City and south of both. It is a massive impoundment covering over 90 square miles of surface water. That is approximately 55,000 acres. Its shoreline's as long as the east coast of the United States.
Not only is it huge, but it's old as well. Formed more than 70 years ago by damming of the Osage River it has evolved through many changes. If you're going to fish this freshwater ocean you need to know something about it.
When they impounded the Osage River in 1931, fish habitat was not a top priority. Much of the timber was cut and sold. Some of it was weighted and sunk to the bottom of the reservoir. What little remained was burned. Standing timber was not even thought about, much less planned.
All this directly affects the fishery, but not in ways you might first imagine. The pleasure boat traffic on Lake of the Ozarks is heavy to the point of being ridiculous. The craft are big and fast, and throw huge wakes and rollers. That makes fishing the main lake or anywhere the big boys are playing impossible. Said Stoner, "It's a safety issue, not a fishing issue."
Now, that's not to say that the fish aren't under there somewhere along the channel. They probably are -- scared stiff, but there nonetheless. You just can't fish for them. It's time to go to Plan B.
Plan B, according to Stoner, is to work up any of the deeper arms of the reservoir until you're beyond the range of the pleasure boats, at least the really big ones, and then fish what's left of the channel from that point until you run out of water. Some of his area suggestions include the Glaize, Niagua, and Gravois arms.
Fish along channel swings, drops and ledges with an old-fashioned jig and pig combination. Every angler has a favorite color. With that in mind, it's hard to beat black and blue. If jigs don't work, try blade baits.
Early and late in the day -- especially if you can get away on a weekday -- the fish will move shallow along the flats bordering the channels. At that time they're vulnerable to topwater baits like poppers, walking stick baits and buzzbaits.
Lake of the Ozarks bass don't get as much pressure as do those on Taneycomo, but they still see a lot of lures. Pick a color they haven't seen before. Modify your baits. Make them think it's something brand new.
Located just north of the Arkansas state line and south of Springfield, Table Rock just may be the hottest pick of the bunch. It can be described as a classic highland reservoir: The waters are deep and clear, with a high number of inflowing tributaries. It's also characterized by large numbers of bluffs, points, cuts and bays. Table Rock is full of chunk rock and sand. All this is important to the fishery. On top of all that, it has a thriving forage base.
Professional guide Pete Wenners,
www.hookedonbass.com, opines that forage, coupled with water clarity, will be your key to hot weather, daytime largemouths. "If you can find some water that has a little color to it, they won't be so deep," he said.
The best forage and water color in the lake during the dog days of summers will be found in the James River Arm of this massive reservoir. The water there is more fertile than most of the lake. It'll be a little darker, a little more stained, and the shad will be active.
Wenners points anglers towards areas where channel swings and twists run into big gravel flats. It matters not if the swing is inside or outside. But there must be a flat, no exceptions. If there's large chunk rock in the area, so much the better. (Wenners believes that Table Rock largemouths relate more to rock than they do to wood.)
He throws crankbaits that'll get down to the flat and bump along the bottom. Crank them that way until they drop off the channel break, over deep water. "That's when they'll bite," he said with certainty.
Jigs are also an effective choice. The local favorite is a football head on a peanut butter and jelly body. (That's alternating strands of brown and purple on the skirt.) Work them as if they were a crankbait -- along the flat with a freefall over the channel edge.
Wenners emphasizes that anglers shouldn't think the bass bite only early and late in the day. Some of his best catches come around noon. He attributes this to increased shad activity. Our Taneycomo expert agrees in general with his fellow guide. "The James River," was Babler's answer when he was asked where to fish for largemouth bass on Table Rock during the daytime in summer. (He also guides on Table Rock.)
Babler does offer this tip, however. He opines that the Bear Den area is the very best spot on this lake. He suggests fishing around and over the countless humps that populate the Den. They can be easily located on any good lake map with a little help from your electronics.
Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Tell them not to neglect the long points, either. They should start fishing them around the thermocline." That's usually near 26 feet.
Not too far from Table Rock lies Bull Shoals Lake, right on the Arkansas border. It's endured some tough times, but they're over. This 45,000-acre impoundment may now be the bass hotspot in the state.
A.J. Pratt, MDC fisheries management biologist for the lake, is very enthusiastic about the largemouth population. He reports that largemouth bass fishing in the lake looks good after several the down years. This improvement is due in large measure to a terrific spawn in 2002. "It's the second largest spawn since 1972," he replied, with obvious pride in his voice.
That's good news -- real good news -- for 2005. Largemouths in southern Missouri grow to 15 inches (the legal limit) in about three years with a good forage base, which Bull Shoals has. The product of that 2002 spawn should easily be legal length by this month. They should offer anglers a huge number of keepers for their summer fishing.
For daytime largemouth bassin,' Pratt recommends heading up the lake towards the very end of the impoundment, between Bee Creek and Forsyth. Fish the channel swings, twists and drops. Concentrate on those areas having 25 to 30 feet of water. Spend some time with your depth finder before you start casting. Try to find a brushpile or two along one of the swings. That shouldn't be difficult. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of them along the channel.
The top bait on the lake is an old-fashioned Texas-rigged plastic worm. This is basic fishing. Work it around, into and through the brush. Early in the summer, try an 8-inch model; as the summer wears along, or if you're looking for a trophy, upsize the offering to a 10-inch worm. Color selection should be equally basic; black or purple works just fine.
A final choice, up north about halfway to Kansas City, is the Harry S. Truman Reservoir. It doesn't get as much press as some of the others, but it's a fine bass lake nevertheless. The bass fishing should be good in 2005, said MDC fisheries biologist Trish Yasger, who is assigned to the lake. She reports that sampling studies in 2004 indicated an excellent population of "big, fat, slick and obviously healthy" largemouths. She also reports a good shad spawn in 2004. Big, healthy bass with plenty to eat is about all it takes to make for some good fishing.
If you're goi
ng to fish Truman during the day in July and August, you had better be in one of the major arms of the impoundment. The best are the Osage, Grand River, Tebo and Little Tebo arms. The deep water and heavy cover offer bass some protection from the elements. They fish much like the arms on Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock. They'll also produce the same high-quality bass fishing.
Well, there you have it. As this handful of great largemouth bass options suggests, the state offers great fishing for largemouths this month -- and anglers don't have to fish at night to enjoy it!