Table Rock's April Bass Action

Make no mistake about it -- the bass fishing in Missouri gets hot in April. And at this time of year, no impoundment is hotter than Table Rock Lake.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Jason Sealock

The sun poked holes in the fog like an oversized sewing needle pricking through a piece of thick cotton. A brisk, cool breeze whisked across the water's surface and moved steam rising off the lake like a feather dancing in the wind. The soft sound of the buzzbait interrupting the glassy calm seemed the perfect accompaniment to the singing sounds of nature.

Swoosh! What might as well have been a tidal wave rolled the buzzbait under the surface, and the line jumped to attention as the angler ripped the rod backwards. The drag strained to hold on, slipping only a few feet at a time until a weary foe on the other end realized there was nothing left but surrender.

Beaming with pride, a smile from ear to ear, the angler lowered a welcoming hand to the fish, gently pulled her out of the water, and after stopping to pose for pictures, released the battle-hardened bass to swim the lake once more. Another typical early-spring morning was under way on Table Rock Lake.

ABOUT THE LAKE
The lake sprawls over 43,100 acres at normal pool and will reach more than 50,000 acres at controlled-flood stage. Its normal 745 miles of shoreline will expand to over 900 miles of shoreline during flood conditions. In the spring, the high waters from rain and run-off will also put more cover in the lake in the form of bushes and buckbrush. Normally, anglers will search out bass around boulders, chunk rock, stumps and submerged timber.

"April is one of my favorite months for big bass," said area guide and competitive angler Rick La Point of Springfield. "The two largest bass my guide parties have caught were in April of 2003." One lucky angler fishing with La Point caught an 8-pound, 1-ounce trophy largemouth that month, while La Point himself caught a 7-pound, 12-ounce beauty on another trip the very next week. La Point also guided a client to a 5-pound, 8-ounce smallmouth bass in April 2002.

"April, I think, is the second best month for big bass with March being the first," said another local guide and professional angler, Pete Wenners of Galena. "What makes April so special is that you can catch bass on almost any lure made. What you should do is concentrate on strong techniques and your favorite way to fish."

Both anglers agree, however, that April bass fishing on "the Rock" is hot! On a scale from 1 to 10, both anglers rank April bass fishing a 9-plus. Why a 9-plus, you might ask? Well, both anglers are prejudiced: They believe that a "10" in bass fishing is too rare ever to achieve consistently. So for all practical purposes, fishing on the Rock in April yields impressive results.

WHERE TO START
There are nearly a hundred access points both private and public at Table Rock Lake. The great thing about that number of accesses is that you can launch a boat or hit a bank in productive water at any time of the year. And when it comes to fishing the Rock in April, your time would be better spent in wetting your lure than in running around in your boat.

"Indian Point is probably one of the most overlooked ramps for fishing in the clearer water," La Point offered. "The facilities are really nice, and the ramp isn't that crowded in April." To access the ramp, take state Road 76-60 near the junction of highways 76 and 265.

Another popular springtime area lies near the Highway 13 bridge in Kimberling City. There are several resorts in that area and a public access ramp just north of the bridge heading east off the main highway. If you continue north on Highway 13, you'll find state Road OO, which will lead you to the Aunt's Creek ramp off of OO-9.

Anglers wanting to fish the famed James River arm will look to access the lake at the Cape Fair Public Use area off state Road 76-82 near the intersection of highways 76 and 173 in Cape Fair. You'll be near Flat, Woolly and Piney creeks as well as in the middle of the James River arm. The boatless can get into worthwhile fishing right from the ramp, as many submerged brushpiles are sunk around it and the marina.

Arkansas anglers can access the lake quickly at Holiday Island and Eagle Rock, off highways 187 and 86, respectively. But be aware that you'll need fishing licenses from both Arkansas and Missouri to cast a line in both areas. The alternative: Buy a White River Lakes Border Permit. For $10 plus your resident fishing license, you can access any part of Bull Shoals, Table Rock and Beaver that extends across either state.

WHAT TO DO
In April, it's hard to make a bad choice of lure. Bass move shallow, looking to feed and looking to spawn, and anything, from sight-fishing to power-fishing to finesse-fishing, can prove as effective as anything else. The key ingredient that anglers must find is water that matches their individual techniques. Obviously, you're not going to try to sight-fish in the muddier waters of the James River; similarly, you're not going to burn a crankbait through beds of spawning largemouths on the lower end of the lake.

Those who like to swim big spinnerbaits through flooded buckbrush and burn crankbaits along chunk rock banks near creek channel turns are likely to find that the many river arms will prove most productive. The James, Kings and White River arms offer splendid fishing at this time of year. Look for areas of the river where a creek channel makes a significant bend and begin targeting pockets and coves in this section. If the lake is flooded and buckbrush abundant, a spinnerbait or buzzbait can be hard to beat.

"Normally the fish will move from deeper to shallower water," said Wenners. "They will sometimes suspend on the points at 10 to 15 feet, going down to the bottom at those same depths to feed on crawfish." When the bass are out on the points like this, hard-plastic jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits and suspending crankbaits are proven winners. A little wind will help these patterns immensely; if there's no wind, a presentation more in the finesse category is required.

Anglers may also want to run all the way to the back of creek arms and pockets to see if bass are still pushing shad back there before the spawn. In early spring, it's not uncommon to find Table Rock bass pushing shad into water less than a foot deep. Last spring, professional angler Lynn Sykes, of Bentonville, Ark., and I found bass, their backs out of the water, pushing shad up into water less than 6 inches deep. When they are on the feed in shallow water like that, you can load the boat in a hurry. We boated bass after bass on lipless and shallow running crankbaits in one small cove up the Ja

mes River.

Many anglers find that taking a more subtle approach catches as many big bass, and bass as numerous, as does the method of their power-fishing counterparts. Baits like 4-inch hula grubs, 3-inch curly-tail grubs on darter heads, and 4-inch finesse worms on split-shot rigs consistently fool Table Rock's bass in April. This style of fishing produces well in clear water, but, surprisingly, it can be equally effective in muddier waters like the Kings and James rivers'.

Many anglers tend to forget that not all shallow bass during the spawn are actually spawning. Only a percentage of bass in a lake will spawn at any one time - which means that many bass not actually looking for beds roam the shallows. Fishermen often pass over these bass because they don't think they can catch a fish like that if they aren't "locked on" to a bed.

While it's true that catching fish cruising shallow water can be a challenge, it's not impossible. The key is to throw smaller offerings as you make long casts well ahead of the fish in the direction they're moving. A split-shot rig really excels at catching cruising fish; so do small soft-plastic jerkbaits rigged weightless.

"A soft-plastic jerkbait is my favorite at this time of year," La Point said. He thinks that though you'll probably catch more bass on the finesse worm and split shot, fishing a soft-plastic jerkbait in clear water provides more excitement, because it's a technique that let's you see the fish as they bite - and often it's a technique that produces larger bass.

Another finesse technique of merit involves a simple 3-inch or 4-inch curlytail grub on a 1/4-oz. darter head. "Put the boat over 20 to 25 feet of water and cast towards the shore," Wenners said. "Work the bait back 5 to 25 feet deep with a slow swimming motion." Wenners suggests sticking with colors that mimic baitfish. Colors like smoke, salt and pepper, and pearl all produce well with this technique.

SIGHT-FISHING "BUBBA"-STYLE
While many consider sight fishing a form of finesse fishing, it doesn't necessarily have to be. Many anglers on Table Rock Lake sight-fish with 20-pound-test line and baitcasting gear - the reason being that there's a chance of your catching a 7- or 8-pound largemouth, which, generally speaking, like to spawn near some sort of heavy cover like a stump or laydown.

"I feel there are more and bigger bass in clearer, deeper-water areas," Wenners said, "but they live deep for most of the year. This time of year, they are coming out of deeper water to spawn and are a lot easier to catch."

Whether he fishes the main lake or the river arms, Wenners begins by finding the main lake and secondary points at which bass will stage before spawning. He's learned over the years that most of the spawning occurs on gravel banks in transition areas and pockets protected from the wind.

The spotted and smallmouth bass will spawn in open water around little or no cover, while the largemouth are typically prone to spawn around stumps and at the base of standing timber. Wenners has found beds as deep as 20 feet, but, he notes, these beds can be nearly impossible to fish effectively.

For fishing beds, Wenners suggests, use soft plastics in various shapes and sizes until you figure out what the fish want. He generally uses tube baits, grubs and lizards to tempt Table Rock bass. But the most important thing he advises you do is to use a color that you can see. Most of the time you won't feel the bite from a bedding bass but, instead, see your bait jump off the bed and start moving off.

La Point recommends that you invest in a quality pair of polarized sunglasses if you're planning on doing any sight-fishing. It's in this one category of fishing gear that you get what you pay for, and not all polarized glasses are created equal. Anglers will quickly learn that sight-fishing without polarized glasses is an act of futility.

Last spring I took an angler who didn't have a pair of polarized sunglasses out fishing at Table Rock. I had my shades on and was actually coaching his every movement of the bait. On three occasions I told the angler that the fish had his bait but not to set the hook, because I could still see the hook hanging outside the fish's mouth. On the fourth bite, I told the angler to wait a few seconds. When I saw the bait completely disappear that time, I yelled for him to set the hook; a 3-pound spotted bass was in the boat moments later.

A great Table Rock technique for finding and fishing beds in April is one that'll enable you to cover a lot of water quickly: Troll the shallows while you throw a small jerkbait or split-shot worm. As you come across a bed, circle the boat wide over deeper water and wait for the fish to return. Remember that not all bass near beds are actually guarding the nest, so study each fish for a few minutes to see if the fish is guarding or merely waiting to spawn. Those fish that are guarding are said to be "locked on" a bed, and these are generally the fish you want to target.

La Point tries to release every bass caught off a bed immediately upon catching it, so that he doesn't affect the spawning process. Removing a bass for even a few minutes can allow predators to eat the eggs on the bed.

KNOW THE RULES
Table Rock Lake has a minimum-length limit of 15-inches on all three species; the daily bag limit is six bass per angler. In April you can expect to catch numbers of 1- to 4-pound bass, while bass over 5-pounds are fairly common. An 8-pound largemouth, a 5-pound smallmouth, and a 4-pound spotted bass will be considered trophies on this lake.

Whether you like to fish big lures on heavy line or finesse baits on light line, you'll find the fish ready to cooperate on Table Rock. While recreational traffic can make for frustrating fishing during the summer, you'll find springtime fishing on the Rock to be a satisfying experience. The multitude of coves, creeks and points here will offer ample areas in which to find fish without having to fight the crowds.

If you're new to the lake, hiring a guide is a smart way to start learning the water. For more information on the guides listed here call Pete Wenners at 1-800-882-1978, or visit him on the Web at www.hookedonbass. com; call Rick La Point at 1-800-869-2210, or visit him on the Web at www.strikebass.com.

But don't be too intimidated by the large impoundment if you want to try it on your own. Invest in a good topographic map of the lake and find those areas mentioned here - and just go fishing! The April action can be outstanding all over the state, but at "the Rock" it's red-hot!



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