Although it's widely recognized as one of the best vacation destinations in the Midwest, Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks has also earned the reputation of being one of the best fisheries in the nation, too. Thousands of anglers return to the Lake time and time again to take to the waters in search of that next big catch.
The sheer size of this man-made reservoir can be difficult to comprehend: it covers over 54,000 acres with over 64 billion gallons of fish-filled water supplied by five tributaries, all enclosed within 1,150 miles of meandering shoreline. To put that in perspective, that's more shoreline than the entire Pacific coast of the state of California.
That's exactly what makes the Lake of the Ozarks one of the best destinations for anglers of all experience levels. With all that water, shoreline and natural and artificial habitat, as well as careful management, the fish populations flourish, making for a lot of line-tugging, fish-fighting fun throughout the entire year.
The most prevalent species at the Lake include largemouth and spotted bass; white bass; black and white crappie; hybrid white bass/stripers; bluegill; walleye; and channel, flathead and blue catfish, as well as paddlefish. But, arguably the most sought after are crappie and bass. The Lake hosts over 500 professional and amateur fishing tournaments each year, the most popular being the semi-annual spring and fall Big Bass Bash tournaments, which typically pay out a whopping $60,000 cash prize to the amateur that reels in the biggest fish.
Fishing has been a popular family activity at the Lake of the Ozarks for over 80 years. "If you're interested in catching your daily limits of sizable fish, the Lake of the Ozarks provides a wonderful opportunity to accomplish that,” says Jim Divincen, administrator for the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association. "It's also a great way to spend quality time with your family. Generations of families have grown up fishing here and continue to pass on the tradition to each new generation or addition to their families. In fact, some of my fondest memories are of fishing with my daughters on the Lake."
John Neporadny, a longtime Lake of the Ozarks resident and a member of the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, shares Divincen's enthusiasm for the Lake and believes it lives up to its billing as one of the best fisheries in the nation. "I've had the opportunity to fish many of the best rivers, natural lakes and reservoirs throughout the country and on many occasions I've discovered there is no place like home."
This former fishing guide and author of The Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide book continues, "Missouri has many fine fisheries, but I would have to rate Lake of the Ozarks as the best reservoir in the state for catching a variety of game fish. I believe that day in and day out, Lake of the Ozarks gives anglers an equal opportunity to catch bass, crappie, white bass or catfish."
The autumn season is a favorite among anglers for the cooler temperatures, colorful fall foliage and productive fishing. The warmer weather and extended hours of daylight make spring and summer the most popular seasons with boaters and anglers alike, but that doesn't mean the fish stop biting in the fall and winter.
The cooler temperatures and vibrant fall foliage make fishing at the Lake in autumn both beautiful and productive. And, during the fall and winter seasons, many of the Lake-area resorts offer discounted rates on lodging, providing yet another reason to plan a fishing trip to the Lake of the Ozarks.
Those willing to layer up and brave the colder conditions, may have the largest payoff as some of the Lake's record-breaking fish have been caught during the winter months. And, a handful of Lake-area resorts feature enclosed heated fishing docks for catching crappie, some are even furnished with couches and TVs to ensure a comfortable and pleasurable winter fishing experience.
GOOD FISHING ATTRACTS GOOD FISHERMEN
The Lake area not only boasts a good number of trophy-size fish, but also a good number of national trophy-winning fishermen. Guido Hibdon, winner of the Bassmaster Classic and two-time BASS Angler of the year; Dion Hibdon, winner of the Bassmaster Classic and FLW Forrest Wood Cup; fishing legend Denny Brauer, the first ever angler to be featured on the Wheaties Box; Brian Maloney, FLW All-American National Champion; and Marcus Sykora, FLW All-American National Champion, all call the Lake of the Ozarks home. Clearly, there must be something in the water.
"The Lake is an unbelievable place to be for pro anglers because there are many different river systems, many different types of cover for the fish, and you have four distinct seasons, so fishing this lake prepares you for all sorts of scenarios,” says Sykora, who won the 2014 FLW All-American championship on Wilson Lake in Alabama. "You learn to excel at fishing in very shallow water; very deep water; in warm and cold weather; windy, rainy and sunny conditions; so you develop a unique sense for the different patterns and techniques you need to use for each given scenario. That, in my opinion, is why Lake of the Ozarks anglers tend to be so successful in big tournaments. Our home lake has prepared us well. And, that's also why the Lake attracts and produces so many great anglers."
TAKE IT FROM THOSE WHO KNOW
If you come to the Lake to do some fishing, it's never a bad idea to do a little research. There are many resources available to anglers providing information on the best locations, patterns, bait and more. A great online resource is www.BassingBob.com, where you can get current reports on water conditions and tips from local pros. In print, there's the Lake of the Ozarks Fishing News available for free at most bait shops and grocery stores around the Lake area, and several local newspapers also feature up-to-date fishing reports and tips as well.
But, you can always cut to the chase and hire a certified fishing guide. Local guides know the waters better than almost anyone and make for a relaxing and effortless fishing experience. With one call, you can book these professionals, who will take you to the Lake's fishing "hot spots," and will also provide the boat and all the equipment needed for the excursion. All you have to do is show up and your guide will take care of the rest.
"A big lake like this can be intimidating for some people," says Ed Franko, owner of Big Ed's Guide Service in Lake Ozark. "Professional fishing guides make it easy and they maximize the quality of time a person spends on the water. Most of us are out on the Lake 250-plus days a year, so we know where the fish are and what they're biting. We also have some of the best equipment and a wealth of knowledge to ensure that people have a great experience here at the Lake of the Ozarks. Because, when you get down to it, it's all about the experience and a good guide can be the difference between a great fishing trip or an extremely frustrating one."
For a complete listing of Coast Guard-certified fishing guides in the area, visit www.FunLake.com
WHERE TO STAY AND WHERE TO PLAY
Many Lake-area resorts feature fishing docks for their guests' convenience and enjoyment. The Lake of the Ozarks has made a point of providing top-notch services for anglers for decades. So, if you're planning a trip to the Lake, know that many of the resorts at the Lake cater to anglers and their needs and offer fishing docks, submerged crappie beds and cleaning stations on location. And, as mentioned previously, some have heated fishing docks for comfortable winter fishing as well.
Public launching sites are available in the Lake area's two state parks - Lake of the Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka State Park - as well as at full-service marinas and resorts around the Lake. A lot of the same marinas and resorts also offer boat rentals.
Fishing licenses are required for most anglers in Missouri. Licenses can be purchased at many Lake-area resorts, convenience stores and bait shops. For more information, including all rules and regulations, or to purchase your fishing license online, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation at www.mdc.mo.gov/permits
Whether fishing with buddies or family, time spent off the water can be as enjoyable as the time spent fishing. The Lake of the Ozarks, which was named the "Best Recreational Lake" in the Nation by readers of USA Today, has activities and events for every age and interest. To learn more about these, plus dining and accommodations options, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau (CVB) at 1-800-FUN-LAKE, or visit the CVB's award-winning website at www.FunLake.com