Lake of the
Ozarks’ Tournament Strategies
By John Neporadny Jr.
This is the second part of a two-part series on tournament winning patterns at the Lake of the Ozarks. Part One focused on how to pattern bass throughout the spring from pre-spawn to post-spawn, while Part Two will discuss the top patterns for summer and fall tournaments at the lake. Click Here for Part 1
The massive size of Lake of the Ozarks plays a key role in tournament strategy for the summer and fall.
The heavy recreational boat traffic becomes a burden for tournament anglers throughout the warm-weather months, so they usually have to compete at night or in the upper arms of the major tributaries. Most daytime tournaments in the summer and early fall take off from the Drake Harbor access in Warsaw, which is the extreme upper end of the Osage arm. This end of the lake provides the best daytime action during the heat of summer and has the least amount of boat traffic.
Night tournaments are popular throughout summer and early fall on the lower end of the lake where the winning catches are frequently five-fish limits weighing more than 20 pounds. These nocturnal events usually take off at Grand Glaize Public Beach 2, Shawnee Bend and the Coffman Bend access.
Here’s a look at the best summer and fall patterns to help make you a winner at the Lake of the Ozarks.
In June, a short-arm, ½-ounce spinnerbait with a single number 5 Colorado blade takes bass at night. Best colors for this spinnerbait pattern are black or black-and-red skirt with a gold blade. This tactic works best pumping the lure off the bottom and letting it flutter down along chunk rock points. The fish will be holding anywhere from 1 to 15 feet deep throughout the night.
From mid-June to the latter part of July, nighttime action for bass turns on in the Big and Little Niangua arms where the fish hold in brush piles around docks. Flipping behind docks can also be productive after dark on the Little Niangua arm.
During the last part of July and throughout August, the brush piles on the lower end of the lake produce the best nighttime action. Some of the most productive areas during this time include the Gravois arm, North Shore area, and the Osage arm around the Lodge of the Four Seasons.
The depth of the fish varies throughout the night as bass come up to feed at certain times. Start the evening keying on brush piles 15 to 20 feet deep and when the fish stop biting in the brush, move up shallower to search for bass feeding behind docks.
Magnum-size plastic worms (10 or 11 inches) and jigs consistently produce victories during night tournaments. Berkley Power Worms in darker hues, such as black, blue fleck, June bug and red shad work well, along with a brown or black 3/8-ounce jig with a rattle and some type of plastic trailer (craw or double-tail grub) in a bluegill color. Cast the worms beyond the brush pile and slowly crawl the lure through the limbs to trigger a strike.
During windy nights, slow-rolling a spinnerbait along main lake chunk rock banks also produces summertime bass on the lower end of the lake. Try a 3/8- or ½-ounce model with a silver willowleaf blade and a black twin-tail plastic trailer for the best results.
Main channel brush piles on the lake’s lower end also yield good stringers of bass during the daytime for any anglers with enough persistence to withstand the constant barrage of large wakes. The fish will be holding tight on the brush or the bottom, so slowly work a Texas-rigged 8- to 10-inch plastic worm over the rocks and through the wood cover.
The upper Osage offers tournament anglers a break from the daytime pleasure boaters. The main channel of this section provides the most consistent summertime action since bass stay cooler and have more oxygen created by water flowing from Truman Dam. Key areas to try in this riverine section include points, islands and docks on the flats. Lay-downs and shallow brush piles are also prime targets to try for summer bass.
When the current flows, throw a ½-ounce spinnerbait with large blades or flip a red shad 6-inch worm to the docks and other shallow cover. On calm, sunny days, pitching a 10-inch Berkley Power Worm deep into the wells of shallow main lake docks usually produces the biggest bass.
The upper Osage continues to generate the best daytime action in early autumn. Major creeks in the upper end, such as Proctor, Big and Little Buffalo, Rainy, Turkey and Brush, start to turn on in September. The water starts to cool down quicker in this section of the lake and bass become active in various spots, including the shallow weeds in the coves, along points and flats near the main river or creek channels and laydowns on the main channel.
Flipping 8- to 11-inch ring worms (motor oil, pumpkinseed or fire n’ ice hues) into the shallow weeds produces keepers throughout early fall. The big flats in the creeks are excellent spots to catch quality fish on 3/8- to ½-ounce buzz baits.
The main lake points remain productive throughout September. Bass remain 10 to 14 feet deep and can be taken on magnum-size plastic worms or black-and-blue or brown-and-black jigs with number 11 pork frogs or plastic craws.
Touring pro Randall Hutson relied on a magnum worm pattern when he won the Central Pro-Am Association’s September 2000 Lake of the Ozarks Pro-Am. Hutson pitched an 11-inch red shad plastic worm to docks about halfway back in the creeks of the Osage arm and caught most of his fish bumping the worm slowly along the bottom and through brush 7 to 9 feet deep.
An effective lure for taking kicker fish on the upper Osage through September and October is a ½-ounce Tennessee shad Rat-L-Trap. The lure works especially well on points when bass bust the surface.
October can be a tough month throughout the lake because the upper ends start to experience turnover and the lake’s lower end hasn’t cooled off enough to activate the big fish. Running a 3/8-ounce white or chartreuse spinnerbait along the sides of shallow docks on the main lake flats of the Osage arm above the Hurricane Deck bridge is one of the most productive patterns for October. Swimming a ¼-ounce white jig with a white pork or plastic trailer is an effective way to catch kicker fish from the same docks.
Brush piles on the lake’s lower end still produce some quality fish in October. Work a Texas-rigged 8- to 10-inch plastic worm through the brush in the 10- to 15-foot depth range along main and secondary points.
November is the most popular fall month for two major tournament circuits to visit the Lake of the Ozarks. The Missouri BASSMASTER Central Invitational had been held on the lake every November since 1998 until 2002 and the Central Pro-Am circuit frequently runs its Fall Pro-Am Spectacular event there.
The winning patterns for the last four BASSMASTER events show how diverse the fishing can be during this month. In all four tournaments, the winners relied on patterns that were different in lure selection, structure, cover and area of the lake. Weather and water conditions played key roles in dictating the best pattern for these fall events.
During the 1997 BASSMASTER event, daytime temperatures never climbed above 32 degrees and the water temperature dropped into the 50-degree range so Jay Yelas relied on a slow presentation to catch his winning stringer. Stopping at more than 100 docks each competition day on the Osage arm near the Grand Glaize bridge, Yelas worked a ½-ounce black-and-blue Berkley Rattle Power Jig and a black-and-blue Berkley Power Frog along the bottom next to each dock. His most productive docks were on points with brush piles at depths of 10 feet.
The lake showed why its one of the top bass fisheries in the country during the 1998 BASSMASTER tournament when Dan Morehead won with an impressive catch of 15 bass weighing 60 pounds, 10 ounces. The lake was abnormally high and murky for November, which made conditions ideal for shallow buzz bait action. Morehead keyed on the unusually dirty waters in the dam area and threw a 3/8-ounce Mann's Hank Parker Classic Buzzbait. Positioning his boat parallel to the bank, Morehead ran his buzz bait in water less than 1 foot deep along algae-covered rocks on secondary points. A buzz bait also produced several fish for the other top five finishers in this event.
The lake was lower and clearer for the 1999 BASSMASTER Invitational and the bass were reluctant to hit a buzz bait. So tournament winner Randy Jackson headed for the Niangua arm and concentrated on chunk-rock banks and boat docks near channel swings. In the mornings, he ran a white ½-ounce Crock-O-Gator 4x5 spinnerbait along the shallows of rocky banks and in the afternoons he flipped a Crock-O-Gator Heavy Tube (watermelon/red flake) along the dock foam.
Relying on a pattern usually applied during the winter, Curt Lytle won the 2000 BASSMASTER tournament last November. Early in the competition, he took keepers running a brown-and-white crankbait in pockets between bluffs in a creek on the upper Osage arm. But as the weather got colder throughout the week and the water temperature continued to drop, Lytle switched to a slower presentation. Positioning his boat parallel to the bluffs in the creek, Lytle slowly twitched a chrome-and-blue suspending jerkbait to catch bass suspended along the rock walls.
Another winning technique was revealed when Central Pro-Am held its Bass Pro Shops Fall Pro-Am Spectacular event the weekend before the BASSMASTER Invitational. Relying on a traditional fall pattern, Gary Carrier won this event by keying on wind-blown points on the Osage River above Hurricane Deck bridge. However Carrier avoided fishing the bank and ran a shad-colored Bomber Model 7A crankbait for bigger largemouth bass holding in the 4- to 8-foot depth range.
Take your pick. The Lake of the Ozarks has plenty of water for trying a variety of patterns. It’s just a matter of narrowing down those choices to find a winning combination.
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.