Show Me State anglers experience good bass fishing every year, but 2016 could be a banner year for bass action throughout the state.
Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologists and local experts are predicting good to excellent fishing this year on many of the state's well-known bass fisheries and some less-publicized lakes that contain a thriving bass population. Many Show Me State anglers flock to the top-ranked bass lakes in the Ozarks, but the state offers bass fishing gems throughout the Missouri, including hotspots close to the urban sprawls of St. Louis and Kansas City.
Here's a look at the fishing predictions for some of our top bass waters spread throughout the state.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
Stable water conditions and good shad production create good bass fishing year after year at this central Missouri Lake. "There is really not a lot of variation from year to year so our (bass) spawning is pretty consistent," says MDC fisheries biologist Greg Stoner. "It looks like we have a slug of fish that is coming on just below the length limit in that 12- to 14-inch range, and I expect fishing to be better this year than last year."
Longtime tournament pro and guide Guido Hibdon notices there is an abundance of keeper-sized (15 inches or longer) bass in Lake of the Ozarks now. "The lake is probably as full of bass as I have ever seen it," he says. "Two-pound fish are thick in the lake now."
Last spring his clients also caught quality fish including one fellow who boated an 8-pounder and on a return trip caught two 6-pounders. Now that's good fishing action!
Hibdon suggests the best patterns for catching pre-spawn bass at Lake of the Ozarks are throwing Wiggle Wart crankbaits, suspending stickbaits, and 1/8- or 5/16-ounce jigs with plastic chunks or craws to transition banks of chunk rocks and gravel. During the spawn, Hibdon targets the backs of boat docks in protected areas where he casts a shad-colored tube bait or a jig-and-worm combo.
"Lake of the Ozarks is so good during the spawn because there are so many docks that fish can get anywhere and spawn," Hibdon says.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
Flooding conditions in the spring of 2011 triggered a bass population explosion on this Ozark highland reservoir in southwest Missouri.
"During high-water years we typically see really big year-classes of largemouth bass produced," says Shane Bush, MDC fisheries biologist. "We are seeing the remnants of the 2011 fish now, and so the majority of the largemouths are right at the 15- to 16-inch mark."
"We have bass densities higher than most lakes in Missouri," Bush said. "Our catch rates range between 300 to 400 bass per hour in spring electrofishing, which is extremely high." The lake also contains plenty of forage, with threadfin and gizzard shad helping sustain the thriving populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in Table Rock.
In the early spring, Table Rock guide Pete Wenners catches some of his largest bass of the year on an Alabama rig and suspending stickbaits. Bush noted the Alabama rig has proved Table Rock contains heavyweight bass. "We saw several fish in 8- to 10-pound range caught when the A-rig first came out," Bush says. "There definitely are largemouths over 10 pounds in the lake."
When the spawn is on at Table Rock, Wenners sets up his client with the Ned Rig (a lightweight jighead and a pinched-off piece of a stickworm) for working slowly along the gravel bottom. "Bass primarily spawn on gravel in the pockets (of the coves) but a lot of the Kentuckies (spotted bass) and smallmouths will spawn in a pocket right off the main lake" Wenners says.
MARK TWAIN LAKE
Bass fishing is on the rebound at this northeast Missouri impoundment after some lean years. "It is improving," says local tournament angler Greg Cooper. "Back in 1993 and 1994 we had the floods and that absolutely wiped the place out. There for a while if you had 10 pounds in a tournament you were going to win it. But today it can take 19 to 20 pounds to win."
Cooper favors fishing from the midsection of the lake and back toward the dam where the water in the spring usually is clearer than the upper arms. His favorite lures to throw during the pre-spawn are square-billed crankbaits, spinnerbaits and flipping tubes. During the spawn he finds bass spawning around any wood or rocks in the backs of gravel pockets. He suggests pitching a flipping tube or plastic lizard to the fish nesting 1 to 3 feet deep.
MDC Biologist Paul Cieslewicz wants Show Me anglers to know a little secret about the bass population on this southeast Missouri lake. "It has been good since 2000," Cieslewicz says. "In our samples on average we see 30 percent of the bass we catch electrofishing are over 15 inches. It is just a really good bass lake and the size structure of the bass is excellent."
The last two years the biologist has noticed 12 percent of the bass sampled measure more than 18 inches long. He has heard some tournaments on the lake have been won with weights as high as 26 pounds for a five-fish limit. Cieslewicz believes the bass population is thriving at Clearwater due to good forage for bass, less fishing pressure than the other well-known bass lakes and the popularity of catch-and-release fishing at the lake.
The biologist recommends trying spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerkbaits around submerged brushpiles or shoreline rocks and logs during the pre-spawn. During the spawn, a variety of soft plastics, especially plastic lizards, work best for nesting fish. Cieslewicz also suggests throwing spinnerbaits and soft-plastic jerkbaits for bass not locked on the beds.
Maps of brushpiles planted by the MDC in Clearwater are available by calling Cieslewicz at 573-290-5730 or e-mailing him at Paul.Cieslewicz@mdc.mo.gov.
Veteran tournament angler David Shaw believes habitat work done primarily by volunteers at this impoundment near Kansas City has revived Smithville's bass fishing. For the last four years, the volunteers have pitched in to sink brush and rockpiles throughout the lake.
Shaw considers Smithville's bass fishing the best he has seen in 20 years. "In the Burton's Bait & Tackle tournaments on Thursday nights last year was the first time in 25 years in which everyone went a whole season without blanking in a tournament," he says.
Shaw noticed last year the lake was full of 16-inch bass. "There is going to be a really nice bunch of 3-pounders spawning this spring," he predicts. "It is going to be a lot of fun. It is going to drive the weights up of a lot of these tournaments for sure because that is going to be a 15-pound average.
Pre-spawn bass at Smithville hang around rocks, stumps and laydowns where Shaw tempts the fish with spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and jigs. "It is a good jerkbait lake when the water is in the low 50s," said Shaw.
One secret tactic Shaw reveals is to swim a jig-and-trailer with a lot of tail action just under the surface when the water temperature climbs above 60 degrees.
Smithville bass spawn on hard clay or rock along the shallow flats and halfway back in coves, according to Shaw. The most productive lures during the spawn are Senkos, flipping tubes, and Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hogs.
Despite increasing fishing pressure, this northwest Missouri lake continued to produce heavy limits of bass during tournaments last year. Winning weights of 25 pounds were still recorded during some tournaments last year. That's according to local tournament competitor Clint Cochran.
Cochran believes the lake has produced good fishing throughout the years because of its abundant milfoil that provides great cover for bass. However heavy rains in 2015 thinned out the grass, which could affect the fishing this spring.
Running Chatterbaits and some twitching suspending jerkbaits around the early grass are the top patterns to try for pre-spawn bass at Mozingo. Bass spawn on hard clay bottoms at Mozingo in protected banks near secondary points and channel swings. Cochran recommends pitching Texas-rigged creature baits to the shallows for nesting fish.
Whereas spawns on the larger reservoirs can last for several weeks, the nesting period at Mozingo is brief, according to Cochran. "Mozingo is a tough lake to fish during the spawn because the fish come in on a Monday and can be done on Thursday," he warns.
AUGUST A. BUSCH MEMORIAL
MDC biologist Kevin Meneau describes the fishing pressure as "crazy" at this MDC area nudging the suburbs of St. Louis, yet some of the conservation area's lakes produce great bass action.
"Lake 33 is our biggest lake at 180 acres and it traditionally has been a very good largemouth fishery for big fish (16 to 22 inches)," Meneau says. "For being this close to St. Louis to have that size of fish and a pretty good density of bass is pretty special."
Meneau's second choice for good bass fishing at the wildlife area is Lake 38. "It doesn't get fished as much, probably because there isn't as much clear shoreline to fish," he says. "There are some steep slopes and a lot of wooded slopes that kind of cut down on shoreline angling."
The biologist notes that Lake 38 has good numbers of bass in the lower 20-inch range. Big rocks along the dam, downed timber, and stumps provide plenty of bass cover on this lake.
The third option for Busch's bass anglers is a tossup between Lake 28 and Lake 36, according to Meneau. "Those two lakes have strong numbers of 14- to 17-inch fish," he reports.
Meneau notes a "whole fleet" of rental boats is available on Lake 33 and some boats also are available on Lake 38.
The best fishing at the wildlife area lakes usually occurs in March during the pre-spawn and April when the bass move shallow to spawn. Meneau suggests the spawning period varies throughout the years but traditionally it is over before May, and then after Memorial Day bass become difficult to catch on the Busch lakes.
The biologist recommends trying the rocky banks during the pre-spawn and spawn. The fishing pressure makes the bass finicky at these lakes and so Meneau advises working a jig-and-craw slowly along the bottom for best results during the spring.
For more information about Busch's conservation area, call 636-441-4554 or visit the MDC Web site mdc.mo.gov/regions/st-louis/august-busch-memorial-conservation-area).