The Show-Me State is loaded with bass-fishing opportunities. Here are some of the hottest waters to target this spring and into the summer.
Missouri bass fishermen have never had it better. Dozens of lakes and streams scattered across the state offer superb fishing for largemouth bass, and in some cases trophy smallmouth, too. After a series of wet springs and spectacular spawns, bass numbers are up, and anglers are up to catching them. The large reservoirs, including Lake of the Ozarks, Stockton and Bull Shoals, offer spring bass anglers the opportunity to catch a bass of a lifetime. For those who prefer to fish rivers, they can’t go wrong chasing bass on both the Gasconade and Current Rivers.
Here’s a rundown on the prospects for some of Missouri’s best bass-fishing bets in 2019 from spring into summer.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
Jack Uxa is a popular bass-fishing guide on Lake of the Ozarks. He says March weather plays a big role in how aggressive the bass will be.“More than any other month, you have to keep an open mind to what lures and patterns will work,” he says.
Tournament pressure is significant in March, according to Uxa. “You can expect 50-plus tournaments each month in spring,” he says. “For the tournament fisherman, it’s all about finding the right spot with a bunch of fat pre-spawn bass hanging on it.
“Traditional lures like jerkbaits, wiggle warts and finesse jigs account for some heavy bags,” Uxa states. “A-Rigs are great for covering a lot of water off the banks and account for a lot of the big fish. For non-tournament fishermen, small shaky heads and jerkbaits get a lot more bites.”
Uxa says to concentrate on secondary points halfway back in the coves and where the creek channel swings into the bank with some pea gravel.
“Pay particular attention to the type of rock where you catch your first couple of fish and concentrate your efforts there,” he adds.
“Bass are primarily pre-spawn from February and March and actually spawn in late April and May,” Uxa says. “When they are ready to spawn, you will see them bedding behind the docks.”
Certain lures perform better in certain areas of the lake, according to Uxa.
“The river sections warm up faster where there isn’t as much extra deep water,” Uxa explains. “Spring is a time where we see warming trends followed by cold fronts on a weekly basis. You can fish different sections of the lake according to what the weather is doing.”
As an example, Uxa suggests fishing the upper Osage on a warming trend with a spinnerbait and fishing the north shore with an A-Rig on a cold front. By the end of April, weather should stabilize enough that the majority of bass begin to spawn.
“That’s when the bass-fishing fun really begins,” Uxa says.
“If I could fish only one week out of the year, it would be the second week of May,” he adds.
Stockton Lake is one of the most underrated bass fisheries in Missouri, according to Tandem Fly Outfitters owner Kris Nelson.
“Stockton is a phenomenal bass fishery,” he says. “Plus, it is off to itself without all of the buildup and congestion associated with so many other Missouri lakes.
“Gizzard shad production has been good the last several years on Stockton, providing bass with a solid food source,” he continues. “Too, Missouri Department of Conservation survey results in 2016 noted an abundance of bass in the 13- to 14.5-inch range. Those fish provided superb bass fishing on Stockton in 2018 and will continue to do so in 2019.”
Nelson first looks for bass on 45-degree rock banks early in the spring, as they begin to move into shallow water.
“I like to throw stickbaits at them during this early phase,” Nelson says.
“Stockton is a phenomenal bass lake,” he expands. “The early bite can often last a month or more. Once it slows, I follow bass to their spawning areas around chunk rock-pea gravel mixes. Eventually, they begin to prefer mostly gravel as the spawn begins.”
One of the best bass-fishing trips of my life occurred with Nelson as the spawn began in 2018. Lots of males cruised the banks searching for females that had completed nests and were beginning to spawn. Cruising males attacked wacky worm rigs with total abandon.
BULL SHOALS LAKE
Buster Loving has guided on Bull Shoals Lake for decades.
“March is normally still cold water, so nothing really changes until early April,” he says. “If we have an early rise in water temperatures, bass will begin to move shallow to the secondary points.”
Loving says the Keitech swimbait is hard to beat on the secondary points all the way into summer.
“You can also catch bass on a jig, too,” he says.
“Other baits to consider include the Chompers Shaky Head, with any natural color like green pumpkin or watermelon,” Loving says. “Centipedes, craws or finesse worms can be deadly as well, under the right conditions.”
The key to success is to keep searching until you find the bait bass will bite on any given day. And as the spawn begins, Loving suggests a Zara Spook or Whopper Plopper for some exciting topwater action.
“I continue throwing these baits even after the spawn,” Loving says, “because it just doesn’t get any more fun than topwater action!”
Tommy Bench guides from a jon boat on the upper Gasconade near Highway 133. Jetboats can’t negotiate that far upriver. According to Bench, smallmouth bass are leaving their wintering holes in March.
“They have been rather lethargic all winter and are now ready to feed heavily and make the long run back to their spawning grounds,” he says. “This is the time to intercept smallmouth staging below the riffle drops to feed at the best ambush points,” he adds. “They are hungry and will feed consistently.”
March is the best time of the year to catch a big female, according to Bench.
“The big females that are beginning to bed can be caught with finesse baits like a bright-colored Tackle HD 3-inch craw,” he says.
Bench prefers the back sides of islands where the river splits and rejoins.
“Shallow current around boulders, logs and other debris are the best places to toss baits,” he says. “Water depths should be 3 to 4 feet, or less.”
April offers another grand opportunity to catch lots of smallmouth bass on the Gasconade. “The Tackle HD Craws, Hellgrammites or HD MF Shakey Heads will get these finicky bass to bite,” Bench notes. “The water temperature is extremely important.”
As the spawn starts winding down in May, Bench recommends getting aggressive with a buzzbait or spinnerbait.
“Bass want to regain their strength after the spawn and go on feeding spree,” he says.
The section of Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways from Round Springs to the Ripley County line is well known among smallmouth bass fishermen.
“My favorite section of the river is from Two Rivers to Powder Mill,” says Billy Smith, owner of Scenic Rivers Guides and Tours.Smith is fond of soft plastics and regularly throws a variety of craw patterns.
“Soft plastics are good most of the year, but especially so as bass begin to move out of their winter patterns in March to prepare for the spawn,” he says.
“Current River has lots of structure in the form of rocky banks, boulder slides, downed logs and scour holes,” Smith notes. “I like to work the holes just below riffles. Bass may be at the head of the hole, deep in the middle or near the tail of the hole. I simply have to work through it, until I find the fish.”
John Ackerson is the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) fisheries biologist responsible for Current River. He begins by saying that Current River does not have any special regulations but follows statewide regulations with a 12-inch length limit and six in possession.
“Smallmouth are abundant in the portions of the Current with sustainable habitat, from northwest Shannon County all the way to Doniphan,” Ackerson says. “Very good populations exist from the Two Rivers area to well below Big Springs.”
Smallmouth are moving in March from winter habitats, which are heavily influenced by springs. The spawn occurs in mid-April, peaks in May, with some fish spawning well into June.
“Soft plastics on jigs up to 1/4-ounce are very popular in a variety of colors, according to water clarity,” Ackerson says. “Small crankbaits and spinnerbaits also work well.”
Located in Jackson County near Blue Springs, Lake Jacomo is a 97-acre reservoir, which is managed by Jackson County Parks and recreation.Tyler Mahoney, of Mahoney Outdoors, fishes the lake often.
“Jacomo is the best lake in the Lee’s Summit area,” he says. “It contains a diverse mix of structure and vegetation.”
Mahoney regularly catches nice largemouth bass for several weeks in the spring on a Ned rig. He says he’s caught bass up to 6 pounds that way.Jacomo contains lots of points, rocky banks and weed lines. Bass relate to rocky features in shallow water during the spawn. Before and after the spawn, largemouth can be found in deeper water and along weed line edges.
Busch Lake #33
Located in St. Charles County, Busch Lake #33 is a favorite of St. Louis-area fishermen coming to the Busch-Weldon Spring Conservation Areas. Lake #33 holds the biggest largemouth bass of any of the numerous lakes on the area.
The MDC recommends that anglers use small spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwater baits along rocky shorelines, brushpiles and in weedy cover.Better than 25 percent of largemouth bass in Lake #33 are larger than 18 inches, and 5 percent are longer than 20 inches. Bass will be found in shallow water in spring and can be caught on spinnerbaits and jig and pigs. As the water warms into late May, bass move to deeper water. Bigger bass can be caught along rock dams and dropoffs near logs and other structure. Plastic worms, crankbaits and jig and pigs are effective early and late in the day.
Fishermen are continually looking for baits that will give them the edge to catch more bass. The deluge of new baits that hit the market every season can be bewildering. However, there are always a few lures that stand above the others when it comes to bass-catching attributes.
Tackle HD, home of the HI-DEF Craw, out of St. Clair, Mo., began production out of a tiny building on January 20, 2017. Their custom-engineered tackle is designed, tested and re-tested to have unique fish-catching action and looks. Manufactured with uncanny attention to detail, the HI-DEF Craw has changed the way bass fishermen pursue their quarry in the Ozarks. They are deadly for bottom-feeding bass.
Crankbaits are favored summertime baits, and the Strike King KVD 2.5 Rattling Square Bill crankbait is ideal for searching large stretches of shallow water for hungry bass. Gasconade River guide Tommy Bench always keeps one of his rods rigged with a KVD Chartreuse Sexy Shad crankbait. If soft plastics don’t do the trick, he immediately switches to the KVD 2.5 and puts smallmouth bass in the boat.
Topwater baits are popular bass baits on both lakes and rivers. The River2Sea Whopper Plopper 90 has been all the rage with its high speed and buzzsaw sounds. The elongated, minnow-style body coupled with a rotating tail drives bass crazy. This durable bait can take high-volume fishing. It’s also a great bait choice when the lake blows up with hundreds of white bass crashing minnows on the surface.