A great fishing hole, like beauty, is all in the eye (or opinion) of the beholder. Launching out onto a likely looking lake and not getting bit puts that spot in the category of being overrated and a waste of time. Come back to the dock with stories about the 6-pounders you released and the lake is as good as gold.
Here's the lowdown on 10 of the Show Me State's finest largemouth bass lakes for this spring. There are plenty more but any of these would be a great place to start.
SHAWNEE TRAIL CA
The 42 small strip-mined pits on Shawnee Trail are made for the bass angler.
Fish in the 20-inch range grace these ponds, according to fisheries biologist Rick Horton. The pits most likely to yield these 4- and 5-pounders are Numbers 1, 4, 10, 32, and 39. That doesn't mean the others just roll over and play dead.
The smaller pits run from 12 to 15 feet deep and are on the southern end of the conservation area. The water isn't as clear in those pits as in others on the property. Most of the deep pits are up to 35 feet in depth and located on the north end of the area.
The most productive pits require a hike to reach and, consequently, are less pressured.
Anglers should come prepared to finesse their way to success. The crystal-clear waters in some ponds provide bass the opportunity to give any bait a critical eye.
Check the Pin Oak Lake bulletin board for a map and then plan to keep on going. Horton points out that Pin Oak is a better channel cat lake than it is a bass lake, but adds that an 8-pound largemouth was hooked there.
Shawnee Trail Conservation Area is a mile south of Highway 160 on Route M in Barton County.
For additional information, contact the Missouri Department of Conservation at (417) 451-4158 or the Shawnee Trail Conservation Area at (417) 629-3423.
"The lake is a gem," said fisheries biologist Torey Mason. "I even catch largemouth bass by accident when I'm after the crappie."
The 2009 electrofishing survey was a real eye-opener, not that it was unexpected. The 1,006-acre lake has been a tremendous bass fishery since it was created in 1993 for the City of Maryville in Nodaway County. The population of bass is stable; of the bass sampled, more than a third hit the 15-inch mark and above.
Much of the lake's success lies in the great habitat. Rocky points, shallow coves, 18 brushpiles below the water's surface, riprap on parts of the lake's 26 miles of shoreline, and weedbeds are all hotspots where even a novice stands a chance of rewriting local history. Mason did his part with a five-fish day in which none of the bass were less than 19 inches.
The 12- to 15-inch protected slot and six-fish bag limit is doing its job. The possibility of catching an 8-pound largemouth isn't just wishful thinking.
Three boat ramps are available along with a handicapped-accessible covered fishing dock for shore-bound anglers. Boat passes are available from the Maryville Public Safety Department at (660) 562-3209. The city provides a small campground, cabins, fish cleaning station, and picnic pavilions. Contact the MDC at (816) 271-3100 or Big Bird's Bait in Maryville at (660) 582-8990 for more information.
HARRY S. TRUMAN LAKE
Truman provides plenty of elbowroom for anglers on its 55,600 acres. There aren't any best-bet locations on this huge body of water, so fish the structure where you find it. And it won't be hard to find.
Standing timber and rotting stumps are great bass-holders but hard on lower units. Boaters need to use caution when inching back into heavy cover in pursuit of the big bucketmouths. Depths run to about 20 feet but the lake bottom is strewn with old roads, stumps, rocks and logs.
Locals rely on white and chartreuse single-bladed spinnerbaits and black or blue jig-and-pig combos. The water can be exceptionally clear or heavily stained; bring baits for both.
In addition to the largemouth bass there is a fishable population of spotted bass on rocky areas at the lower end of the lake. These bass run in smaller sizes but make up for it in hefty attitudes. Small crankbaits and spinnerbaits should produce.
The bonus white bass action creates quite a draw when the spawning runs are going hot and heavy in April and May. Try the major tributaries such as the Tebo, Sac, South Grand, Osage, and Pomme de Terre arms.
Call the Harry S. Truman State Park Marina at (660) 438-2423, the MDC at (816) 655-6250 for additional information, or Tebo Creek Bait and
AUGUST A. BUSCH - MEMORIAL CA
The ponds on this area are bursting with bass, according to fisheries biologist Marvin Boyer. Ponds 33 and 35 are the top picks. In the past they've produced bass populations in which 60 percent of the fish reached the 15-inch mark and nearly a quarter of them 18 inches.
"These are old bass and they're well-educated," said the fisheries biologist. "Hundreds of bass baits swim by these lip-locked fish every week and the pressure is high."
Most of the ponds are shallow with typical small-water habitat like weedy patches, fallen logs, or brushpiles. When conditions are right and the bass turn on, it's not out of the question to catch several fish in the 4- to 7-pound range in a day's time.
Consult the regulations for any changes in the 15-inch and 18-inch minimum length limits on some of the ponds.
The conservation area is reached south on Highway 94 from Highway 40/61, then west a little over a mile on Highway D. Lakes 15, 33, and 34 provide covered floating docks and are handicapped accessible. Lakes 1, 2, 15, and 30 are closed for fishing.
Contact the MDC at (636) 300-1953 or (636) 441-4554 for more information.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
If big water is your cup of tea, Table Rock should hit the spot. The lake covers 52,300 acres.
Largemouth bass are up in the lake's shallow arms and coves chasing shad. Check around docks, brushpiles, and shoreline features during low light. The smallmouth and Kentucky spotted bass are chasing shad around the rocky points.
Green plastic and motor oil worms produce good action. Worms can be wacky rigged for on-the-spot fishing, or used in a variety of ways to probe the deep water.
Table Rock is the perfect place to practice your fishfinder skills. Good electronics can eliminate a lot of unproductive water and let you concentrate on fishing the sections where you know the bass are holding.
Try the James River arm for all three species. The bass tend to run big in the stickups and along the steep banks.
Largemouth bass reach 6 pounds. Smallmouth and Kentucky spotted bass weigh from 3 to 4 pounds. There is a 15-inch minimum length limit in place for black bass.
Call the MDC at (417) 895-6880 or the Shadrock Resort at 1-877-773-2211for more information.
Stockton is one more good southwestern Missouri bass lake.
What makes Stockton so special?
It's the bass. The 3- to 5-pound Kentucky spotted bass are nice but not the main draw. The largemouth bass are king. Fish from 8 to 9 pounds have been taken and there are probably more of them in the lake. Although there are a lot of smaller bass, there are trophy fish too.
Big bass hit big baits in Stockton. Don't be afraid to tie on a 10- or 12-inch plastic worm to ply the brushpiles and submerged timber. An occasional bucketmouth is taken on the riprap shorelines and rocks, but most of the time that is where the smallmouth and Kentucky spotted bass are hunting.
Smallmouth bass anglers should pay attention to the area north of the Route 215 bridge. The area has bluffs that concentrate smallies.
Stockton covers 24,900 acres about 15 miles north of Springfield.
The map of manmade brushpiles and fallen trees is available from the MDC office at (417) 895-6880. For more information, call the Stockton State Park at (417) 226-4259 or the Thompson Fishing Guide Service at (417) 424-2277.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
This is the largest lake in Missouri with more than 1,300 miles of shoreline and 61,000 acres of water.
Lake of the Ozarks is a big-fish lake. Tournament anglers go back to the check-in disappointed if they don't have several 6- to 7-pound largemouth bass in tow. Though rare, 8- to 9-pounders have tipped the scales around the lake and definitely put trophy possibilities on the table.
The locals have pretty much tried everything as far as baits go. What rises to the top is Table Rock Tackle's Chompers twin-tailed grub rigged on a football jig and sweetened with garlic flavoring. Traditional spinnerbaits, bottom-bouncers, and soft plastics also take plenty of fish.
Fisheries biologist Greg Stoner has fished Lake of the Ozarks for bass and done very well.
"My best was a five-fish, 20-pound day," said Stoner. "A good day at Lake of the Ozarks for me is six legal-sized bass, but it takes a 5- to 7-pounder to take big-bass slots during the tournaments."
Bass are evenly distributed throughout the lake's arms and coves, according to Stoner. The Public Beach No. 2 area, also known as Grand Glaize, is a good cove to get warmed up on. That would be Stoner's pick of spots for big bass.
Ozark's Kentucky spotted bass are around the rocks and dropoffs.
Call the MDC at (573) 884-6861 or Jack's Guide Service at (573) 434-2570 for more information.
Montrose is an overlooked bass lake because it doesn't look or act like a bass lake. Carp and catfish angling are more popular than bass fishing there, and the featureless stretches of lake bottom certainly don't inspire confidence in bass anglers.
Bass fishermen don't know it but Montrose is a big-bass lake in disguise.
According to fisheries biologist Rich Meade, Montrose yields fish measuring more than 18 inches. Electroshock surveys produce impressive statistics. In a recent survey 10 percent of the sampled bass were at least 18 inches. Some exceeded 5 pounds. Montrose definitely isn't a numbers lake, but if you want to target trophies, this lake has got them.
What little structure there is consists mainly of fallen trees, water willow and riprap along the shoreline.
Go with high-visibility and big-bladed spinnerbaits in chartreuse and other loud colors. Come prepared to cast to muddy water.
Montrose has an 18-inch minimum length in place for largemouth bass.
Shore-bound anglers have access to the water around the boat ramp or near the warmwater discharge. The ramp is on the upper end of the lake on County Road RA, off Highway 18.
Montrose covers 1,500 acres in Henry County.
For additional information contact the MDC at (660) 530-5500 or Everhart's Tackle and Sporting Goods at (660) 885-4436.
BILBY RANCH LAKE
Bilby Ranch is a small-lake wonder at only 110 acres. Add a lot of bass to the peace and quiet and you can't go wrong.
Fisheries biologist Tory Mason is willing to go on record saying he's never seen so many 18-inch largemouth bass in one lake. The fish population is healthy and the chances of connecting with big fish are good. The MDC survey indicated numerous 5-pound fish were present and a few that were in the 6-pound range. Half the sampled bass were at least 15 inches and a few at least 20 inches.
Bilby is small enough that visiting anglers don't have to waste the day looking for productive water. The standing timber in the upper two arms of the lake and the area around the dam are where the largest fish concentrate. Rocks, lotus beds, submerged vegetation and 12-foot-deep brushpiles make this an oversized farm pond environment.
Bank fishing is available near the parking areas and the dam. There is a ramp for small fishing boats. There are also small fishing ponds on the property with fishable bass populations.
The lake is 14 miles west of Maryville in Nodaway County off Route 46.
Contact the MDC at (816) 271-3100, or the Tackle Box in St. Joseph at (816) 233-1844 for additional information.
POMME DE TERRE
Pomme de Terre is another lake that raises eyebrows when anglers talk about largemouth bass fishing. According to fisheries biologist Dale Cornelius, Pomme de Terre isn't known for its bass fishing but some of its bass do top 21 inches.
The MDC credits some of the up-and-coming bassin' this year to the increase in shad production. Too many shad in a lake means young-of-the-year shad eat other young fish out of house and home, but in this case the shad are fueling a burst of growth in the bass. Anglers should keep that in mind when fumbling around in the tackle box trying to decide on bait colors.
Cornelius recommends spinnerbaits in the spring and soft-plastic baits later on in the year. The lake stratifies in the warmer months and so keeps the bass within 20 feet or so of the surface.
Anglers have to look for the weeds. The MDC has established weedbeds in shallow water but the lack of good water clarity keeps the vegetation from taking root in the deeper water.
Brushpiles have been set as fish attractors and some are marked by signs. Contact the MDC for a map of the locations and GPS coordinates.
There is a 13-inch minimum length limit for the largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass.
The marina and fishing pier are on the Pittsburg side of the lake.
For more information, contact the MDC at (417) 532-7612, the Pomme de Terre State Park marina at (417) 852-4567, or the park office at (417) 852-4291.
Downloadable lake maps are available on the MDC's Web site at www.mdc.mo.gov.