Ozarks Attractions Abound Above and Beneath the Water, and Below the Ground Too
Leaving Alhonna Resort on the shores of Lake of the Ozarks was bittersweet. We felt we had only scratched the surface and we begged for more as we pulled away in our Chevy Tahoe. The Tahoe was made for this terrain. Every driveway seemed perpendicular along the lake, dealing with the tops of the hills that now surrounded the lake after the valleys below were flooded back in 1931. We were driving the 2016 LTZ version, a perfect fit for two couples with lots of luggage. Of course, with a third seat in the back, it’s also a great vehicle for the family. The 5.3 Liter V-8 VVT with direct injection and cylinder deactivation gave us the power we needed. We could have trailered up to 8,600 pounds had we wanted to, and the next trip we just might have a pontoon boat, fully loaded!
Our first stop for the morning was a breakfast that legends are made of. Kyle Stewart (no relation) who had put together an itinerary for us, recommended a place in Lake Ozark called Stewart’s. We were told to order their famous cinnamon rolls, as big as a “catcher’s mitt.” Sandy and I ordered one to split; Joe and Laurie Calvert split one as well. No exaggeration, they were bigger than a catcher’s mitt! More like a soccer ball! And they were delicious. I also ordered their famous pork tenderloin smothered in gravy (if my doctor is reading this, I did have plenty of exercise to work it off as you will read about). It covered the plate. Not your standard dinner plates, one of the big oval ones! Hash browns and toast rounded out the monster platter. Yes, I’m a food guy and I appreciate quality.
As we stuffed ourselves back into the Tahoe, we realized we wouldn’t need lunch. The next part of the lake we would visit was the area in and around Camdenton. The first attraction we came to was Bridal Cave (www.bridalcave.com), one of the largest caves in the state. Missouri has a wealth of caves and caverns, hitting the 7,000 mark just recently. When it’s all said and done, the Show-Me State will be number one when it comes to overall numbers within Missouri boundaries. This cave was cool – literally and figuratively. Calcite deposits with stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and so much more mesmerized the folks on the tour. There was a connection with Western New York where they announced the “Frozen Niagara” calcite formation. More than 2,500 couples have been married in Bridal Cave or renewed their vows – another connection with the Honeymoon Capital. This is a must see for the entire family.
Geologically speaking, Missouri is littered with “karst” topography, a landscape that is filled with sinkholes, caves, natural bridges, large springs and underground streams. Many of the caves in the state can be found on private land. However, there are many on public land, too. For example, nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park – recently named by USA Today readers as the fourth best state park in the country – has 19 caves recorded within its boundaries so far (www.mostateparks.com). It was a beautiful park and we even hiked up a castle trail that took us up to old ruins on a bluff overlooking the Niangua arm of Lake of the Ozarks, a spot we would be fishing the next morning.
When we stopped into the Visitors Center at Ha Ha Tonka, we immediately found out that there is no admission fee into any of the state parks in Missouri, thanks to a dedicated funding source (with the exception of camping sites). The public land was just that, for the public to use. What a novel idea! With 88 parks in the state, they will be celebrating a milestone next year (2017) – 100 years of the state’s natural and cultural attractions. Pick up a copy of the state’s Parks Centennial Passport. Earn a stamp by visiting each of those parks and the first 1,000 people receive a prize. Five grand prizes will be up for grabs, too. Last year, some 19 million people visited Missouri parks (www.mostateparks.com).
Next stop was our accommodations for the evening – Old Kinderhook (www.oldkinderhook.com). If you are looking for quality in the way of lodging, golf, fishing and dining options, this facility was top notch. The golf course is ranked second in the state and our fishing guide was none other than Casey Scanlon, a Bassmaster Elite Series Pro who lives on the lake. If you want to treat yourself to something special, this place was amazing – really! After checking in, we enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had in a long, long time in the Trophy Room – fine dining at its best. Accolades came pouring out after that meal from all four of us.
Bright and early the next morning, Scanlon picked Joe and me up at sunrise to fish the lake. This is his home waters and he won the Bassmaster Open on nearby Table Rock Lake a few years ago. Originally from Kansas City, he’s been fishing the Elite Series for five years now. In fact, he had just returned from the Elite Series event on Cayuga Lake in New York in June – just a couple hours from where I live.
“This is a great body of water to fish,” said Scanlon, as he reeled in his first fish, a largemouth, just five minutes into the trip. For this time of year, large rubber worms on a jig head was a favorite enticement. “The lake is over 90 miles long, great for largemouth and spotted bass. My favorite time is November and December when spinnerbaits and top waters work the best. April and May is also excellent when suspended jerk baits will dominate as a favorite technique. To give you an idea about how this lake fishes, it consistently takes 20 pounds or more per day to win a tournament here. There are lots of three and four pounders here and you can catch fish up to and over 10 pounds. In fact, two 10 pounders have been weighed in already this year. Fishing has really been great this season because of the added water flow coming through the system due to the heavy rains earlier.”
Almost on cue, Calvert’s rod doubled over and he fought a monster under Scanlon’s Nitro Bass Boat. When it finally came to net, it was over four pounds – Joe’s personal best. After a couple of quick pictures, we released the fish to fight another day.
Primary forage in the lake for these bass is gizzard shad and is the preferred food source. There are also threadfin shad. An underrated fish in these waters is walleye … and no one fishes for them. If someone came in here and targeted walleye, the potential is very good. Night fishing could be a way to approach old marble eye, but there may be some competition. Because the lake has turned into a recreational playground for watercraft during the middle part of the day, some bass tournaments are now being held at night to deal with the mid-day turbulence and to battle the summer heat. Heat index during the hottest part of the day would hit over 100 degrees and one day it hit 108. It didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves though.
Back to the hotel for breakfast and check-out. Again, we didn’t want to leave. Next stop on our Ozarks experience was Holiday Shores Resort (www.holidayshoresresort.com), another quality experience but entirely different from the other two accommodations we sampled. Owner Lori Piedt runs an excellent operation, featuring 26 cottages overlooking the lake at Osage Beach. Again, the facility was well equipped as a one stop shop for families to enjoy the waters of the lake or relax in the uniquely-shaped cottages. Every cottage has an outside deck with a grill and one night we cooked up burgers as the sun set. What a relaxing time.
Holiday Shores offers visitors the opportunity to rent one of its 20 covered and fully electric boat slip at a nominal price. There is a boat launch available for guests if you bring your own boat or jet ski. They also rent paddleboards, paddleboats and chill rafts. There is a swimming pool or you can take advantage of a swim dock in the lake. Our last part of the trip will wind down next week with a personal best largemouth bass! Check out the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website at www.FunLake.com; 1-800-FUN-LAKE.