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An Inside Look At Lake Wappapello Largemouths

An Inside Look At Lake Wappapello Largemouths
What does it take to find this Ozark reservoir's fish in August? We'll go into the topic in depth with local anglers and guides. (August 2006)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

In a region dominated by rivers, Wappapello Lake stands out as the top destination for bass anglers in southeast Missouri.

Fed by the St. Francis River, this shallow impoundment contains 8,400 acres of water at its normal pool of 360 feet above sea level. During the construction of Wappapello in the late 1930s, the majority of the lake floor was cleared of its timber. The stumps that were left behind provide most of the cover for bass today. Bass also seek shelter in the numerous lay-downs strewn along the shoreline.

The lake contains some points and large coves on the lower end, but most of the reservoir's structure relates to the river with numerous channel bends and flats. Some steeper bluff banks can also be found in the upper end of the lake above Holiday Landing.

Wappapello's water clarity differs from most Missouri reservoirs'. In a typical Missouri lake, the water usually is stained in the headwaters and clear on the lower end, but Wappapello's lower section remains stained in stable conditions, and the water gets clearer the farther you move up the impoundment. The river above Greenville is as clear as the streams in the southwest Ozarks.

Once known as a big-bass lake, Wappapello now contains a large population of 8- to 15-inch bass. The lake experienced a population explosion of small bass in the 1990s, but larger bass are being caught more frequently again. Mark Boone, Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist, reports that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' management of water levels in recent years has helped the bass and shad spawns and improved the fishery.

"Wappapello has pretty fair numbers of nice fish," asserted Boone, who conducts annual electrofishing samplings of the lake. "We sample fair numbers of big fish (up to 22 inches long) each year. I know there are bigger fish than that in there, though."

The 2005 electrofishing sampling revealed that 47 percent of the bass sampled were over 12 inches long, and 19 percent measured over 15 inches. Ten percent of the fish sampled were longer than 18 inches. "I'll take that any year," said Boone of the percentage of premium-sized bass measured in the sampling. (Continued)

Three local anglers who frequently fish for largemouths at Wappapello are Jeff Fansler, Ron Carnahan and Charlie Brotherton. Fansler and Carnahan are guides at the lake, and Brotherton is the owner of Sundowner Marina near the dam. The following patterns are their recommendations for catching largemouth bass in August.


All three anglers suggest throwing topwater lures early and late in the day. Fansler opts for a 1/4-ounce buzzbait (white or chartreuse with red head and silver blade) or Heddon Zara Spooks and Storm Lures Chug Bugs with blue backs and chrome sides. He targets the backs of pockets and stumps in the shallows. Fansler uses 15- to 17-pound-test for most of his lures at Wappapello, since he's frequently fishing around some type of cover.

"I fish way up the river a lot then mainly to get out of the boat traffic," said Fansler, who notes that bass tend to stay in the shallows even during the heat of the day on this riverine section of the reservoir. "On this lake you can catch bass shallow in either winter or summer."

Carnahan also throws a 1/4-ounce white or chartreuse buzzbait on 17-pound-test line early and late in the day. He targets stumps and Corps fish attractors planted about 4 feet deep on the lower end of the lake from Chaonia Landing to the dam.

If shallow bass ignore his topwater offering, Carnahan switches to a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap lipless crankbait (chrome-and-blue) that he drags along the bottom. He prefers the larger versions of this lure, because they match the size of the shad in August.

"A lot of tournaments are won by guys fishing all day long with a buzzbait," offered Brotherton. "It seems like when the sun comes up and gets hot, the topwater action slows down, but the diehards might stay with a buzzbait all day long."

Brotherton also recommends throwing a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce buzzbait with a white or chartreuse skirt and silver blade on sunny days. A black buzzer works best on cloudy days. Fansler believes that throwing a buzzbait offers the best opportunity for catching a 6- or 7-pounder in August.


Flipping a 5-inch plastic tube or 7-inch plastic worm in pumpkinseed or watermelon hues to stumps in 1 to 2 feet of water produces bass in the stained water areas of the lake. Brotherton notes that this tactic works all day long -- and the hotter the weather, the better it produces.

Most Wappapello anglers target deeper water for bass during the middle of the day, though. Brotherton suggests trying a Texas-rigged 7-inch pumpkinseed or watermelon plastic worm with a 3/8-ounce weight along the old river channel around the Holiday Landing area. A chartreuse shallow-diving crankbait run 4 to 5 feet deep also tricks bass in this area.

"A lot of bigger bass are caught on the (fire tiger) Poe's 400 Series crankbait, but that is a slow process," said Brotherton. "You don't catch as many fish, but you do catch some nice ones." These deep-diving plugs are cranked to 10 to 12 feet deep to bump the stumps and trigger strikes in the river arm above Holiday Landing.

When the day heats up, Fansler also switches to Texas-rigged 6- or 8-inch plastic worms in junebug or red shad hues.

"I try to use the lightest weight I can get by with according to the wind," said Fansler, who will scale down to a 1/8-ounce sinker on calm days. The local guide targets points or rocky banks at depths of 5 to 8 feet in the river arm.

Fansler also looks for bass busting shad on main lake flats during the afternoon. "We just try to find the big pods of threadfin shad," he said.

Whenever he sees surface activity along the flats, Fansler throws a blue-and-chrome Rat-L-Trap on 12-pound-test to the commotion.

By turning up the sensitivity on his depthfinder, Carnahan pinpoints the lake's thermocline, which is generally less than 6 feet deep in the summertime at Wappapello.

"You need to know where that is, because the fish will be below that," said Carnahan. The guide keys on channel drops, where he throws either a plastic worm or a crankbait that ru

ns 7 to 8 feet deep.

His favorite lures for summer afternoons on Wappapello are shad-pattern Poe's 300 Series and Rebel Deep Wee-R crankbaits or a Texas-rigged 7- to 8-inch plastic worm in junebug and tequila sunrise hues with a 1/4-ounce weight. Dragging a Carolina rig with a 10-inch plastic worm and 1/2-ounce sinker produced some money finishes for Carnahan in tournaments last summer.

The tournament competitor tries to find offshore structure to avoid the crowds. "Wappapello gets a lot of pressure, so you can't win tournaments on that lake fishing community holes that everybody else fishes," he said.


The nightlife on Wappapello can be filled with some good bass fishing action for both numbers of fish and bigger fish. Fending off the mosquitoes is probably the biggest drawback to fishing this lake at night.

"You can catch those fish right up next to the bank as long as it is close to deep water," advised Carnahan. He suggests trying black buzzbaits or spinnerbaits and working tequila sunrise plastic worms Texas-rigged with a 1/4-ounce weight along channel bends and rocky points.

Fansler recommends fishing the lower end of the lake at night. Slowly work worms along points and rocky banks or in the middle of the lake, where stumps line the old river channel and the bottom drops from 4 or 5 feet into 30 feet of water.

Wappapello is the most popular bass tournament site in southeast Missouri, as the lake attracts club derbies and circuit events with anglers from Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff and the metropolitan areas south of St. Louis.

"In the last couple of years the winning weights in tournaments have gotten better," said Fansler. "If you don't have 12 to 15 pounds (with a five-fish limit) then you are usually out of the money. In some tournaments it has taken as high as 20 pounds or better to win in August."

For updates on the largemouth bass fishing at Wappapello, call Sundowner Marina, (573) 222-8622, Fansler, (573) 222-7909, or Carnahan, (573) 322-5417. For the current lake level, call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Office, (573) 222-8562.

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