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Two For The Taking

Two For The Taking

Anglers might be hard-pressed to find similarities between Truman Reservoir and Table Rock Lake -- save one thing: If you're looking for some springtime bass action, these two lakes might be your best bets. (April 2009)

Day in and day out, Table Rock Lake and Truman Reservoir consistently produce more large bass than any other Missouri lakes. Each distinct in its own right, these lakes reflect the watershed in which they were constructed, and each fishes differently. Master Angler records indicate Table Rock and Truman are among the top three Missouri lakes in terms of producing trophy largemouth bass.

Join me as we visit each lake and learn about them through the eyes of professional anglers and biologists responsible for the great fishing. Along the way, I'll provide some fishing suggestions to improve your odds for angling success this spring.

The fog slapped me in the face as we motored across Table Rock Lake. The sun was just sneaking over the hills to the east as we crossed under the state Route 13 bridge and headed for pea gravel banks where with luck we'd find a trophy smallmouth bass or two. Bill Anderson was my host. At the time, he was the Missouri Department of Conservation's fisheries management biologist responsible for the great bass fishing in Table Rock Lake. In addition to managing this great bass lake, he was -- and remains -- an active bass angler, spending many days fishing the lake each year. Anderson has since been promoted to MDC's administration; however, his advice is still pertinent to bass anglers fishing Table Rock Lake.

Table Rock Dam was completed in 1958, stilling forever the great White River, one of Missouri's great fishing streams. From the ashes of this once fantastic smallmouth fishery, like the Phoenix, rose Table Rock Lake and one of Missouri's best bass lakes.

The new lake filled not only the White River valley, but also the James River valley almost up to Springfield, Kings River and Long Creek, extending into Arkansas. At normal pool, the lake covers more than 43,000 acres, and it balloons to more than 53,000 acres when flooded. It's a true Ozark Mountain lake, filling steep-sided river valleys and creating a beautiful, deep, clear lake. The flood lands, creeks and rivers are relatively infertile, reflecting the underlying strata of the Ozarks, yet bass anglers rate the lake one of the best in the nation.

Fishing with Anderson is always an enjoyable -- and academic -- experience, and this trip, several years past, was no exception. I'm not convinced there's a better bass angler, one who not only understands the ins and outs of bass fishing in Table Rock Lake, but also can explain why a lure works or why a specific lake area produces bigger bass or more bass for anglers. In other words, Anderson knows the science of fish management and fishing techniques that work best to catch large bass.


Besides producing great largemouth bass fishing, Table Rock has earned recognition as one of Missouri's best lakes for large -- 18-inch and larger -- smallmouth bass. According to Anderson, the best place to fish for spring smallmouths is along the pea gravel banks west of Route 13. Smallmouth spawn on the pea gravel in 5 to 15 feet of water, Anderson said. April is a little early for locating males on nests, but you'll find both females and males staging off the banks, near hard cover such as stumps, trees and large rocks. When Anderson and I fished, we caught both male and female smallmouths using tub baits jigged along the bottom with that occasional largemouth and spotted bass thrown into the mixture for good measure.

Added fertility from consistent flooding on Truman Reservoir usually results in a growth spurt for bass in the lake.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

For largemouth bass, Anderson also recommends anglers fish crankbaits and Rogue-style baits from the bank out to a water depth of about 15 to 20 feet. He recommends anglers dig the crankbait's bill in the bottom, stirring up silt and mud. In March and April, largemouths also can be found suspended near and in submerged trees off the backs of coves near spawning areas.

Anderson says largemouths aren't quite so fussy about pea gravel banks for spawning as smallmouth and spotted bass. They'll spawn about anywhere -- on a ledge, on a bluff, in a tree. During a normal spring, largemouths and smallmouths can be found in both pre-spawn locations or on nests.

Where To Fish: The entire lake supports prime bass habitat, regardless of whether you're dealing with pre-spawn or spawning bass, or what lake area you have the opportunity to fish. Anderson told me the only difference between Table Rock's individual arms is bass growth. Bass in the James River arm grow slightly faster than in the other arms because of nutrients from Springfield. Recent MDC surveys show black bass numbers are highest in the James River and Kings River arms with good numbers of legal 15-inch fish and larger in both arms.

You can access Table Rock from numerous places, including near Table Rock Dam and state park, Kimberling City recreation area, Indian Point, Long Creek Recreation area. Up the James River arm, access points exist at Joe Bald Recreation Area, Baxter Campground, Cape Fair, and numerous other unnamed accesses. We launched at Kimberling City. For more information on locations of Table Rock accesses, check out the Missouri Atlas & Gazetteer or Missouri Conservation Atlas. You can contact current MDC lake manager Shane Bush for additional information about Table Rock Lake and bass fishing at (417) 895-6881.

Truman Reservoir is distinctly different from Table Rock Lake. It's located near the center of Missouri on the Osage River and covers some 56,000 acres at normal pool. During floods, it can reach more than 200,000 acres. Unlike Table Rock Lake, Truman is an extremely rich, fertile lake. It receives fertile water draining from prairie lands of western Missouri and eastern Kansas. Scientists classify the lake as an Ozark Border system, draining both north-flowing Ozark streams (Pomme de Terre River) and prairie streams (Osage River system).

Truman Dam near Warsaw flooded the Osage River (the longest and largest of the arms), Sac River, south Grand River, Tebo Creek and Pomme de Terre River (the clearest of the arms).

Because of its extensive drainage, Truman Reservoir floods regularly and is dingy during most years. Last year, it experienced numerous floods and remained at flood levels during much of the year. This created both good and bad news for bass anglers. When flooding, the lake expands into shallow riparian lands c

overed with old crops, grass, woody brush and trees. The added cover provided by the expansion offers additional fertility to the lake, protects bass from anglers and from predation and provides abundant food for small, young-of-the-year bass as they grow. As water contracts back to conservation pool, bass move out of protected areas to deeper water and become more available to anglers. The added fertility from the flood lands also provides a bump in growth for bass in the lake.

In March and April, Truman bass move from winter holding areas to pre-spawn areas and then into the backs of shallow coves in 6 inches to 3 feet of water, where males fan out nests and females join them to spawn. According to Bradley Coats, guide and tournament bass angler, and manager of Bucksaw Resort and Marina, what's important in fishing the spring spawn in Truman Reservoir is locating cuts in the banks and backs of small shallow creeks with pea-gravel bottoms and 45-degree banks. These cuts and protected areas warm first, and the bottom is washed clean of silt and mud, down to gravel.

"This allows spawning bass to move up or down as water levels change," Coats said.

Coats fishes primarily in the Grand and Tebo arms of the lake out of Bucksaw Marina. During the spring spawn, he recommends night-fishing during full-moon phases. Also, he said the lake is relatively turbid most springs and subject to sudden rises. When the lake is flooding or on the rise, look for flooded trails in the backs of coves and small creeks, then fish the openings. Bass use those areas to stage before spawning. He also suggested fishing 90-degree banks along the main arms in spring. Anglers will find bass holding and spawning at the first row of timber.

Because of the brush and heavy cover and blind casting, Coats recommends using heavy lines. In spring, he uses a medium-action casting rod and single-spin spinnerbait, with a Colorado blade and a white and green skirt or creature baits. He lines the rod with 20-pound mono­filament, which allows him to better feel strikes than does a braided line.

Coats said it's important to locate the calmest water in the backs of coves or off small creeks -- areas with no wind disturbance. Those areas warm fastest in the lake and attract spring spawning bass.

Bucksaw Marina has excellent boat-launching facilities and is located at mile marker 25 on the South Grand River arm, near the Tebo arm. For additional information about fishing Truman Reservoir, guide services and marina facilities, write to Bradley Coats at 670 S.E. 803 Road, Clinton, MO 64735, or call (660) 477-3900.

Truman Reservoir, like Table Rock Lake, has numerous marinas and boat-launching facilities. Although I use Bucksaw Marina, the lake has excellent launching facilities at Warsaw near the dam, allowing easy access to Pomme de Terre and Osage River arms, Clinton, Osceola, and numerous unnamed accesses throughout the lake.

Understanding the physical world in which bass live and the biological processes that dictate annual life cycles and behavior will improve spring fishing success and allow anglers fishing new water to locate and exploit the best fishing areas.

In spring, bass come off a quiet period in their life cycle. The cold water experienced during winter months slows a bass' life processes. Although they still feed, activity slows and bass school in deep lake areas. Bass ovaries and testis continue developing all winter, and as water temperatures warm from winter lows in the 30s and 40s, body processes -- or biological activity -- increase. Schools break up as temperatures warm to the mid-40s and low 50s. Individual bass move toward pre-spawn locations. Warming water temperatures increase feeding as bass prepare for spawning.

In Table Rock's pre-spawn holding areas, bass can be found on wooded points near shallow spawning areas in the backs of coves. On Truman, holding areas can be found on rocky points near shallow spawning areas with clean gravel.

The key to bass-fishing success in both lakes is keeping track of water temperatures with a temperature probe and locating warm microclimates. Banks that receive more sunlight warm faster; sheltered areas with little or no wind warm faster; and inflows from small creeks in backs of sheltered coves warm faster. All areas attract pre-spawn and spawning bass.

As water temperatures increase to the high 50s and low 60s, males leave pre-spawn areas and move to spawning areas in the backs of coves, along western banks and in sheltered areas with gravel bottoms. As temperatures continue to increase, females follow the males, spawn, and then move to cooler and deeper water to recover.

Males guard the nests, developing eggs and the newly hatched sac fry. Males don't feed, but will attack any bait they perceive as attempting to attack the eggs and guarded fry.

Spring bass anglers can take advantage of this knowledge by checking water temperatures and fishing accordingly. If water temperatures are in the pre-spawn range -- 45 to 50 degrees -- bass hold in deeper water near spawning areas and feed actively as they prepare for the spawn. They are susceptible to jig-and-pigs, deep-diving suspending lures and soft jerkbaits jigged near suspended bass.

Once they locate shallow, warm spawning areas, anglers should fish with spinnerbaits, shallow-running crankbaits or soft-plastic baits. In clear water, this means using light tackle and line on casting or spinning rods. In turbid lakes like Truman, with lots of brush, downed timber and submerged woody vegetation, 20-pound-test line fished on medium-and heavy-action casting rods are the norm.

Later in April, as water temperatures increase to the high 50s and low 60s, females move back out to post-spawn areas to recover, and males abandon the schooled fry. Feeding increases as individuals recover from the spawning process. Spring bass anglers who keep track of water temperatures switch to jerkbaits, topwater buzzbaits; spinnerbaits and soft-plastic baits fished near spawning areas in slightly deeper water will catch plenty of post-spawn bass as they recover.

Regardless of what lake you fish, check water temperatures for some of the best spring bass fishing in Missouri. For more information about individual lakes or MDC surveys, contact fisheries biologists responsible for each lake or guides who fish the lakes regularly. I've found most professionals are proud of their lakes and are willing to provide any information you require to increase your fishing success.

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