When the dogwood and redbud trees are in full bloom, the bass spawn is usually on somewhere in the Show-Me State. Although the blooming trees usually indicate bass are spawning, the real factors that trigger the bass spawn on Missouri waters are a combination of water temperature and hours of daylight, according to Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Fisheries Biologist Greg Stoner.
“I think those couple of different environmental factors that the bass rely on is kind of a fail-safe [on when the spawn will occur],” Stoner says.
Spawning activity usually begins when the water temperature climbs into the upper 50-degree range, which coincides with the hours of daylight increasing in the spring. The spawn continues through the 60-degree range and usually ends when the water temperature rises into the 70s.
The bass spawn can run from early April into June depending on what part of the state you fish. Bass in the Ozark lakes in southern Missouri are the first to build spawning nests, whereas their cousins in the northern Missouri waters are the last to spawn. Stoner notes bass in ponds will also spawn sooner than reservoir bass because the smaller waters warm up quicker.
Bass in Missouri waters will spawn on just about any type of bottom.
“They are really not that picky,” Stoner says. “Some ponds have no cover in them, so the bass will just make a depression in the silt where they can get down to a harder substrate to lay their eggs there. They do seem to like to have something they can get their backs up against. Then they only have to guard in two or three directions away from the nest against little egg-stealing bluegill and longear sunfish.”
Here is a look at when and where bass spawn on some of Missouri’s lakes.
A thriving bass population at Clearwater Lake makes this southeast Missouri reservoir a great destination to fish during the spawn.
“The bass population on Clearwater is great,” MDC biologist Paul Cieslewicz says. “Every year a third of our [electrofishing] samples are over 15 inches.”
Clearwater largemouth bass begin spawning about the first week of April, and the spawn usually lasts for about a month, according to Cieslewicz.
The largemouth typically seek flatter chunk rock or gravel banks to build their nests. The lake contains only 1,600 acres, so bass anglers can quickly find the spawning banks.
“It’s an easy lake to pattern because it is not that big of a lake,” Cieslewicz says.
Clearwater bass will spawn as shallow as 2 feet and can be caught sight-fishing. The biologist suggests the Black River arm is best for sight-fishing because it is generally clearer than the Webb Creek arm. Cieslewicz recommends checking the lake level if you plan on sight-fishing during the spawn.
“If the lake is going up, it is going to be kind of muddy,” he says.
Popular lures for catching Clearwater bass during the spawn include plastic worms, Salt Craws and jerkbaits. Cieslewicz reminds anglers that they should also try spinnerbaits and crankbaits for pre-spawn fish throughout April because all of the fish don’t spawn at the same time.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
Show-Me State anglers can catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass during the spawn on this 43,100–acre southwest Missouri reservoir. Table Rock Guide Pete Wenners notices the spawn normally starts the first week of April and usually ends sometime in May.
Spawning activity begins in the upper White River section and gradually moves downlake to the dam area.
“The only exception to that is if our water is stained and stable with some warm sunshine; then the spawn will start first up the James arm,” Wenners says.
Largemouth are usually the first to spawn, followed by the smallmouth; spotted bass are last to spawn. Wenners notices largemouth prefer spawning on shelf rock banks mixed with gravel and wood cover or docks. Smallmouth and spotted bass prefer building nests on flat gravel banks on the main lake and in pockets close to the main lake.
The clear water of Table Rock is ideal for sight-fishing. Wenners’ favorite lure to throw during the spawn is the Ned rig with a Strike King Zero stickworm and a 3/16-ounce Five Fish Lures Ultimate Ned Head jig.
“It is such a good search bait for finding spawning fish,” says Wenners, who also relies on the lure for sight-fishing.
Stockton Guide Les Jarman sees bass starting to nest in late March or early April on his home lake. He notices the majority of the fish spawn during the full moon of April and leave the nests by the end of the month. The earliest spawning bass can be found in the upper ends of the southern section of the lake, which warms the quickest in the spring.
Spawning areas vary for Stockton bass depending on the section of the lake.
“In the river end of the lake, a lot of the spawning fish will be on the pole timber and the stumps, and down on the main lake, they will be on the 45-degree transition banks where it changes from chunk rock to gravel,” Jarman says.
The guide notes spotted bass will build nests first followed by largemouth and smallmouth, which usually spawn at the same time. All three species nest in 3 to 8 feet of water, and the lake is clear enough to sight-fish for spawners.
Jarman’s favorite lures for spawning bass are a wacky-rigged green pumpkin Senko, 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jig and plastic craw, Zara Spook, Pop-R and Whopper Plopper. If the lake is high, Jarman suggests flipping a tube bait or creature bait around the flooded bushes for spawning bass.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
The full-blown spawn on my home lake usually occurs around the full moon in April.
Stoner notes the spawn starts where the water warms up quickest in the tributary arms of the Gravois, Niangua and Grand Glaize. My fishing logs indicate the spawn on my home area close to the dam occurs during the last two weeks of April. The massive size of the lake (54,000 acres) allows anglers to fish the spawn for more than a month, and during some springs, spawners can be caught in late May or early June.
Typical spawning sites for both largemouth and spotted bass at Lake of the Ozarks are pea gravel pockets where the fish nest at depths ranging from 1 to 8 feet deep depending on the water clarity. The biggest fish will nest behind docks in hard-to-reach areas under catwalks and next to concrete pillars. Skipping a soft-plastic bait or a jig under the dock cables is the best way to trick the larger bass nesting behind the docks.
In the dirty-water areas, the best lures for spawning bass include plastic lizards, Salt Craws and creature baits. During dry springs, I sight-fish for spawning bass on the lower end of the lake with floating worms, wacky-rigged Senkos, plastic lizards on split-shot rigs, soft plastic jerkbaits and tube baits. Working Zara Spooks or floating stickbaits over spawning beds is also effective throughout April. If a bass blows up and misses my topwater offering, I will throw back to the same spot with a Senko or floating worm to catch the nesting fish.
AUGUST A. BUSCH MEMORIAL CONSERVATION AREA
This 6,987-acre MDC-managed area in St. Charles County features 38 fishing lakes, with most of the lakes containing bass.
Warming water in April triggers the spawning migration at the conservation area lakes.
“We will start to see activity in the low 50s [water temperature] when the fish are moving out of deeper water and trying to get into shallower water,” MDC Biologist Kevin Meneau says. The biologist sees bass on nests around the third week of April, and spawning is usually over by the middle of May.
The bass waters at the conservation area vary in size from small lakes to ponds. Meneau suggests the smaller lakes generally warm up faster, and bass will move on beds earlier on those waters.
“Although, our Lake 33 [the area’s largest lake] is relatively turbid, so if we get a pretty sunny spring, that will warm just as fast as the smaller ponds,” Meneau says.
Bass in the conservation area lakes seek any kind of hard bottom available to build nests.
“Our lakes don’t have a lot of gravel, so the bass tend to look more for sand or areas along the riprap dams or levees where some of the boulders have slid down and there is smaller fine material in between those boulders,” Meneau says.
Lakes 34 and 35 and some of the smaller ponds are clear enough for anglers to sight-fish for spawning bass. Meneau rates Lake 33 as “one of the better bass lakes in the state,” and Lakes 36 and 38 are starting to gain reputations as good bass waters. The biologist reports his electrofishing sampling on those lakes have produced numerous bass over 15 inches and bass up to 23 inches in length.
The biologist suggests finesse lures are the best option for fishing during the bass spawn.
“Our lakes get pressured heavily, so if you are planning on coming out with white spinnerbaits and chucking them all over the place, you are probably not going to have as much success as anglers who slow down and use finesse baits,” Meneau says. He recommends trying small jigs or soft plastics such as finesse worms or French fry worms for the heavily pressured bass there.
The bass spawn occurs later on this 7,190–acre reservoir close to the suburbs of Kansas City. MDC Biologist Eric Dennis observes the spawn begins on Smithville toward the end of April and extends into May.
Bass start spawning in the upper sections of the lake first, but fish will be spawning at the same time throughout the lake within a couple of weeks because of the reservoir’s smaller size.
A typical spawning bank for Smithville bass features some pea gravel and wood cover.
“Smithville’s got a lot of different types of habitat whether it be brushpiles or some pea gravel flats and stuff that bass like to make nests on,” Dennis says.
Smithville bass will spawn at depths ranging from 1 foot in dirty water to 6 feet in clear water. Dennis suggests the water at Smithville is clear enough to sight-fish for spawning bass. Plastic lizards, jigs tipped with plastic chunks or plastic craws and Brush Hogs are popular lures for tricking bass on the nests at Smithville.
BANK FISHING FOR SPAWNING BASS
When bass are spawning in the shallows, bank anglers actually have some advantages over anglers fishing from boats.
While sight-fishing for spawning bass at Lake of the Ozarks, I have noticed it is easier to catch nesting fish when I fish from the bank as opposed to fishing from my boat. Stalking spawning bass from the shore allows me to be stealthier, and I don’t have to worry about the trolling motor spooking the shallow fish or trying to keep my boat a safe distance from the nest.
Farm ponds and MDC-managed lakes throughout the state are ideal places to bank fish for spawning bass. MDC Fisheries Biologist Kevin Meneau lists Lake 33 as the best lake to catch spawning bass from shore at August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area.
“It is encircled by a rock-lined levee,” he says. “So I don’t know if boat anglers have anything up on shoreline anglers on Lake 33. Everyone can access the best waters equally.”
Other waters at the conservation area offering good access for bank anglers include Lakes 6, 21 and 36.
“In spring, it seems like some of the best bass fishing is along the rock-lined dams, and of course those are very accessible from shore,” Meneau says.