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THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing GuideExpert Articles by John Neporadny Jr. - June 2008

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 channel.

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.

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