The Lake of the Ozarks is the oldest reservoir in the state. It’s also the last major hydroelectric project in the United States to be constructed and owned by a private company. The former explains why most of the lake’s pre-impoundment creek channels and other bottom-related structures no longer exist. The latter explains why, with a few scattered exceptions, the lake’s shoreline is ringed with private homes and boat docks.
Neither fact explains why most of the species of gamefish that call the Lake of the Ozarks home shake off their doldrums, while the calendar–and, oftentimes, the weather–insist that winter is still around. I can’t explain it either, but that’s not going to keep me from enjoying a chance to get the bottom of my boat wet after having spent the past two months sweeping snow and ice of its cover tarp.
Black bass would be one good option. The Lake of the Ozarks’ largemouth bass fishery is robust, to say the very least. The lake has a 15-inch minimum length restriction on largemouth and smallmouth bass, but on a lake where a 5-fish, 20-pound catch is anything but a guarantee of a win in a bass tournament, exceeding minimums is seldom a problem.
I know it’s hard to imagine a reservoir with too many bass, but that’s the situation regarding spotted bass in the Lake of the Ozarks. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has responded by lowering the minimum length limit on spotted bass to 12-inches. Contrary to the propaganda produced by overly zealous catch and release purists, black bass are very good eating. Believe me, the MDC’s biologists hope anglers will take full advantage of the reduced size restriction on spotted bass.
In March, both largemouths and spots can be found prowling secondary and main lake points from one end of the lake to the other, but the best fishing is usually found in the eastern half of the lake. Casting jerkbaits (long minnow-shaped hard plastic lures with lips of various lengths) has become the de regur method not only because it works but also because you don’t have to be kin to Guido Hibdon to make it work. That said, it would be a mistake to leave your jigs and pork rinds at home.
Crappie are among my favorite species, and the crappie that call the Lake of the Ozarks home are among my favorite crappie. That’s primarily because they can almost always be found near or under boat docks, which are surely the easiest type of structure for anglers of any skill or experience level to locate.
Alas, all docks are not created equal in the eyes of a crappie. While the following is one of those rules with many exceptions, concentrating on docks which are suspended over sloping pea gravel bottoms and which have attached brush usually will maximize the number of keepers per hour.
Local crappie experts rely on jigs almost exclusively at this time of the year. One-sixteenth ounce tube-tipped leadheads are standard issue, but the pros always have one-thirty-second ounce leadheads available, dressed not just with tubes but with hair or marabou as well.
Sometime in March, large numbers of walleye will gather in the first few miles below Truman Dam. These fish have spawning on their minds and will make use of rip rap in lieu of the Osage River gravel bars they can longer reach. Depending on current flow, most anglers cast either single or double jig rigs, tipped with tubes or curly tail grubs. If–it’s a big if when the fish are biting–there’s sufficient room between anglers, drifting a jig suspended about two or three feet beneath a float just far enough away from the bank to avoid snags can be deadly, especially if the jig is tipped with a minnow.
Anglers who prefer to avoid the tailrace crowds should be advised that there are plenty of walleye in the river downstream of the no-boats buoy. There’s also plenty of rip rap to work over, some of which can be reached from the bank.
Cold water-loving blue cats have been on the prowl all winter, but they get serious about putting on weight in March. Schools of blues can be found anywhere on the lake schools of shad can be found. It may well have been a blue cat that dubbed Truman Dam’s hydro power generators, “the world’s largest shad grinder,” but whether it was or not, hordes of blue cats gather in the extreme upper end of the dam’s tailrace anytime the generators are running.
Hmmm, I wonder if the ground is solid enough to hitch up to my boat. If it isn’t, I’ll use a conveniently placed tree as an anchor point and winch it out. I’ve done it before.