When learning how to fish – specifically fly fishing, I discovered that there really isn’t a wrong way in doing things. In fact, in many situations, especially when we are talking about fishing, there can be as many methods to catch fish as there are people fishing.
One of the first skills learned with any type fishing is how to tie knots. Besides learning there is a different knot for each situation, I realized that depending on who was instructing me, there were likely to be as many different ways to tie them as there were teachers. The “right way” depended on who you asked.
What does this have to do with summertime fishing? On a recent fishing trip to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, I again discovered that there are as many techniques for catching bass in the summertime heat as there are local experts teaching me. I learned some valuable tips and a few methods that were not exactly what I would have expected with temperatures soaring, but they produced results.
The meandering Lake of the Ozarks runs 92 miles from end to end. The 54,000-acre lake boasts 1,150-plus miles of shoreline – just shy of the total miles of shore in the entire state of Florida – making it a prime fishing destination. The lake’s serpentine shape earns it the nickname “The Magic Dragon.”
Scott Pauley is a tournament angler and knows where and how to find bass in the lakes of Missouri. Also handling outdoor marketing for the state, his job allows him to be on the waters of Lake of the Ozarks on a regular basis. Pauley is an avid bass fisherman and was eager to share his knowledge of the lake’s history and, most importantly, where to find the fish. A couple of the tips surprised me, especially with conditions as warm as they were, but Pauley’s explanations made sense and we caught fish.
First of all, we were fishing in shallow water and on top most of the day, not just early morning. There isn’t a much better way of catching bass than on top water and if you can do it all summer long – even better.
Following are some tips on how to make more of your casts count, on this lake or any other in the summer months.
Look at the Docks
More than 80 years ago, prior to the construction of Bagnell Dam on the Osage River, all standing timber was cleared from what would become Lake of the Ozarks. New cover was created in the form of more than 40,000 docks. With little structure at the bottom of the lake, the fish often stick to the edges, even in hot weather, making for great action in shallow water. Docks provide enough shade and protection that even during summer months the fish don’t go very deep.
So many docks can be overwhelming, so Pauley explains how to choose the best docks for catching fish.
“When I look down a row of docks, I look for isolated docks, point docks and ones that stick out farther than all the rest, whether it’s because they are bigger or because of the curvature of the bank,” he says. “When the shad are active and moving in balls, they cruise along the outer edge of a line of docks. When a dock is sticking out more than the others, the bait ball has to move around the end of that dock making them most vulnerable to attack by a waiting bass.”
Target docks displaying signs of fishing activity, such as bait buckets, cleaning stations, rod holders and lights. Look for ropes hanging off the docks. These are signs that the owner has probably sunk brush piles and fish attractors around the dock as well.
Also look for docks that are run down from lack of use by the owner. Fish congregate around these structures with no disturbance from human activity.
Which Shores Are Best?
Points are generally good places to look for fish, but Pauley offers tips for picking the best ones. To avoid wind, anglers often find the leeward side of a point or bank. But Pauley selects banks with the wind blowing straight in. The wind creates a turbulence that stirs up activity. It gets the crawfish moving, positioning the predator fish for more efficient feeding. A little turbulence in the water is also beneficial for allowing the bass to sneak up on their prey and for anglers to better sneak up on the bass.
Pay attention to whether you are finding fish on primary or secondary points. A primary point is one that separates two major bodies of water, such as a cove from the main lake. All the rest of the points are considered secondary points. This can be the difference in making the most of every cast. Water current tends to hold fish on the primary points of the lake in the summer months. In fall and spring, the fish move into coves or pockets all the way back in very shallow water.
Noting the angle of the banks is important. In winter, the fish usually prefer banks with a steeper drop-off, where they don’t need to move as far to feed. During the spring look for flat areas for spawning fish. In summer and the rest of the year, fish like a combination of the two. Take notice of the angle of the bank anytime you hook up and look for more of the same. Seems obvious, but sometimes we are busy with other factors, like lure selection.
Fish use areas of transition for stopping off and holding areas. These are areas where different shore materials or structures join. Cast to spots where grass meets rock, or where either joins the edge of a boat ramp. Any places where there is a change in terrain, there are likely to be predatory fish waiting to ambush bait.
Fish also like to hold in areas consisting of a mixture of materials. Bass like a combination of pea gravel rock mixed with larger chunks of rocks. These are places where crawfish exist and bass can lurk in the shadows.
In reservoirs such as Lake of the Ozarks that contain so little underwater cover, don’t overlook throwing your lure to the smallest branch or blade of grass sticking out of the water. These are often holding spots for a bass.
What type of lure one uses doesn’t really matter unless it’s being cast to where a fish is likely to be. After learning which areas to target, selecting the right lure can make the difference in catching fish or going home empty-handed.
It was an added bonus that on Lake of the Ozarks (and probably other lakes with little bottom structure) we could fish in shallow water and even on top all day. We had great success using a popper in shad patterns. A walk-the-dog retrieve with a Heddon’s Zara Spook is a good technique that also performed well.
Working jigs along the shoreline triggered a number of bites. Pauley fishes jigs made by Jewel Bait Company and has been using them for nearly 25 years. In the summertime, he pitches a 7/16-ounce Jewel Pro-Spider jig in Missouri Craw color around the boat docks with 12-pound fluorocarbon line. For added color and contrast, he adds a green pumpkin Jewel finesse craw. Pauley suggests alternating that with a green pumpkin Zoom trick worm on a 1/4-ounce Jewel Squirrel Head in what most people would call a shakey head worm rig. He fishes it on 10-pound line. “If I think it needs a little more color, I dip the worm tails in chartreuse dye.”
To fish deeper, he goes with a 5/8-ounce Jewel football jig in peanut butter and jelly trailed with a green pumpkin Zoom Speed Craw on 15-pound fluorocarbon. For places like Missouri, where crawfish have a tinge of orange on their craws, try dipping the very tips of the craw in orange dye. Keeping your rod tip low, drag the football jig along the bottom like a scurrying crawfish. When you feel a bigger rock, raise the rod to the 2 o’clock position to hop the jig up over the rock. Strikes often come as the jig falls back to the bottom.
Visiting Lake of the Ozarks
Lake of the Ozarks has a reputation for being one of the best fishing lakes in the U.S. When the fish are likely to cooperate all summer long and can be found in shallow water, it is a prime destination.
Located on the reservoir, Tan-Tar-A Resort is an ideal headquarters for fishing and playing on Lake of the Ozarks. The property features a variety of accommodations ranging from lodge rooms to houses, restaurants and boat rentals.
Campers can enjoy the lake at Missouri’s largest state park – Lake of the Ozarks State Park. The large 18,000-acre park offers plenty to do on or near the lake, including beaches, marinas, boat rentals and paved boat ramps. A small general supply store at the marina sells tackle and bait.
Anglers in need of tackle, bait or licenses also can visit Osage Beach Bait & Tackle (www.osagebeachbaitandtackle.com) located in the town of Osage Beach. They can suggest guide services as well. Centrally located, Lake of the Ozarks is less than a day’s drive from anywhere in the Central U.S.