Missouri Bass Fishing: A State of the State Address

For tens of thousands of Missouri outdoors lovers, there's just nothing that compares with bass fishing. Here's the lowdown on our major waters.

By Tony Kalna Jr.

If you're like me, whenever one of our elected politicians gets on the television or radio and gives one of his or her state of the state or State of the Union addresses, you listen very intently but take every word in with a grain of salt.

This article is a state of the state address on Missouri's most popular largemouth bass fisheries, and you won't have to put your hip boots on to wade through any political correctness. This article is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on largemouth fishing in Missouri - so help me God!

This 1,360-acre impoundment is situated in southeast Missouri's Reynolds and Wayne counties. First impounded about 50 years ago, this reservoir is one of the smallest of the major lakes that Missouri anglers love to fish.

Clearwater Lake's habitat is typical of an Ozark impoundment. Rocks, bluffs and boulders give anglers structure to key in on while fishing for bucketmouth bass. However, there is almost no aquatic vegetation in the lake. The health of the lake itself is very good, and there has been no positive testing for largemouth bass virus (LMBV).

"I'd say the largemouth bass fishery is on a slight upswing, but very stable," said Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries management biologist Paul Cieslewicz. "We had extremely high water conditions throughout the entire spring of 2002, which hampered out fish sampling, but the bass and crappie fishing has been very good here late this summer (2002)."

There is currently no minimum length limit on largemouth bass at Clearwater and a daily limit of six bass. "We haven't had to restrict anglers with a minimum length limit on largemouth bass because of the good numbers of nice size fish we have here," Cieslewicz said. "Our 2001 bass catch rate indicated that 30 percent of the fish sampled were over 15 inches long."

Cieslewicz went on to give Clearwater high marks on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being low and 10 being the best) on the prospects of anglers catching lunkers or simply a limit of largemouths.

"Almost anybody could come to Clearwater and catch a stringer of six bass," Cieslewicz said. "As far as someone coming here to catch a bass four pounds or better, I'd rate Clearwater a 5."

For more information on Clearwater Lake, call the MDC at (573) 290-5730 and ask to speak with Paul Cieslewicz at extension 240, e-mail him at cieslp@mail.conservation. state.mo.us, or call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (573) 223-7777.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The 8,400-acre Lake Wappapello is located in southeast Missouri's Wayne and Butler counties. It was first impounded in 1941 and is probably Missouri's shallowest big water reservoir.

Wappapello is rich in habitat with an abundance of stumps, islands, channels and dropoffs. The MDC, in cooperation with the Corps, has sunk a good number of brushpiles to further enhance fish and fishing habitat. These brushpiles are clearly marked with signs along the bank.

The many stumps and shallow conditions of Wappapello that make for good fishing also make it a boater's nightmare. If you're not familiar with the lake, it's highly recommended that you keep your boat in the main river channels, which are clearly marked with buoys.

"I'd say that Wappapello has a stable largemouth bass population. We have a good largemouth bass population," said MDC fisheries management biologist Mark Boone. "Typically, anywhere from 35 percent to 45 percent of the adult bass sampled here are over 12 inches, and 10 percent to 15 percent are over 15 inches."

There is no minimum length limit on largemouth bass at Wappapello with a daily limit of six fish. "Historically, the lake had higher numbers of small bass than we liked because of slow growth," Boone said. "In the early 1990s, we started working with the Wappapello Corps of Engineers in managing water levels that would provide better shad spawns, which in turn would provide more food for the bass in the lake and has really helped our bass grow more quickly here."

Boone wouldn't rate the lake on a scale of I to 10, but he did have this to say: "An angler's chance of catching a bass 4 pounds or better are pretty good here," Boone said. "I would say that you could go just about anywhere and catch bass on this lake."

For more information on Wappapello, contact the MDC at (573) 290-5730 or the Corps of Engineers at (573) 222-8562.

Primarily located in northeast Missouri's Monroe County, Mark Twain Lake encompasses 18,600 acres. This northern Missouri gem is one of the state's youngest major impoundments as its dam was closed in the fall of 1983 and filled that same winter.

Mark Twain still has lots of standing timber with large tracts in the upper ends and arms of the lake. "I'd say that Mark Twain's largemouth bass fishery is on an upswing right now," said MDC fisheries management biologist Ken Brummett. "The last year or two we have seen good recruitment of young fish. We are in a good cycle right now."

If you prefer fishing in murky water, try fishing the middle, north, or south fork areas. If you'd rather fish in clearer water, try fishing in the Lick and Indian Creek arms.

"Our samplings indicate that we have caught more bigger fish in the murky waters of the middle fork and south fork areas," Brummett said. "On the other hand, we have always sampled many more fish from the clear waters of the Lick Creek arm."

The minimum-length limit on largemouth bass at Mark Twain is 15 inches, with a daily limit of six fish. Fish samples indicate that the average size of legal fish caught here falls between 15 and 18 inches.

"I'd rate Mark Twain with a No. 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 as far as an experienced angler catching a bass that is 4-pound or better," Brummett said. "I'd give the lake a No. 7 as far as someone catching a full stringer of legal-sized bass."

For more information about Mark Twain, contact the MDC at (573) 248-2530.

Located in southwest Missouri's Cedar, Dade and Polk counties, this 24,900-acre reservoir was first constructed in 1969 and f

illed to normal pool in 1971.

Stockton has some standing timber in the upper arms and in a lot of its coves. This water body also features lots of boulders and some rocky arms. The MDC has sunk 50 brushpiles in the lake to improve fishing and fish habitat, and these are clearly marked from the shore with signs.

"Our catch rate while sampling fish was down this year due to high waters this spring," said MDC fisheries management biologist Tim Banek. "However, our RSD (relative stock density) is about 15 to 30 percent, which is pretty good."

Stockton has yet to test positive testing for the dreaded LMBV, and the relative health of the lake is good.

Stockton implements a six-fish daily limit on largemouth bass with a 15-inch minimum length limit. "For an angler to come to Stockton and catch a 4-pound or better bass, I'd rate the lake a 3," Banek said. "However, it is very likely that experienced anglers could come to Stockton and catch a stringer of legal-size bass. Recently, we had a five-fish tournament limit weigh in at 16 pounds."

For more information about Stockton, contact the MDC at (417) 895-6880.

The granddaddy of all of Missouri's big reservoirs, the 55,000-acre Lake of the Ozarks (LOZ), was first impounded way back in 1931 and covers parts of central Missouri's Camden, Miller and Morgan counties.

LOZ is unique compared to other large impoundments in that there is no standing timber and the lake experiences small amounts of water fluctuation. The woody cover present on the lake is primarily washed in from flood conditions. The main cover source on the lake is in the form of overhead cover - boat docks. The docks and the brushpiles that anglers sink near them are the primary bass fishing cover in LOZ. The main food source for bass here is shad and historically, LOZ has had great shad production.

"We have minor changes year to year, but the largemouth bass fishery at LOZ is pretty stable," said MDC fisheries management biologist Greg Stoner. "We had a minor problem last fall that caused us to lose a few fish, but our samplings this spring indicate that the fish base has remained the same."

Stoner is quick to point out that although the lake has found bass that have tested positive for LMBV, there have not been any fish kills associated with the disease on the lake. "For two years we experienced drought-like conditions, which meant a lot of nutrients building up in the watershed over that time period," Stoner said. "In 2001, we had normal rainfall, and that washed two years' worth of nutrients into the lake which provided for excessive plankton buildup, algae blooms and not so favorable pathogens to wash into the lake. This is probably what caused our fish kill in the fall of 2001."

Despite the negative implications of the nutrient buildup, the same circumstances provide excellent conditions for young fish to survive. "We had the biggest spawn of bass we have ever had since we began sampling back in the 1970s," Stoner said.

Largemouth bass have to be 15 inches to keep at LOZ, and there's a daily limit of six fish. "I can't rank the lake on someone either catching a 4-pound or better bass or a limit," Stoner said. "There are simply too many variables that go into it, including angler skill level and equipment. However, the fish are there to be caught."

For more information on LOZ, contact the MDC at (573) 346-2210.

First impounded in 1951, 45,000-acre Bull Shoals Reservoir covers parts of Taney and Ozark counties in extreme south-central Missouri. There are limited amounts of standing timber on the lake and most of that is in the main channel and channel swings and along some of the bluff areas. Chunk rock is another of the largemouths' favorite types of Bull Shoals habitat.

"Right now, the largemouth bass population is way down," said MDC fisheries management biologist A.J. Pratt. "The last good spawn we had here was back in 1990."

Aside from the poor spawns, Bull Shoals experienced a limited fish kill in 2000. "The lake was at an all-time low and we were experiencing hot, dry weather conditions," Pratt said. "We know that some bass have tested positive for largemouth bass virus, but we can't say for certain if that's what killed the fish in 2000."

Despite all the gloom and doom, there is a silver lining in this dark cloud. The fish that spawned and survived from 2001 attained a very nice size by the end of the year and will begin showing up in the population soon. With the high and stable water conditions that the lake is currently experiencing, Bull Shoals can expect another good spawn in 2003, too.

Bull Shoals imposes a 15-inch minimum-length limit with a daily limit of six fish.

"As far as someone catching a 4-pound-or-better bass at Bull Shoals I'd rate it a 3," Pratt said. "As far as someone catching a limit of legal-sized fish, I'd have to give it a 1."

For more information about Bull Shoals, contact the MDC at (417) 256-7161.

An often overlooked bass fishery in south-central Missouri's Ozark County, 22,000-acre North Fork Lake was first impounded back in 1944. It has lots of chunk rock along its shores, bluff ends, channel swing areas and very limited amounts of standing timber.

"Right now we're experiencing very poor water quality at North Fork," said MDC fisheries management biologist A.J. Pratt. "We've had lots of high water, which has washed in lots of nutrients providing for an exaggerated algae bloom and lots of decomposition that breaks down and take out a lot of the water's oxygen."

Fortunately, the largemouth bass have yet to be affected by the low oxygen levels at North Fork. However, the striper population is currently suffering from it.

"I'd say, overall, that the largemouth bass fishery here is on an upswing," Pratt said. "We've experienced consistent recruitment in the past couple of years, and this year it was even better. And I expect it to continue to improve."

North Fork imposes a 15-inch minimum length limit with a daily limit of six fish. "I'd give the lake a 5 as far as an angler coming here and catching a 4-pound or better bass," Pratt said. "As far as someone catching a legal stringer of bass, I'd rate it a 6."

For more information on North Fork, contact the MDC at (417) 256-7161.

The 7,820-acre Pomme de Terre Reservoir was first impounded in 1961; it covers portions of Hickory and Polk counties in southwest Missouri.

This medium-sized impoundment features clear water throughout most of the year. "Pomme," as it is of

ten called, has lots of standing timber and rocky shorelines for anglers to cast at. It also features close to 3,000 15-foot to 25-foot cedar trees submerged in over 100 locations to improve fish habitat. Maps of the locations of these trees are available through the MDC.

"The largemouth bass fishery here is very stable," said MDC fisheries management biologist Rich Meade. "Our population, size structure and catch rates are good and have remained similar without any big shift, which indicates a very stable population."

MDC fish sampling in 2002 indicated that biologists caught 173 largemouth bass per hour, which is a very good catch rate in such a large reservoir. "The biggest number of fish are below 15 inches, but we have fair numbers of bass of 16 to 22 inches in our sampling," Meade said. "Forty-one percent of the bass six inches or greater measured over 13 inches long."

Pomme de Terre imposes a 13-inch minimum length limit on largemouth bass with a six-fish daily limit. "I'd say that an angler would have a fair to good chance of catching a 4-pound or better size largemouth," Meade said. "As far as catching a limit of legal-sized bass, I'd say their odds were good to very good."

For a map or more information about Pomme de Terre, contact the MDC at (660) 530-5500.

If you've got a hankerin' to get out on the water and bass-fish in 2003, this is the year to do it. Most of Missouri's waters are teeming with largemouths, and with the right know-how and equipment, almost anybody should be able to enjoy countless hours of successful bass fishing on any of our waters.

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