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THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing GuideExpert Articles by John Neporadny Jr. - September 2009

Lake of the Ozarks Fall Slabs
by John Neporadny Jr.

Noted for its fall festivals, the Missouri Ozarks also entertains anglers with excellent crappie fishing at the largest lake in this region.

While festival visitors devour snacks at these special events, crappie gorge on baitfish in their version of a fall feast at Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri. This 58,000-acre lake runs 92 miles and offers anglers more than 1,000 miles of shoreline and deep-water structure to fish. Although younger reservoirs with flooded timber and undeveloped shorelines look more appealing to a crappie angler, Lake of the Ozarks entices with its hidden charms. Even though the lake lost most of its natural wood cover when standing timber was cleared before the reservoir formed in 1931, the Lake of the Ozarks has regained cover over the years as dock owners and anglers have sunk brush piles throughout the impoundment. Fed by the Osage, Niangua and Little Niangua rivers, the massive reservoir offers crappie plenty of attractive structure such as steep bluffs, chunk-rock banks, and river and creek channel drops.

The lake's abundant habitat holds numerous crappie. "The population of crappie on the Lake of the Ozarks is fantastic," says Bruce Gier, owner of Gier's Bass Pro Shop in Eldon, Mo., and a former guide at the lake. "It's very possible to catch a limit of decent-size crappie (10 inches) on this lake in the fall," says guide Terry Blankenship of Lake Ozark, Mo. He notes crappie in the 12- to 14-inch range are also frequently caught. "You may not catch that size every time you go out but they are out there."

Fall becomes a prime time to catch crappie on Lake of the Ozarks because the fish prepare for winter by gorging on the massive summer hatch of shad "They'll start feeding pretty aggressively especially in the early part of September," says Blankenship. "Every year I notice early September is better than late September and the when it gets into October it starts slowing dow n a little bit. October is one of the tougher months in the fall, then it starts picking up again in November, and December can be real good for good-size fish."

During the summer, crappie seek refuge in the deep water along the numerous miles of river and creek channels, where it becomes difficult to catch them because of heavy recreational boat traffic. "So consequently when fall comes and the lake calms down, there are more fish available to catch on the lake of the Ozarks," says Guy Winters, a veteran crappie angler from Camdenton, Mo. The lake settles down after the Labor Day holiday when boat traffic diminishes. "The weekends can still be pretty rough on this lake up until the middle or end of October," Blankenship advises.

Another fall phenomenon, the lake's winter drawdown, also improves the crappie fishing. The power company controlling the lake level, AmerenUE, begins the drawdown process during the fall, which tends to congregate fish. "If you take out 6 feet around more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, now all of a sudden you've concentrated those fish because there is less water for them to be in," says Winters. "So it eliminates a lot of places you have to look for them."

Each angler has his favorite arm of the lake that he concentrates on during the fall. "You can catch crappie anywhere on the lake," says Gier, who prefers to fish the North Shore near the dam and the Gravois arm because those areas are close to home. "There's not one arm of the lake any better than the other for crappie fishing." Blankenship favors one of the lake's tributaries for his fall crappie fishing. "The (Grand) Glaize is one of the biggest feeder creeks in our area and fish tend to start migrating towards the cooler water in this creek," he says. Winters selects the Niangua and Linn Creek arms because the shallow waters of these two tributaries cool down faster in early autumn. When the water turns colder in late fall, he targets the Osage arm because it has more structure for crappie migrating to deeper water.

In the shallow waters of the upper Glaize, Blankenship finds fall crappie in brush piles or stake beds along flats next to channel breaks. "It's not exceptionally deep up there so the crappie want to stay near the deepest water," says Blankenship.

The easiest way to locate crappie beds on the Lake of the Ozarks is to fish around the reservoir's numerous boat docks. However, the Glaize arm lacks docks since a majority of the land lies in the Lake of the Ozarks State Park, so anglers have to search elsewhere for brush. "Points are always real good places to start looking for brush piles," suggest Blankenship. Other good spots to check during the fall are brush in the backs of coves or bluffs, which offers both wood and rock cover. "It's always better if you can find a bluff that has some type of brush on it," advises Blankenship. "Bluff fishing can be real good and a lot of times you'll catch big black crappie off of them."

The depth Blankenship catches his fish during fall varies with the conditions. After a fall rain, he can catch crappie on a jig and bobber as shallow as 1 foot in runoff areas. In clearer water, he finds crappie anywhere from 8 to 25 feet depending on the weather and boat traffic, which tends to drive crappie deeper.

The guide's favorite lure for this area is a plastic tube body hooked on a 1/16-ounce horsehead jig with a spinner. He prefers this type of jighead because the spinner gives his lure more flash and better imitates the actions of threadfin shad, the resident baitfish crappie feed on heavily during the fall. Blankenship selects natural colors for his tube bodies such as smoke or shad when fishing clear water, but he switches to orange, chartreuse or red-and-chartreuse for dingier water. During the toughest conditions, Blankenship tips his jig with a minnow or Berkley Crappie Nibbles.

On the Niangua and Linn Creek arms, Winters finds crappie in deep brush during September and then the fish start moving into the creek channels throughout October. Winters notices he catches fall crappie in the same locations he finds pre-spawn fish in the spring (brush piles 4 to 6 feet deep in the coves). Another favorite target for Winters is a boat dock with sunken brush piles placed down the side of the dock from the deep to the shallow end. "Those kinds of docks are very productive in the fall," says Winters, who notes crappie use these brush piles to move from deep water to feed in the shallows.

For most of the fall crappie remain in the 6- to 8- foot depths, but when the water temperature drops into the 50-degree range, they will move as shallow as 2 to 3 feet deep for feeding forays. "As the temperature starts to come down, if it doesn't change real fast crappie will continue on that pattern until the water reaches about 45 degrees," says Winters. The the crappie start a gradual migration back to deeper water. Winters estimates the fish move 2 to 3 feet deeper with each two-degree drop in water temperature during this time. By November, the fish relate to structure more and suspend over break lines.

Throughout the fall, Winters selects subtle-action, slow-falling lures such as 1 1/2- to 2-inch tube jigs, or Laker Lures Paddlebugs and Curlybugs. A 1/32-ounce jighead works best for Winters when the crappie are in the shallows or suspended in deeper water. He switches to a 1/16-ounce head when the fish hold in the 8- to 10-foot range. The water is usually stained in the early fall, so he relies on colors such as chartreuse-glitter or red-and-chartreuse. If the water is clear, he selects red-and-pearl, blue-and-pearl or pink-and-pearl color combinations.

Gier's home part of the lake contains hundreds of docks and brush piles where crappie congregate and ambush shad during autumn. "In the fall, crappie can be suspended about 2 feet deep under boat hoists in the shady parts of the dock," says Gier. The fish also move into the shallow brush piles near the dock where they can be taken with a bobber and jig. Since this section of the lake has the clearest water, Gier recommends staying away from the brush or docks and make long casts with 4- to 6-pound line to prevent spooking those shallow fish.

A 1/16-ounce tube jig is Gier's favorite lure for fall crappie on the Gravois and North Shore. "I very seldom use a minnow just because I don't have to," he says. Since he mainly fishes clear water, Gier favors tube jigs with white tails or transparent colors. If the water turns murky, he opts for a yellow or chartreuse tube jig.

When Ozark fall festivals begin, visit the Lake of the Ozarks for the annual crappie harvest. The lake has a multitude of motels and family resorts open-year round and numerous private campground sites spread throughout the area. 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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