Missouri's Fab 5 for Summer Bass
September 30, 2010
Temperatures may be soaring and the weather may be brutal, but there are still bass to be caught at these five waters.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Bryan Hendricks
August has arrived and dropped an anvil on six months of hard work. This aborted project started in March, when I first applied dormant oil to my apple trees and plowed my garden. After carefully planting corn, squash and cucumbers, I nurtured them with mulch, lime and fertilizer. When the drought hit in July, I spent two hours each evening watering every row by hand, one bucket at a time, from a 55-gallon drum I bought especially for this purpose.
My reward? My apples are shriveled and wormy. Their leaves are mottled and red from cedar apple rust. My garden, my pride and joy, lies scorched and barren after yielding only a few meals of produce. I gaze upon the desolation and sigh in both resignation and relief: Screw it - I'm going fishing.
If you think bass fishing in August is just as futile as gardening, think again. Fishing is excellent this month at lakes and rivers all over Missouri. No matter where you live in the Show Me State, you can enjoy the best of summer at places like Lake of the Ozarks, Truman, Twain and Table Rock. This is also a great time to go float-fishing for bass on some of our rivers. Here's how some of your neighbors are getting it done on a lake close to you.
MARK TWAIN RESERVOIR
Missouri's favorite author had an acid wit, and so does his namesake lake, at least in early spring and summer. By August, however, Twain's mood is calm and gentle. Its water levels are stable, and the bass fishing is surprisingly and dependably good.
In fact, Greg Cooper of Monroe City says that August is one of the best times to fish at the 39,000-acre reservoir northwest of St. Louis. "August is a pretty easy time on Twain," he asserted, adding that some of his very best trips have been in August, and those included days that were basically foolproof. "No matter what we did," he noted, "we did it right."
In late summer, Cooper restricts his bass fishing to main points on the lower end of the lake. That's because bass congregate to take advantage of the current sweeping across the points during hydroelectric power generation at Clarence Cannon Dam. He usually finds fish around 24 or 25 feet deep near submerged timber. He changes tactics as the day wears on, but he seldom strays from that combination of depth and structure.
"On a bluebird August day, we start before daylight and throw topwaters," he said. "Just 'walking the dog.' We're going to be sitting over about 25 feet of water throwing to the bank waiting for fish to come off the wood. They group up on that wood pretty good."
When the sun hits the water, Cooper switches to a Carolina-rig. His favorite lure is a 4-inch centipede, either watermelon/black flake or watermelon/red flake, on an 18- to 24-inch leader.
"If the fish get real finicky, I dip the tail end of the centipede in chartreuse dye," he offered. "That gives it a different look at different depths, and I usually pick up a few fish like that."
Locating the thermocline is the key to successful Carolina-rigging, according to Cooper. "With a Carolina rig, you're going from about 14 to 25 feet," he explained. "If the thermocline is at 16 feet, I don't fish any deeper than 18 feet, and nothing above 13 feet. We call it 'thermocline plus 5.'"
Later in the summer, Cooper catches bass by throwing a jig right against standing timber. "I like to bring the jig across a limb," he said. "As it scoots across, I let it fall to the bottom or until it starts swinging from something else."
Perhaps the best thing about summer bassing at Twain is its simplicity: You don't have to spend a lot of time looking for fish, because they're always in the same spots. "There are not that many main-lake points that produce," Cooper observed. "When they start pulling water through the dam, current drags across the points. But fish want to be as close to the channel as possible, so that really limits the points where they like to be. There's only about five that I can count on, so what I do is take a couple off one point and leave. That way, I can milk all five until I get a limit."
It also helps that Cooper spent his childhood hunting turkeys and rabbits in the Salt River bottoms before the lake was formed. From those trips, he learned where all the dips, humps, ridges and hollows were, and he uses that knowledge to pattern fish today. "We know where all the brush piles were, and where the timber stands were. I also know where the old farm ponds used to be, but truthfully, I've never caught a fish from an old pond site."
Given both its size and the fact that it flows through St. Louis, the Mississippi River would obviously be a popular fishery. However, it's also a very good bass fishery, even though that's a fairly well-kept secret. Greg Cooper reports that it consistently offers good fishing in August, even when things get slow at other waters.
"It's a heck of a river, and it's got a lot of bass," he said. "One of the best days I ever had there was when I was fishing with a friend from Iowa. We caught 10 fish that weighed 42 pounds."
They were fishing a backwater near Hannibal, where there was a deep hole near the main channel. The boat was sitting over 25 feet of water, and they were throwing 7-inch worms to a laydown against the bank.
Essentially, that's the standard pattern for fishing the Mississippi in the summer: targeting woody structure in deep water in the backwaters. Usually, Cooper throws 4-inch tube jigs in that situation. Water moving through the locks will produce current that energizes the fish, but since you never know when a barge will lock through, success depends mostly on being at the right place at the right time.
"If they have just one lock working, it usually creates some pretty good current," Cooper said. "In the backwaters, I always look for any kind of laydown logs or submerged buck brush. And I never pass up a beaver hut. There are a lot of those in the backwaters."
If the backwaters are barren, Cooper says, you can usually catch fish by casting crankbaits on the downstream side of wing dikes and jetties. Cast behind the jetty and retrieve past the tip of the point.
"I throw a No. 6 Bomber in Tennessee Shad," he elaborated. "Chartreuse is good, too. I throw it right up against the rocks on the backside. The current will usually position where you need to throw, but basically you look for eddy backwashes. The fish are usual
ly a boat length away from those. Just bring it back through those eddies, and you'll get bit when it comes through."
The biggest bass Cooper ever caught on the dikes weighed 7 pounds, but he says that a good limit will run about 15 pounds. "I've got one place up around Quincy (Ill.) that, if I catch it at the right time of day, I can catch some huge fish averaging 3 to 5 pounds."
TABLE ROCK LAKE
With its many tributaries and its endless diversity of deep, shallow and midrange structure, Table Rock Lake is a solid bass lake throughout summer. Like anywhere else, though, it has its dead zones, so you have to know where to go. Mike Boyles, a guide from Ozark, likes to spend August pitching jigs under boat docks in the James River arm.
"I start at Cape Fair and work back toward the main lake," he said. "The main thing is finding the baitfish. As long as the lake is holding steady and they're running some water through the dam, the fish should stay in the creeks."
Current is the key to finding baitfish, he added. In the afternoon, when power generation is heaviest at Table Rock Dam, current is strongest on main points. He throws large crankbaits in shad patterns or chartreuse/black in shallow water (1 to 3 feet) and retrieves parallel to the bank.
In the mornings, fish relate to isolated trees, which you can find just about anywhere if you've got a good depthfinder. These are promising places for catching big bass.
"If you're looking for really big fish, throw a deep-diving crankbait in a lavender shad color or white with green back," he advised. "If the water is stained, throw something chartreuse. Find the deeper trees and deeper channel swings with deeper timber. You won't get as many bites, but the fish you catch will be better than average. You can do that all day, but it can be better early."
If you want variety in your livewell, you can also catch some big spotted bass on Table Rock. Boyles recalled one day during a tournament when he caught 45 spots from two points, basically from the same spot on each point. Those fish ran anywhere from 15 inches to 2 3/4 pounds. For them, Boyles fishes a drop-shot rig in the middle portion of the James all the way to Long Creek. His standard setup includes a 1/4- to 3/4-ounce weight with a 1/0 hook and a 4-inch worm in watermelon or watermelon/red flake. Cotton candy is also a good color.
"On spotted bass, I like to fish the channel swing side of long points," Boyles explained. "If there's current, those fish will get on the rolloff side, where there's a shallow slope with pea gravel. You can also fish for them in brushpiles off some of the deeper boat docks, or in the shade of the boat docks themselves."
Now that you have a largemouth and a spot in the well, it's time to go for the grand slam with a big Table Rock smallmouth bass. They're fairly simple to catch, even in August. Boyles chases them with a 5/8-ounce to 3/4-ounce football style jighead and a soft-plastic spider grub in watermelon/red flake. He also uses the same jighead with a brown/purple skirt and a matching twin-tailed grub trailer.
"I fish for smallmouths on ledges, chunk rock or points between 5 and 35 feet deep," Boyles said. "I start shallow and go deeper until I find where the fish are biting. On cloudy days, they'll pull up shallow. In August, I've always caught pretty good stringers of smallmouths from Kimberling City to the dam."
Boyles fondly recalls one trip three summers ago. He and some friends were fishing in Fisher Creek, near Kimberling City, when they got into a school of smallmouths busting shad on the surface and caught them on topwaters and split-shot rigs.
"That was between 1 and 3 p.m. in bright sunlight," he said. "We had four smallmouths between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds. But some people catch some really huge smallmouths out of that lake."
Sheer size and the number of bass swimming its waters put Truman Lake among Missouri's top three bass lakes. In fact, it's so good that Coach Jim Wilson of Coach's Guide Service only fishes part of it - the Pomme de Terre arm, and a small portion of the Osage arm. As he tells it, there's simply no reason to go anywhere else.
In August, said Wilson, the Pomme arm always seems to be a little cooler than the rest of the lake, which seems to make bass in that area more active than elsewhere. The Pomme arm also has plenty of submerged timber - much of it visible - that holds bass even in the hottest weather.
"You try to find treelines that go from the main channel all the way to the bank," Wilson said. "Most of the time those fish are moving up and down those flats along the treelines. You can usually catch them on 10-inch worms, tube jigs and jig-and-pigs."
Of course, some treelines are better than others. According to Wilson, the best ones have small ditches snaking through them that provide travel lanes for bass, as well as cooler water and shade.
"In August, bass will stay in deep water," he said. "They'll come up shallow to feed, but they'll go back out and stay close to the channel. A good place would be where a bend goes close to a bluff. It's amazing how many fish you'll catch in there over 5 pounds."
Wilson's favorite spot is called Deaton Bird Point. That's where the river channel kisses a cove full of cedar trees. It makes a swing toward an old row of hedge trees; a ditch comes in on the other end of the row, and, Wilson says, fish are always there.
When he's using a 10-inch worm, Wilson finds that pumpkinseed consistently seems to be the best color; sometimes he dips the tail in chartreuse dye. Using submerged limbs for leverage, he fishes it slowly in the treerows. Tube jigs can also work well in these areas, he adds. Dark blue/red fleck is his favorite color.
"It's almost like pitching a jig," Wilson said. "You just work it around a tree, like pitching around a boat dock. Pitch it in real silent and let it go to the bottom, and then work it up. If there's a cedar tree with lots of limbs, you can throw right in the middle of that. Sometimes a fish gets caught up in those trees, and you have to yank them out when you set the hook."
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
In August, boat traffic makes for brutal fishing conditions on Lake of the Ozarks, but surprisingly, traffic is lightest close to Bagnell Dam. I like to go to this area about 4 p.m. and work the banks on the north side of the lake with a Carolina-rigged worm. Color doesn't seem to matter. I've done well with black/blue flake, blue/baby blue flake and all shades of red.
Facing the dam, I typically start at the first cove on the left and work toward the lake facing upstream. I catch most of my fish in the last 30 yards, all the way to the tip of the point. Most of my bites occur 15 to 20 feet down, but as the sun sets, I start catching them right next to the bank. The fish I catch run from 12 inches to
Moving back upstream, I work each point on that side until sunset, and then I head for the house. By then it's dark, and I can't see the burnt ground that was once my garden. I boil up some corn and fry up some squash from my neighbor's garden, God bless him. It goes great with fresh fish.
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