Catching Spawning Bass Around Lake of the Ozarks
by John Neporadny Jr.
Boat docks become a haven for black bass in the spring when it's time for them to spawn at the Lake of the Ozarks. While fishing with former
Lake of the Ozarks guide Jack Peischl years ago, he showed me a few tricks for taking spawning bass from these havens.
"One of the things a lot of people don't realize on the Lake of the Ozarks is that during this time of year bass get back in any places where they have a lot of protection, so when they spawn their eggs don't get washed away by the boat wakes or the wind," says Jack Pieschl of Sunrise Beach, Mo. Some fish will be scattered on any available cover they find along the bank, but the biggest fish seek the best protection. "It seems like the big ones are smarter," Pieschl says. "They know that docks offer the best protection of anything, so they'll get back in behind the docks where the catwalk attaches to the dock and in the shady, flat secluded areas where you can hardly get to the fish."
Since bass have plenty of hiding places among the lake's myriad docks, finding the choice spawning banks is the key to catching these nesting bass. Pieschl looks for docks in the first or second pea gravel-pockets coming from the main channel back into a feeder creek. He avoids coves that have heavy water flow, and targets, quiet narrow pockets where maneuvering a jet ski or pleasure boat would be difficult.
"Almost every pocket will have one side that is pretty steep and the other side will be a little flatter," Pieschl notes. He concentrates on docks along the deeper side of the pocket, which is usually where the biggest fish build their nests. "Bigger bass tend to stay on the deeper side," Pieschl says. Since he prefers clear water for locating bass on the nest, Pieschl favors the coves and pockets close to his home in the Shawnee Bend and Horseshoe Bend areas of the lake. Other good clear-water sections to try Pieschl's techniques are the Gravois arm and the North Shore area.
In the early stages of the spawn, bass are busy building their nests so they are susceptible to bottom-bumping lures, such as jigs and plastic craws, tube baits and plastic lizards. One of Pieschlís favorite ways to catch these fish is to throw a 7-inch plastic lizard in either pumpkinseed or pumpkinseed with a chartreuse tail into the bass' nest. If a fish ignores the lure after it settles in the nest, Pieschl starts tapping the butt end of his casting rod to make the lure quiver. Keeping the lure quivering in the nest for a couple of minutes tends to aggravate the bass into hitting the lizard.
Pieschl often has to fish in close quarters behind docks, so he selects a 5 1/2-foot rod with a fast tip that allows him to skip his bait under the dock cables. When flipping behind the docks, he relies on a 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-foot heavy-action rod that has enough backbone to pull the fish away from the dock's cables and other obstacles. He uses 8-pound test line for skipping his lures and 10- to 12-pound test for pitching and flipping.
When the fish are guarding the nest or roaming around it later in the spawn, Pieschl switches to a suspending stickbait that he jerks behind the docks. This technique is especially effective for bigger bass that spawn behind the deeper docks. 'The bigger bass want to spawn on the back of docks where the water is at least 3 or 4 feet deep," Pieschl says. Sight fishing can be difficult in this situation due to the shadows of the docks and a bottom-bumping lure tends to blend in with the bottom when it sinks 3 to 4 feet deep. By using the stickbait, Pieschl can see the lure during his whole presentation and the fish will move off the nest to take a swipe at the flashing bait. "Those are fish that a lot of people don't fool with," says Pieschl. "When they sight fish here, they spend a great deal of time fishing for the bass that are easiest to see."
Pieschl moves in behind the docks and pitches his stickbait over the cables and under the catwalks to the bass lurking in the shadows. "It's very important that you can cast exactly where you want the bait to land," he says. An errant cast could wrap your lure around a cable or catwalk. Pieschl prefers for the lure to splash when it hits the water, which attracts the bass' attention.
His technique works best on calm, sunny days because the fish hold tighter to the docks then. Bass tend to roam more on cloudy days. Pieschl selects a medium-diver suspending stickbait with chrome sides for sunny days and a gold-bodied stickbait for cloudy weather. After pitching behind the dock, Pieschl pulls the stickbait with his rod tip down, which causes the lure to dive about 1 foot. He tries to bounces the lure up and down in the same spot on a slack line. Pulling the lure too hard causes the stickbait to move too far towards him and away from the fish. The stickbait hovering in one place resembles a bluegill darting around the nest, which triggers the bass into attacking this intruder. "Bass are reluctant to chase things very far during this time," Pieschl says. "But if they are behind those docks, they are on the nests and they'll guard them closely."
Sometimes Pieschl lets the lure sit on the surface and barely twitches it to make the stickbait wobble. This action causes some bass to move up and smash the lure on top.
The stickbait technique allows Pieschl to cover the back of a dock with one retrieve that lasts about 30 seconds. If he knows the spot has a big fish on the nest, he will cast to the same area five or six times before moving to the next dock.
Even though the fish can probably see him, Pieschl claims they still repeatedly strike at the lure and eventually get hooked. The stickbait's three sets of treble hooks stick even fish that just bump the lure as they try to knock it away from the nest.
The fun begins after the fish is hooked. "Most of the time you have them on only 15 to 20 foot of line and they can get under the dock or into the brush behind the docks," Pieschl says. The guide relies on bait-casting equipment and 10- to 12-pound test line to horse the fish out from behind a dock. Since he's constantly fishing over the cables, Pieschl frequently reties his line.When you fish the Lake of the Ozarks this spring, look for docks in secluded pockets to twitch a stickbait or quiver a lizard around for nesting bass.
For information on lodging at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 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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