Articles by John Neporadny Jr. - May
Nabbing Lake of the Ozarks
Bass From Spawning Hideouts
by John Neporadny Jr.
"Warning!! If you have a heart condition,
it is recommended that you avoid fishing behind this dock because the effects of
hooking a spawning bass could be hazardous to your health."
No, the Surgeon General hasn't posted any signs
like this on any of our lakes yet, but the perils of trying to land a thrashing
largemouth behind a dock might be more than the faint-hearted can bear. "A
guy who has a heart condition doesn't want to fish for big spawning bass behind
docks," says Bruce Gier, a veteran angler from Eldon, Mo. "Sometimes,
you're using 6-pound line when you hook a 6-pound fish, and then you have about
six cables for the fish to go over. You can flat get into some jams then. I've
had some heartbreaking experiences behind the cables."
In other Midwestern lakes spawning bass seek
the shelter of flooded timber and lay-downs, but on Gier's home reservoir, Lake
of the Ozarks in central Missouri, bass build their nests behind boat docks.
"A dock is the biggest log on the lake," says Gier. The floating
structures offer bass plenty of cover to protect them from wind and intruders.
Their favorite dock shelters include cables, walkways, pillars and sunken brush
The dock's location is the key to finding
spawning bass. Gier locates the majority of nesting bass behind docks in the
backs of coves, except during the latter stages of the spawn when he
concentrates on main-lake condominium docks.
No real pattern exists as to which docks hold
spawning bass. Gier notes that he doesn't seem to find them in exactly the same
places every year. "You need to go back in the most awful looking area you
can find," Gier says. Any dock that has pillars is a prime target because
bass will spawn next to every support.
Another prime target is a dock with two or
three sets of cables running from the pier to shore. "The docks that seem
nearly impossible to get behind are the ones where the fish congregate
best," Gier says. In most cases, the fish are unmolested because the
average angler shies away from the menacing cables.
In addition to keeping anglers away from the
spawning territory, cables also serve as security blankets for bass. Some fish
spawn right under the cables. "They seem to know that they can deal you
some fits on those dock cables and they can," Gier says.
Some bass also spawn in the open areas behind
the docks. Even if the dock has plenty of cover, Gier wastes little time fishing
behind it if he fails to find a nest (a round, shiny spot on the bottom). Shiny
spots that are barely visible in 8 feet of water usually hold bigger fish. Bass
spawn at various depths on fluctuating lakes affected by spring rains. Gier
finds most of the spawning bass on Lake of the Ozarks behind docks in less than
10 feet of water.
If Gier finds a nest close to the bank, he
tries to catch the bigger bass first by working deeper water and then gradually
moves in shallower to catch the smaller male fish on the nest. "A lot of
guys make the big mistake during spawning time of fishing for the bass they can
see," Gier says. "If the big fish is there, of course, go ahead and
get her. She is generally lying just out to where you can't see her,
though." However, in a tournament, Gier concentrates on catching a limit of
keeper-size fish initially and then works on the kicker fish. When the spawn
reaches its speak, Gier can catch a limit fishing behind five docks in a row.
The depth of the cables determines where Gier
positions his boat behind a dock. If the cables droop deep enough, Gier slides
his boat on top of them and uses the cables to hold his boat in position. When
the cables hang above or on the surface, Gier keeps his trolling motor next to
the moorings. "I don't have any paint on the shaft of my trolling motor
because it's constantly rubbing against the cable."
Once he finds nesting bass, Gier offers them a
wide range of lures because he feels the fish will eventually bite. "You
just have to have a giant arsenal of every kind of plastic lure known to
man," Gier says. He either flips or pitches to his targets, or casts with
an underhand sling to skip the lure under walkways and cables.
Gier's strategy starts with heavy-duty
equipment and then scales down to lightweight tackle as he moves in closer to
the fish. During his first presentation, Gier stays back far enough to where the
fish is just in sight. As he moves in, he switches to lighter line and smaller
lures. "You can come close enough to where you can spook off the fish but
it will come right back," he says. When using line as light as 4-pound
test, Gier can move within 10 feet of a spawning bass and still coax it into
In murky water, you can use as heavy as
20-pound test line behind the docks, but since Gier mainly fishes the clear
water of the lake's North Shore area, he usually scales down his line size. For
aggressive fish, Gier selects bait-casting equipment and 10-pound test line.
"I feel I have a little bit of an advantage with this heavier tackle,"
he says. His favorite lures for this application are a brown 1/4-ounce jig and
brown No. 11 pork frog or a Hula Grub in earthworm or crawfish colors. With most
of his lure choices, Gier prefers crawfish or earthworm colors (brown, dark
green, motor oil), especially for finicky fish. "If you have a fish that's
in the mood or about half ticked off at your bait, then go ahead and throw
something chartreuse," Gier says. He suggests that you can even catch
aggressive fish on sunny days with a cotton candy or pink-and-chartreuse plastic
When bass shun his jigs, Gier changes to
spinning tackle, 8-pound test and soft plastic baits. His top lure choices are
4- and 6-inch plastic lizards and plastic crawfish. The next step in Gier's
scale-down approach involves 6-pound test line and 4-inch plastic worms on a No.
1 wire hook. "You stay with that as long as you can and as a last resort,
when you just have to have that fish, pick up the little stuff and throw
everything you can at them," Gier says.
The "little stuff" Gier resorts to
consists of trout fishing tackle, an ultralight rod and reel with 4-pound test
line and a small plastic trout worm impaled on a tiny hook. Gier sticks the hook
through the head of the worm and leaves the point exposed to ensure a good
hookset. This rig is especially effective on fish that Gier has missed a couple
of times with his larger lures. "What have you got to lose? You can't catch
that fish the other way, so you might as well go to the real light stuff,"
The Missouri angler retrieves all of his lures
at a snail's pace or even slower. Occasionally he'll twitch a lure fast for
aggressive fish. "Every fish lying on a bed has its own personality,"
Gier says. "If you move your lure just a hair when it's in the nest she
might look at it. Big fish don't want a fast-moving bait. If you present
something to them fast, I guarantee that they won't even look at it. They don't
get big by being stupid."
When a fish strikes, Gier carefully pulls his
line to set the hook. A soft touch and a sharp hook are critical, especially
when fishing with light tackle. "On spawning fish, it's unbelievably
important to have a sharp hook. That thing has just got to be like a
needle," Gier advises. He also suggests that you remain calm if you see a
big fish hit your lure, otherwise you'll jerk too hard on the hookset and break
The real challenge comes after you've set the
hook. Trying to weave a stubborn bass through a maze of cables, pillars and
other obstacles can be a pulse-raising experience. Gier catches most of his 5-
and 6-pound fish on the heavier line (8- and 10-pound test) with his drag set
light. "You can turn a 6-pound fish during the spawn with 8-pound test
line. It's a trick but it is possible," he says. Since spawning fish tire
easily, Gier usually lands them if he controls their initial surges.
Patience helps Gier land the smaller male bass
(15- and 16-inch fish) on the lighter tackle. He has even landed bass after they
have jumped over a cable and looped the line around to where it was ready to
form a knot. But when a 4-pounder smashes one of his mini-baits on 4-pound test
line, the bass has the edge. "He's the boss. You have to leave it up to him
as to whether you're going to land him or not," Gier says. "That
doesn't usually last too long. It's usually Fish 1, Gier 0." With a lack of
obstacles behind the dock and a little bit of luck, the heavier fish can still
be landed by keeping slight rod pressure on the bass to wear it out and then
guide it toward the boat. However, the light tackle is no match for a bruiser
bass behind a dock loaded with brush piles. "That's where the big boys win
every time," Gier says. "If those fish bury their heads in the brush
while pulling 4-pound line, I don't care if Houdini is holding the rod, the fish
is going to win."
Frequently checking your line improves your
chances of catching fish behind the docks. Gier advises retying your line
whenever it rubs against a cable. "It's over for your line if it touches
that cable," he says. If your heart can take it, sneak behind a dock this
spring and try to coax a bass from its spawning hideout.
information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to
receive a free 162-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 www.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.