Articles by John Neporadny Jr. - March 2012
Lake of the Ozarks bass spawning stages
by John Neporadny Jr.
Learning about the local geography of highland
reservoirs can be beneficial to anglers when they want to fish Lake of the
Ozarks this spring.
This Ozark highland reservoir features main
tributaries twisting through valleys and hollows. The rivers are fed by the
spring rains and creeks flowing down from hillside springs. The lake can be
divided into three distinct sections: (1) the lower end with its steep bluff
banks and deep, clear water; (2) the mid-section with more sloping shorelines,
long, gravel points jutting into deep water and a mixture of clear and
off-colored water; and (3) the upper end with its riverine characteristics of
stained to murky water flowing over long, flat stretches of shoreline combined
with some steep channel swing banks.
Rock, brush piles and docks provide the main
cover for bass in these lakes. Even though the lake lacks standing timber, bass
seek shelter in the sunken brush piles scattered through the reservoir. The best
spots to fish in the spring are anywhere you find isolated boulders or rock
combined with wood or gravel. Chunk rock and gravel banks provide a forage base
of crawfish for bass, while pea-gravel banks are the preferred spawning sites.
Knowing these common characteristics of a
highland reservoir will help you develop springtime patterns that can be applied
successfully on Lake of the Ozarks. Let's look at some of the top patterns that
produce bass during the three stages of spring (pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn)
on Lake of the Ozarks.
If you fish much in the early spring on Lake of
the Ozarks, you'll notice dying shad fluttering to the surface. This usually
occurs when the water temperature is still in the upper 30-degree range or the
low 40s as shad finally succumb to a long period of cold water. During this
time, bass move out of the deep wintertime haunts to the 45-degree chunk rock
banks, bluffs, channel swings and main or secondary points. To catch these
suspended fish, throw a suspending deep-diving stickbait in black and silver or
blue and silver. You can work the lure with either bait-cast or spinning tackle
and 8- to 12-pound test line. Use 8-pound test line for open, clear water and
switch to the heavier lines when fishing in stained water.
The suspending stickbait works best during this
time of year because the lure's buoyancy keeps it in the strike zone longer for
suspended lethargic bass seeking an easy meal. The lure's action and profile
also imitates the dying shad that provide the main forage for bass in the early
spring. Since bass tend to suspend at different depths depending on the weather,
you need to vary the type of stickbaits and retrieves for these early spring
fish. On sunny days with a warm breeze bass tend to move shallower and can be
taken with a steady, jerking retrieve of a medium-diving stickbait. When the
weather turns cold, you have to switch back to the deep-diving stickbait and
resort to a slow retrieve of pulling the lure along and pausing it for intervals
as long as 30 seconds.
Another early spring pattern that produces in
the clear water areas, especially after a cold front, requires bouncing plastic
grubs or jigs along chunk rock boulders of steep banks leading to pea-gravel
spawning flats. The cold front causes bass to seek shelter on the rocky bottom
where they feed on crawfish, so you want to use a lure that bounces along the
rocks. Slowly lift the lure over the rocks with spinning tackle and 6- to
8-pound test line. One of the best soft-plastic rigs for bottom bouncing is a
double-tail plastic grub with a 1/4-ounce rocker or stand-up jighead in crawfish
colors (watermelon or pumpkinseed). A 1/4-ounce live rubber or hair jig tipped
with a small pork chunk is also a good crawfish imitator that you can
effectively crawl along the bottom this time of year.
Fishing on the upper end of Lake of the Ozarks
turns on once the water temperature climbs above the 50-degree mark. Break out
your heavy-action rod and bait-casting reel filled with 25- to 30-pound test
line and slow-roll a spinnerbait or flip a jig and pork frog. In the earliest
stages of spring, bass on the upper end congregate along the points of pockets
where they can be taken slow-rolling a white or chartreuse tandem willowleaf
spinnerbait. A spinnerbait rolled over the rocky point produces enough vibration
for bass to pinpoint this shad imitator in the off-colored water.
When the lake is on the rise, flip a jig into
shallow cover along the bank. Jigs in 3/8- to 1/2-ounce sizes and in color
combinations of black/chartreuse, black/blue or black/brown work best for this
pattern. The rapidly warming water of the upper end causes bass to move
extremely shallow and burrow into the heaviest cover they can find. The flipping
technique allows you to quietly present a slow-falling lure in front of the
shallow fish and winch it out of the cover with your heavy tackle and line.
On the lower two-thirds of the lake, bass
continue to migrate towards the spawning banks when the water temperature is in
the low 50s. Bass become more active now and have a tendency to chase faster
moving lures such as spinnerbaits or crankbaits. Banging a crawfish or fire
tiger medium-diving crankbait on the bottom in areas where chunk rock changes to
small gravel can be a deadly technique during this time since bass feed heavily
on crawfish before moving to the pea-gravel spawning flats. The technique works
best when your lure digs into the rocks, so you need a medium-light action rod
to make a long cast and a baitcast reel filled with 8- to 10-pound test line,
which allows the lure to dive deeper.
As the water temperature moves into the upper
50s, bass in the lake's lower and mid-sections tend to concentrate on the pea
gravel points and flats in depths of 10 to 15 feet about halfway to
three-quarters of the way back in coves. On sunny days look for the fish in the
little pockets within the coves.
Bass lose interest in chasing anything now and
prefer slower-moving, bottom-hugging lures as they continue to feed on crawfish.
Tube jigs and plastic grubs catch some fish, but the quickest way to cover a lot
of water and still work at a slow pace is to drag a Carolina-rigged plastic
lizard or 4-inch finesse worm along the gravel bottom. Rig a watermelonseed or
green pumpkin plastic lizard or finesse worm on a 3- to 4- foot leader of 10- to
12-pound test and add a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce bullet or egg-shaped weight. The heavy
sinker stirs up silt as it bounces along the gravel bottom, which draws bass
towards your lure. Vary your retrieve depending on the mood of the fish. Start
with a steady pace for aggressive fish, but if that fails to produce, switch to
a slow pull with long pauses for sluggish bass.
Another good crawfish-imitator for this
pre-spawn stage is a 3/8-ounce jig and plastic craw in a brown-and-black
combination. Tie the lure on 12-pound test line for fishing in clear conditions
and open water; thick cover requires heavier line. Pitch the lure to the bank
and pop it off the bottom, then let it drop to simulate the action of a crawfish
scurrying along the bottom.
When the water temperature climbs into the 60s,
bass start building their spawning nests. Bass start to scatter along the pea
gravel banks throughout the coves and construct spawning beds 3 to 6 feet deep,
depending on the water clarity. On the lake's upper end, the fish build nests
even shallower in the dirtier water. The earliest spawning activity will be on
the north side of the lake where the water warms faster due to more exposure to
the sun and the south winds.
A good pair of sunglasses becomes an important
tool when looking for spawning bass in the clear water. Since bass concentrate
on building and protecting nests now, you need to use a lure that will slowly
fall into the nest and stay there, which forces the bass to pick up the bait and
move it out of the bed. A variety of soft plastics will do the trick, such as
split- shotting a finesse worm or a 4-inch plastic lizard, or dropping a plastic
grub with a 1/8- to 1/16-ounce stand-up jighead into the nest. Skipping a tube
jig with a 1/32-ounce jighead over the top of a nest or slowly drifting a
jerkworm into a nest also trick spawning bass. A suspending stickbait is also
effective since it remains stationary in a nest and when a bass takes a swipe at
it, the lure's sets of treble hooks usually latch onto the fish.
When bass first move on the beds they tend to
spook easier and are hard to catch. Switch to light spinning tackle now since
you might even have to drop down to 4-pound test line in the clear water. You
almost have to pitch your lure up on the bank or at least on the opposite side
of the nest and drag it into the bed to prevent spooking the bass. If the fish
spooks, leave the lure in the nest until the bass returns, then jiggle the lure
to entice the fish into picking it up out of the bed. When bass are locked in on
the nest, then you can throw your lures right on top of them and provoke them
Hordes of minnows and sunfish pester nesting
bass throughout the spawn, triggering bass to smash at anything swimming over
the nest. Early in the morning, some bass attack topwater lures, such as
chuggers, Zara Spooks, floating worms and buzz baits. The best topwater action
during the spawn usually occurs after the water temperature climbs above 65
Flipping and pitching continues to work for
spawning bass in the river sections. Look for pockets off the main river and
target any shallow cover. The best lures for this shallow-water fishing include
jigs or Texas-rigged plastic worms, lizards or craw worms. These larger profile
lures work better in the upper end since bass can locate them easier in the
dirtier water. Pitch the lure into the cover and let it fall to the bottom.
Shake the bait once or twice, then pull it out and pitch to another piece of
The spawn usually ends when the water
temperature reaches the 70-degree mark. The arduous task of building nests and
producing offspring puts a strain on bass that carries over into this period so
slow-motion lures and retrieves are the key to catching bass now. The fish
migrate to points near the pea gravel banks where they suspend or drop to the
bottom at depths of 10 to 18 feet. The location of the spawning bank determines
what type of point holds post-spawn bass. If the bass spawned back in pockets,
they move to secondary points before eventually migrating to the main lake
points. Bass that spawned in main-lake pockets or in the upper river sections of
the lake move to the primary points during the post-spawn.
One of the most exciting post-spawn patterns is
topwater fishing, which is an effective early morning tactic in the clearer
water of the lower and mid-sections. Male bass are easier to catch now since
they stay near the surface to protect their fry. Bass strike at topwater plugs
because they perceive these lures as a threat to their fry. A Zara Spook
retrieved in a walk-the-dog fashion or a stickbait barely twitched across the
surface are two of the best topwater techniques for catching post-spawn bass on
these lakes. The stickbait works best on 8- to 10-pound test line, while a Zara
Spook walks smoothly on 12- to 14-pound test.
Later in the day, bass tend to drop down and
can be taken dragging the bottom with a Carolina-rigged plastic lizard or
finesse worm. Look for long, pea gravel points that drop off into deep water (20
to 25 feet deep). Since you're fishing deeper, use a heavier weight (3/4 ounce)
on your Carolina rig. Stay away from the bank and cast close to the drop or
beyond it, then drag your lure to the drop-off and let it fall off the edge.
Pump the rig with the rod and stop it, then reel up the slack and pump again.
Stopping your retrieve allows the lure to rise up and gives the bass a chance to
grab it off the bottom.
A Texas-rigged plastic worm is an effective
slow-paced lure for catching post-spawn bass. Cast a 7- to 11-inch curly-tail
worm with a 1/4-ounce bullet weight along rocky points, let it slowly fall to
the bottom and pull it up. The fish will be holding at depths of 8 to 12 feet.
Bait-casting equipment with 12- to 14-pound test is most effective in the
clearer waters of the lake.
For 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.