Missouri Bass Fishing Outlook 2018
March 05, 2018
Missouri bass fishing stands out in many locales, but perhaps none better than what you will find on these waters.
Predicting the quality of bass fishing on Missouri lakes each year is similar to listening to a broken record.
Listening to a broken record can be annoying, but the annual predictions for Missouri bass fishing are, in fact, pleasing to the ears of Show Me State anglers. Every year local experts and Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologists seem to predict good to great fishing for the bass waters throughout the state — and 2018 appears to be another banner year.
Lakes and streams throughout the state will provide both numbers of bass and quality bass this spring. Here's a prognosis from the experts on the fishing at the top bass waters throughout the state.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
Fishing for all three species of bass — spotted, largemouth and smallmouth — will be good, according to Table Rock Guide Pete Wenners.
"The quality of the smallmouths seems to be getting better all over the lake," Wenners said. "It used to be they were only down by the dam and at Kimberling (City) but now we are catching good, quality smallmouths around the Cape Fair area on the James where you very seldom caught smallmouths."
Wenners noticed his clients caught several keeper bass (15 inches or longer) early last spring. "Throughout the summer, 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-pound fish were real plentiful and mixed with all three species," he said.
Tournament weights were down last spring, which Wenners attributes to high lake levels that prevented anglers from getting to the bigger bass hiding in the thick flooded bushes.
"Normally it would take 18 pounds to get a check and 23 to 24 pounds to win, but this past spring it was more like 18 to win and 14 to 15 to get you a check," he said. "I'm hoping we have a more normal year for water conditions."
Wenners notes the lake also has a strong spotted bass population, but last year's high water kept the fish from schooling and made it difficult to find bigger spots. "We caught a ton of spotted bass in the 13- to 14-inch range in the summer," Wenners noted.
Table Rock bass suspend over deep water during March when the fish can be taken on Alabama rigs, suspending jerkbaits and 3- to 4 1/2-inch swimbaits on underspin jigheads.
Crawfish-colored crankbaits such as Storm lures' Wiggle Warts and SPRO Rk Crawlers also catch suspended bass during this month. The best section of the lake to try in early spring is the Upper White River around Shell Knob, Eagle Rock and Campbell Point.
When the water temperature climbs to about 58 degrees around the first week of April, bass start showing up on spawning beds in the shallows. Wenners and his clients catch these fish on bottom-bumping techniques such as the Ned Rig or a split shot rig with a Zoom Fish Doctor, Centipede or Strike King Zero.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
"The bass population on this lake is very high," said Ed Franko of Big Ed's Guide Service. "We have a tremendous amount of fish up to 15 inches and we do have a good population over (15 inches). I think nothing but positive things here on this lake."
Tournament weights were consistently high throughout the year. "It takes 20 pounds to ever do any good on this lake," Franko said. "Very seldom do you see a five-fish limit less than 20 pounds down to about 16 pounds that wins. So you are looking at a 2 1/2- to 3-pound average just to get you a check, and a lot of times that won't even get you a look."
The Gravois arm and the northern banks of the dam area produce best for Franko and his clients in the early spring.
Franko finds pre-spawn bass along secondary points and gravel banks near the main channel and tempts the fish with shad-pattern or chartreuse-and-white suspending stickbaits, Carolina-rigged green pumpkin Zoom Brush Hogs, and red crankbaits.
The Lake of the Ozarks guide notices bass usually start spawning around mid-April on his home waters. He finds nesting bass along pea gravel banks where he skips finesse worms on wacky rigs behind the docks.
Franko's clients caught some of their biggest fish during the post-spawn in June when bass move out to the main lake points. "That's where you can sock them," Franko said. "That is when a big deep-diving crankbait (Strike King 10XD) comes into play. We caught several over 5 pounds then but we didn't have any over 6 pounds."
MARK TWAIN LAKE
"The bass population at Mark Twain has been pretty stable for several years now," said MDC fisheries biologist Ross Dames. "For the last five to seven years we haven't seen it change very much."
Electrofishing surveys in recent years reveal 35 percent of the Mark Twain bass sampled were 15 inches or longer.
Dames noticed tournament weights were good last year with competitive anglers needing five-bass limits of 18 to 20 pounds to win an event. "I expect that to continue at least through 2018 also, as long as we have decent fishing water," Dames said.
Bass start moving to the shallows around the first week of April when crankbaits and jigs worked around main-lake points and laydowns on steep banks produce best. Dames notes the spawn typically begins the first week of May when the fish start nesting on rock banks. The best lures for spawning bass include plastic worms and lizards, Stick Worms and spinnerbaits.
"Mark Twain is a turbid lake most of the time, especially in the spring when we have rain events," Dames said. "So bass will spawn in less than 2 feet of water if the water is pretty dark."
Dames considers Indian Creek and Little Indian Creek as the best sections of the lake for springtime bass fishing. "Those areas tend to produce the most and the biggest fish in our surveys," he said. "It has been that way for 20 years."
MDC fisheries biologist Paul Cieslewicz predicts good fishing for largemouth bass at this southeast Missouri reservoir. "When we do our spring samples, we average at least 30 percent of our largemouth bass over 15 inches," he said, "and usually roughly 10 percent are over 18 inches. You can't ask for better numbers than that."
Some pre-spawn bass can be taken on spinnerbaits and suspending stickbaits along bluffs in March, but Cieslewicz rates April as the best month to fish for bass at Clearwater. Pre-spawn and spawning bass can be taken then on spinnerbaits, soft-plastic jerkbaits and crankbaits from brushpiles and boulders. "The brushpiles hold tons of fish," he said.
The biologist suggests the best places to find spawning bass on Clearwater are the chunk rock banks above Bluff View and the chunk rocks and rock slides in Logan Creek.
Smithville Bassmasters club member Travis Rivest has seen the bass fishing on his home lake continue to improve the last three years. "This past year I saw a lot bigger fish than the last couple of years being weighed (in tournaments)," Rivest said.
Rivest noticed several 5- to 7-pound bass and a couple of 8-pounders weighed in tournaments in 2017. More than 20 pounds usually was needed to win team tournaments at Smithton. Rivest noted the winning weights for his club's tournaments were 15 to 18 pounds. He won one of his club tournaments with a 19-pound limit in June.
The local angler believes the return of milfoil to the lake has improved the bass fishing. "The bite seems to be better the years we have grass," he said.
Suspending stickbaits, Alabama rigs, and jigs are the top bass catchers during the pre-spawn when the fish stage on main-lake rocky banks. Rivest suggests you'll rarely have to fish deeper than 10 feet at Smithville throughout the spring.
"You can catch some fish out of the brushpiles 8 to 12 feet deep, but most likely you can just spend pretty much all of your time hitting the bank and that is where you will get bit," he said.
The spawn usually runs from late April to mid-May when the fish will nest about 1 to 2 feet deep in the backs of coves.
"I look for any bank that has rock on it during the spawn period," Rivest said. "We have a lot of mud banks but if you find a bank with just a couple of pieces of rock mixed in, there always seems to be a fish there."
Zoom Brush Hogs and beaver-style baits are top lures for spawning Smithville bass. Rivest ranks the Camp Branch arm as the best section of the lake to catch bass throughout the year. "It just seems like the bigger fish are in that arm," he said.
The Show Me State is blessed with numerous streams filled with smallmouth bass. Missouri Smallmouth Alliance member Dan Kreher enjoys floating in a kayak or canoe on Ozark streams in pursuit of brown bass.
"The bigger fish generally come out of the Gasconade and Meramec," Kreher said. He suggests the middle section of both rivers produce the biggest fish but also receive the heaviest fishing pressure. The Ellisville angler avoids the crowds and jet-driven johnboats by floating the Meramec above Onondaga State Park and the Gasconade from Hazelgreen access to the confluence of the Gasconade and Big Piney. He notes 18-inch smallmouths can be taken from those upper sections of both rivers.
The Current River has produced good smallmouth fishing for Kreher — especially in the fall — from Round Spring to Van Buren. "The Current is really good fishing and you can catch some decent-sized fish," Kreher said, "but you will probably have to fish a little deeper than those other streams because the water has some good flow and more depth to it."
He suggests trying bottom-bumping lures such as jigs for Current River smallmouths.
Kreher rates Jacks Fork as another good stream for smallmouths. His favorite stretch on the river is from the Prongs to Alley Springs.
The Bourbeuse and Big rivers also produce quality smallmouths and the headwaters of the Big River around Desloge offers good access for anglers in canoes and kayaks. However, a lack of water flow on both rivers slows down brown bass action during the summer. Kreher suggests more largemouth and spotted bass can be taken on these rivers in the summer.
Kreher relies on a variety of lures to catch smallmouths throughout the spring. The rivers usually have some flow and off-color water in the early spring so Kreher likes to throw a spinnerbait then.
"If the water is not too high you can throw a Fluke and do well," he said.
Smallmouths leave the deeper holes in early March and start moving upstream to chunk rock banks and logs out of the current. Crawfish-colored Wiggle Warts and spinnerbaits are good on the rivers from March to the middle of April.
By late April, Kreher starts throwing topwater lures and bounces Yum Dinger stickworms on slider jigheads along the bottom. When the water warms up in May, Kreher likes to throw shallow-running crankbaits such as Strike King KVD squarebills or a Mann's Baby 1-Minus.
Stream anglers need to remember black bass from southern Missouri streams may not be possessed from March 1 to May 27. Only catch-and-release fishing for black bass is allowed during that time in that area of the state.