Hot Fish Bite in the Rainy Ozarks

  • Bass, Crappie, Trout Turning On
  • Guides and Resort Owners Report GOOD Catches
  • High Water Offers Some Silver Lining

By Brent Frazee

Though Table Rock Lake has dealt with flooding since late April, guides such as Buster Loving and their clients have still enjoyed good bass fishing.

April showers brought more than May flowers in the Ozarks.  They brought near-record flooding and a mess that residents are still trying to clean up.

That’s the bad news.

There’s also plenty of good news.

Though reservoirs such as Truman, Table Rock and Taneycomo are still high, guides and resort owners report that the fishing has been surprisingly good.  If anything, they say, the floods may have helped the fishing.

And then there’s the long-term outlook.  Fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation say that high-water springs usually result in boom year-classes of fish because of the added cover in which fry can hide from predators.

“We’re certainly not minimizing the hardships the high water has brought for many residents,” said Brian Canaday, chief of fisheries for the Missouri Department of Conservation.  “But some of our largest year-classes of fish have come in these flood years.  So this wasn’t a bad thing as far as the fish were concerned.”

At Table Rock Lake, a 43,100-acre reservoir near Branson, Mo., the water level reached almost the top of flood pool in late April after almost 10 1/2 inches of rain in a three-day period.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing water ever since.

It is now down to 11 feet above normal and some boat ramps are still hard to access.  But those who have been able to get on the lake have found good bass fishing.

Buster Loving, a longtime guide on Table Rock, has guided his customers to some impressive catches throughout May.

 “The bass were in the process of spawning when the high water hit, and they didn’t move,” Loving said. “For the most part, they stayed where they had fanned out their nests.

“I’m fishing the old banks. Those places might have been in 10 to 12 feet before, and they went to 25 to 30 feet after the water came up. But the fish have still been there.”

Loving remembers years when the high water hit before the spawn and the bass would pioneer into newly flooded cover.

“I won back to back tournaments one year when the lake was flooded,” Loving said. “The fish were in flooded campgrounds, around buildings and lantern holders and in green yards.

“But I haven’t seen that as much this spring.”

The huge releases from Table Rock into Lake Taneycomo caused some nervous times for resort owners, residents and fishermen for a time.  But now that release rates have slowed to a fishable rate, trout fishermen are finding excellent fishing. They’re even catching some fish not normally found in the nationally known trout lake that were flushed out of Table Rock.

“I’ve never seen so many smallmouth bass caught,” said Phil Lilley, who owns Lilley’s Landing Resort and Marina in Branson, Mo. “And the trout fishing from the dam to the Lookout area has been really good.”

“We’re seeing lots of 20-inch rainbows and more browns than normal, too.”

Lilley isn’t surprised. Every time high water hits at Taneycomo, an abundance of shad is flushed from Table Rock into Taneycomo and it sets off a feeding spree among the trout.

White jigs, shad flies, drift rigs and spoons have been the most effective lures.

The fishing has also been good at Truman Lake, the 55,600-acre reservoir in west-central Missouri that was hit hard by flooding.  As of May 18, the water level was still 20 feet above normal pool, but guides such as Jeff Faulkenberry are still helping their clients catch limits of crappies.

“The crappie spawn was about over when the water came up,” said Faulkenberry, who runs the Endless Season Guide Service. “The fish just followed the water into the new cover.

“You have to move around to find them; they’re not bunched up in one place.  But if you stay on the move and fish the green bushes, you can catch a limit.  The key is finding the schools of shad and fry.”

The biggest problem at Truman?  Access.  With the lake still high, some of the boat ramps are inaccessible.

But a few are open and others will be as the water continues to fall.  Go to the website http://www.nwk.usace.army.mil/Locations/District-Lakes/Harry-S-Truman-Lake/Daily-Lake-Info-2/ for up-to-date information on facilities.

 

 

WHERE TO FIND MISSOURI JACK SALMON

  • Secrets to Finding and Catching Jack Salmon
  • Hot Lures can be Simple Lures When They Work
  • Missouri Fishing With a Special Friend   

By Larry Whiteley

Daron Whiteley and keeper Jack Salmon.

Many years ago during a beautiful spring in the Missouri Ozarks, a good friend of mine, Bob Nelson, invited me to go fishing with him for a fish he called “Jack Salmon”.  I had never heard of such a fish so I went along mainly out of curiosity.

He took me north to Stockton Lake and a creek called Turnback.  We walked up creek and found this fish with the funny name as they headed upstream to spawn.  Casting spinner rigs and spoons the fight was a whole lot of fun in the swift water.  We caught our limit and the fish weren’t the only thing hooked that day.

Just when I thought this special day was over and it couldn’t get any better, it did. Bob fileted the fish, started a campfire on a gravel bar, pulled a cast iron skillet from his truck, added some lard, cut up some potatoes and onions, opened a can of beans, covered the filets with cornmeal and cooked up a meal I still remember over 40 years later.

A plate of delicious Jack Salmon.

Unless you are as old I am, if you tell someone you are going fishing for Jack Salmon they will probably look at you kind of funny.  Today most of us know them as the delicious, fun-to-catch walleye.

When you talk about walleye most fishermen think of the legendary fishing in the Dakota’s, Minnesota, Wisconsin and several of our northeastern states.  They might also think of the fabulous walleye fishing on Greer’s Ferry Lake in Arkansas or Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee.

And I, like many of you, have made several trips to fish legendary Canadian lakes for walleye.  The next time I go, I’m going to ask them if they have ever heard of a Jack Salmon.

Sometimes I wonder why I ever go out of state after walleye.  We have some really good walleye fishing right here at home.  In fact, the Missouri state record is 21.1 pounds, caught in 1988 at Bull Shoals Lake by Gerry Partlow.  That’s bigger than 90% of the famous walleye states I just mentioned.

Walleye are native to some areas of Missouri and in some waters they naturally reproduce.  However, in most of our large and small lakes, and reservoirs as well, as some streams and rivers they have to be stocked to keep up with fishing pressure.  The Missouri Department of Conservation started stocking walleyes in the 1970s and now stock 1.2 million a year all over the state.

Lakes that receive walleye stockings include Bilby, Bull Shoals, Jacomo, Lake of the Ozarks, Longview, Long Branch, Mozingo, Norfork, Pomme de Terre, Smithville, Stockton, Table Rock, and Truman.  The Mississippi, Black and Current Rivers are also known for good walleye fishing.

During the spring, walleyes will run up rivers and streams that flow into or out of a lake to spawn.  Just like they were doing the day Bob Nelson took me fishing for Jack Salmon.  They can also be found in areas of lakes with gravel or rip rap where they will also spawn.

Wherever you go walleye fishing in Missouri, make sure you check the season, length and possession limits of the water you are fishing because they can vary.

If you are new to walleye fishing, just realize it won’t be easy.  If you’re willing to go without a little sleep, that’s good.  Walleye feed actively at night.  If you don’t mind bad weather, that’s good too.  Walleye will sometimes bite the best when the weather isn’t best.

There are other times you can catch walleye.  Early morning, low-light conditions from a half hour before to a few hours after sunrise are also good.  I have better luck though, fishing a couple of hours before sunset to right up until dark sets in.

A dark, cloudy day is usually always good because the fish will sometimes feed all day.  If it is a bright sunny day they will be at 20 feet or more trying to get away from the sunlight that penetrates the water.

Spoons, crankbaits and plain jigs, or jigs tipped with a minnow or nightcrawler, are good most of the time.  Nightcrawlers and leeches work well on slip-sinker rigs. Trolling at 1 to 1.5 mph can also be effective.

Anna Whiteley with a Stockton Lake Jack Salmon a little under the size limit, the fish was released without harm.

Last year on Stockton Lake, my grandson Hunter, granddaughter Anna and I, did exceptionally well catching walleye.  We used 1/8 ounce Roadrunners with gray shad bodies and hammered willow leaf silver blades.  My son, Daron, caught his walleye with a crappie spinnerbait.

Walleye are usually not going to hit your bait hard.  When they take it, you might just feel a hesitation or a little bump and think your bait just ran into something.  That hesitation or bump just might be a Missouri Jack Salmon and you better set the hook.

To learn more about Jack Salmon, I mean walleye fishing, in Missouri, go to the Missouri Department of Conservation web site and search for walleye.