Fishing for Lunkers at the Lake

Discover top-notch fishing all year long at the Lake of the Ozarks

By John Neporadny

A smorgasbord of thriving gamefish species makes the Lake of the Ozarks one of the best lakes to fish in Missouri.

Visiting anglers will discover the Lake is teeming with abundant populations of black bass, crappie, white bass, catfish and bluegill that provide year-round fishing action. Renowned for its bass fishing, the Lake of the Ozarks annually ranks as one of Bassmaster Magazine’s Top 100 Bass Lakes in the United States. Dion Hibdon, who grew up on the Lake of the Ozarks and won the 1997 “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” the Bassmaster Classic, once said, “For bass in the 2-to-5-pound range, the Lake of the Ozarks is the best fishery in the country.”

The Lake has a reputation for yielding big blue catfish every year and produced a former state-record flathead catfish weighing 66 pounds. This fishing paradise has also produced three other state-record catches: a 41-pound muskellunge, a 36-pound, 12-ounce smallmouth buffalo and a 40-pound, 8-ounce freshwater drum.

The Lake rarely freezes over completely during the winter, so anglers can enjoy all-season fishing for their favorite species. Covering 54,000 acres, the Lake of the Ozarks features three distinct sections that allow anglers to fish the off-colored waters of the shallower upper arms, the middle lake area or the clear, deeper waters on the lower end.

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Fishing at the Lake is fun for the whole family.

How to fish the Lake of the Ozarks

If you are a first-time visitor to the Lake, the best way to learn its hot spots and the fishing patterns that work best at that time is to hire a local guide. The Coast-Guard-licensed fishing guides at the Lake of the Ozarks will provide you with all the gear, tackle and bait needed for a full- or half-day of fishing.

Bundle up in warm clothing to enjoy the peace and solitude of wintertime fishing at the Lake of the Ozarks. The weather will be chilly, but you will ignore the cold knowing that this is the prime time of the year to catch a lunker largemouth bass. Working suspending stickbaits or Alabama rigs along rocky shorelines of secondary points and channel swing banks might entice a trophy bass into biting your offering.

While big crappie will bite the suspended stickbaits you throw for bass, the best way to catch these panfish is to toss small jigs adorned with plastic tube baits, plastic shad bodies or curly-tail grubs into deep brush piles or along fronts of docks sitting over deep water.

Some of the best topwater action at the Lake occurs throughout May and into early June

When March arrives, prespawn bass make their move into the shallows and can be caught on a variety of lures, including suspended stickbaits, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs and tube baits. The fish migrate to transition banks where the rocks change from boulders to chunk rocks to pea gravel. Crappie also move into the coves and congregate in shallower brush piles near pea-gravel pockets. Small jigs and live minnows catch limits of crappie during this time.

The spawn is on for bass, crappie and white bass at the Lake when you see the surrounding Ozark hills come alive with blooming redbud and dogwood trees. Both bass and crappie build shallow nests in pea-gravel pockets of coves sheltered from wind and wave action. Throughout the bass spawn, you can throw just about anything in your tackle box, including a plethora of soft plastic finesse worms, floating worms, creature baits, lizards and tubes to catch nesting fish.

Spawning crappie are easy to catch in the shallows with a small jig or minnow set one to two feet below a bobber. White bass run up the Niangua, Little Niangua, Gravois and Grand Glaize tributaries to spawn and can be caught on small spinners and jerkbaits.

Some of the best topwater action at the Lake occurs throughout May and into early June, when postspawn bass attack surface plugs such as walking baits, chuggers, poppers and propeller baits. Bluegill start spawning in May and provide plenty of fun for kids baiting their hooks with worms or crickets.

Catfish deliver some of the best action-packed days of fishing throughout the summer. The fish are an obliging sort and will eat just about anything you put on a hook, but drifting cut shad is the best method for catching bigger blue cats.

Night fishing for bass is a great way to beat the heat and catch plenty of keeper-size fish. Bass can be caught in the dark on magnum-sized plastic worms and jigs in deep brush piles next to docks or along secondary and main lake points.

The display of red, yellow and orange on the shoreline trees at the Lake signal the great fishing of fall has begun. Bass follow the migration of shad into the backs of coves where they gorge on the baitfish. The aggressive nature of these fish feeding up for winter provides plenty of fall fishing fun using fast-moving lures such as buzz baits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwater plugs.

The cooling water temperatures also trigger crappie and white bass into feeding heavily on baitfish. Crappie start suspending over the tops of brush piles where you can catch these fish on small jigs and minnows or jigs tipped with minnows. White bass gang up on windy points and viciously attack your offerings of small spinners, jerkbaits and swimbaits.

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Catch fish of all sizes at the Lake.

Lake of the Ozarks dock fishing

Try casting your rod from one of the Lake’s docks.

Floating on the waters of the Lake of the Ozarks are thousands of private docks along with resort, condominium and marina docks. Some of the resorts also feature enclosed docks that provide a warm and comfortable place to fish during the colder months.

Docks are havens for all of the Lake’s gamefish species because the floating structures provide fish plenty of shade, shelter and food. Many dock owners sink brush piles to attract bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish to their docks. They also hang lights over the water to catch fish at night from their docks.

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Stay on shore to fish from one of the Lake’s public beaches.

Lake of the Ozarks shore fishing

Most of the Lake’s shoreline is privately owned. However, anglers can still fish from shore at six Missouri Department of Conservation public access areas scattered throughout the area and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources access areas at Lake of the Ozarks State Park Public Beach Number 1 and Public Beach Number 2.

The spillway section of Bagnell Dam offers plenty of opportunities for anglers to fish from the shore and catch white bass, black bass, catfish, walleye and crappie throughout the year. Bank fishing is open to the public on both sides of the spillway. Ameren Missouri owns the north side and allows fishing for free, but the south shore is privately owned and anglers have to pay a nominal fee to fish from the bank.

Whether you fish from the shore, on a dock or in a boat, the Lake of the Ozarks’ variety of gamefish provide plenty of thrills for anglers of all ages.

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