It’s been a long hard Missouri winter. The boat has been sitting high and dry in the driveway too long, and the trays in the tackle bag haven’t seen the light of day except for the dim fluorescent glow of the shop lights during winter daydreaming sessions.
All those off-season months away from the lakes and rivers have let those big bass grow even larger and more aggressive. It’s time to get back in the game, and 2012 promises to be a trophy year for bass fishing.
KANSAS CITY REGION
One of the best bass lakes on the west side of the state is one of the smallest impoundments managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation for public use. Williams Creek Lake near Excelsior Springs sits in Watkins Mill State Park, adjacent to Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site.
The 100-acre impoundment has proved itself for developing excellent populations of catfish, crappie, redears and, most important, largemouth bass. During the past few years, bass anglers have consistently taken fish in excess of 6 pounds. Consider starting this spring by throwing spinnerbaits, and then switching to plastics and crankbaits as the water warms by midsummer.
Because the lake is on the small side, boat motors are restricted to 10 horsepower maximum. There is a launching pad and boat dock, and a separate fishing dock near the west end of the dam.
For an even more confined bass fishing experience, consider plying the 12 lakes that make up the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area outside Lee’s Summit, south of Route 50 in Jackson County. The ponds and lakes range from 1 acre to 42 acres, and are managed in a cooperative agreement between the MDC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The relatively shallow lakes have plenty of weedbeds and fish attracting brushpiles. Both are prime cover for spawning largemouths starting as early as April. All the lakes at James A. Reed have good numbers of bass, but locals suggest Catclaw, Nell, Bluestream or Jackrabbit. The methods are the same regardless of which lake you try; use the same tactics you’d use for any shallow water with lots of underwater foliage.
Starting in late spring, try working plastic worms or French fry style baits or topwater lures across the top of the weedbeds or submerged brush. As summer progresses, stick with topwater lures and plastics, but expect to see more activity early and late in the day. Fishing is permitted in the park from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer.
Across the state and to the south sits Clearwater Lake, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the mid-1900s as a way of controlling flooding in Southeast Missouri by the Black River. The lake is fed by two sources: Webb Creek to the west and the much larger and clearer Black River to the east. Sampling in 2010 revealed nearly a third of the bass collected measured more than 15 inches. The MDC predicted great bass angling in 2011, and despite the abnormal weather — near drought in early summer, and record high temperatures by late summer — those expectations proved to be right on the mark. Another good forecast has been given for 2012.
Clearwater is managed jointly by the state’s conservation department and the Corps of Engineers. Each year those agencies add additional brushpiles for fish cover. A map showing the location of the brushpiles can be obtained by calling the MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at (573) 290-5730.
Constant raising and lowering of the water level in the lake to manage flow downstream from the dam has resulted in a primarily gravely or sandy shoreline. In a few areas, especially on the Black River arm of the lake near the Bluff View Marina, the shoreline is pocked with some sizable rocky outcroppings. The best bet is to target the rocky edges or submerged brushpiles using deep-diving lures or your favorite weighted plastics.
I learned to fish for bass from my dad, Dewel Smith, out of his 14-foot johnboat in Clearwater Lake. We’d put the boat in at Bluff View Marina, just a few miles from our home. Then we’d fish the area from about a half-mile upstream, at the lower edge of a stretch known as Riverside, down to where the Black River met Webb Creek at the head of the lake proper. I’ve since fished with my own children in those same honeyholes.
While you’re in the region you might as well go after some smallmouth farther up in the Black River. It’s not out of the question to find a bronzeback 20 inches or larger. During times of good flow in the river you can take a boat as far north as K Bridge (State Route K) in Iron County. Areas farther upstream into Reynolds County, where the three forks of Black River merge at Lesterville, are ideal for wade- or float-fishing.
Target submerged logs and root wads in bends, and don’t let the crystal clear water fool you. There are nice-sized smallmouths hanging out in those shallow gravel-bottomed riffles. Toss minnows or plastic crappie jigs to the head of the riffle and let the current carry them down and across. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find in the spring-fed water.
Other bass-fishing lakes to consider in the Southeast Region include Wappapello in Wayne and Butler counties, Tenmile Creek outside Poplar Bluff in Butler, and DiSalvo Lake, formerly known as Bismarck Lake, in St. Francois County.
Check out the the bass outlook for the Ozark and Northeast regions on page two