Expert Articles by John
Neporadny Jr. - June
Catfish Like Variety At Lake of the Ozarks
by John Neporadny Jr.
Catfish at the Lake of the Ozarks are an
obliging sort. They will eat just about anything you put on a hook and can be
taken with a variety of methods throughout the summer. The three most popular
species to catch at the lake are channel, blue (or white cats as the local
anglers call them) and flathead catfish.
The lake has a reputation for yielding big blue
cats each year and has also produced the state record flathead catfish, a
66-pounder caught by Howard Brownfield in 1987. Greg Stoner, the Missouri
Department of Conservation fisheries management biologist for the Lake of the
Ozarks, notes there are several 4- to 5-pound flatheads in the lake. Every year
the lake produces a few 40- and 50-pound flatheads, Stoner says. Channel cats
run much smaller. "If you catch a 10-to 12-pound channel cat, then that's a
big one," Stoner says.
While some areas produce better at certain
times of the year, the catch rates for catfish on all arms are about the same,
according to Stoner. The upper Osage arm (above the 60-mile mark) is one of the
best areas to catch catfish on the Lake of the Ozarks. The area is attractive to
catfish because the lake narrows and has more riverine qualities, including a
stronger current which blue catfish favor. "If they are releasing water out
of Truman Dam, that flow will attract not only catfish but a lot of other
gamefish as well," Stoner notes. The Niangua arm and other lower lake areas
seem to attract more channel catfish. "Channel cats seem to be more of a
calm-water fish. whereas blue cats relate a little more to current," Stoner
says. Flatheads are scattered throughout the lake.
Catfish can be taken during the early summer,
especially during the pre- and post-spawn periods on medium-diving crankbaits
and spinnerbaits when they are up on the pea-gravel flats or in the logjams of
shallow coves. During most of the summer though, catfish prefer the real thing
over artificial lures. Anglers fishing a tight line with a rod and reel can
catch numerous catfish at the lake. You should use 14- to 20-pound test line
with a 3/0 short-shank hook to catch channels and blues. Use as little a weight
as possible, and in some cases you're better off not using any weight at all.
The best places to fish tight-line are from the
shallows to a creek bank drop-off or along a rocky bank during the day. In the
evening, try the shallows where catfish will usually be feeding. "Catfish
seem to feed better during the low-light hours, but I have caught them all day
and I know other people who catch them all day long," says Stoner. Some
anglers also do well fishing at night during the summer. The most productive
bait for tight-lining is shad from the lake. Shiners are second best, while a
mixture of cheese and blood baits also work well.
Other popular rod-and-reel methods at the lake
are fishing from a dock and drift fishing from a boat. Fishing off a dock with a
tight line accounts for most of the catfish taken during the hotter summer
months, but drift fishing is gaining in popularity. Anglers catch plenty of
channel and blue catfish by heading for the back of a creek and tight-lining
while their boats drift out toward the main channel. Other productive areas to
drift include main lake bluffs and flats where the fish will be anywhere from 15
to 60 feet deep.
Cut shad works best for drifting, but if shad
are unavailable, you can still catch plenty of cats on minnows, creek chubs or
cut perch. Use a number 6 gold hook and pinch on a buckshot-size sinker about 1
foot above the hook. Drifting with about 75 to 100 yards of line out allows the
sinker to bounce along the bottom, causing the shad to flutter around--an
irresistible sight to catfish. Stoner says one of the most effective ways to
catch catfish on this method is to drift along a flat toward a channel drop. As
the bait bounces along the bottom, it drops off into the channel, which is
usually where a strike occurs.
To catch the biggest fish, some anglers prefer
using trotlines. You should use a braided line with 4/0 to 6/0 stainless steel
offset hooks. The depth to set a trotline usually depends on the oxygen level at
the various depths, but most of the time, the lines are set anywhere from 4 to
15 feet deep. Blue and channel catfish eat practically anything alive or dead,
so the same baits that produce for rod-and-reel fishermen will also work on
trotlines. However, a flathead prefers a live bait, so goldfish are best to
stick on trotlines for these cats.
Other less frequently practiced methods for
catching catfish at the lake include jug fishing and limb-lining. Jug fishing
requires a 2- or 3-foot lead line and the same bait and tackle as rod-and-reel
or trotline anglers use. Some anglers anchor their jugs while others free-float
them, starting in the back of a cove and letting them drift out to the main
Limb-lining usually produces best in the spring
and fall, but some fish can be caught during the summer on this method. You
should use a 9-inch, 120-pound test line and 4/0 hook baited with goldfish or
shiners. A goldfish set on a limbline a few inches under the surface is an
excellent way to catch flatheads. The best locations on the lake to set
limblines are rock eddies and straight rock wall banks.
The best months to catch channel and blue
catfish at the lake is from June to August. These fish become more active in hot
water and are usually late spawners, sometimes spawning into late summer. The
best seasons to catch flatheads are early spring and fall. If the bass and
crappie fail to cooperate for you as the water temperature rises, you'll find
the catfish on Lake of the Ozarks will bite just about whatever you put on a
hook this summer.
For information on lodging and other facilities
at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 152-page vacation guide, call the
Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit
the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.
Copies of John Neporadny's book, "THE Lake
of the Ozarks Fishing Guide" are available by calling 573/365-4296 or
visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.