Roger Fitzpatrick and James Dill went into the final day of the Costa FLW Series presented by Evinrude on Lake of the Ozarks in first and second, just an ounce apart. Both locals were primarily running a topwater pattern, as was third-place pro James Watson. Unfortunately for the three of them, that pattern fizzled on the final day.
With water temperatures still in the 70s, it wasn’t truly a fall-time bite, but it was close enough for quite a few fish to be up shallow. Randy Haynes nearly made the cut out deep with a crankbait, but by and large, the truly summertime stuff just didn’t have the juice – Casey Scanlon and Dylan Hays came the closest to making a brush-based win a reality and they both had to mix in shallow fish just to make the top 10.
2. Fitzpatrick chases the topwater bite
Weighing 45 pounds, 12 ounces over three days, Roger Fitzpatrick was in first place by just an ounce after day two. On the final day, he could only muster 10-1 and fell to second.
Fitzpatrick primarily threw a topwater up shallow on the main lake, in short pockets off the main lake or in the mouths of creeks. He was targeting areas where bass were pushed up near the bank to eat gizzard shad that were just beginning to move shallower. He says that particular shallow pattern develops every year, and that this time it started around the mid-lake area just two days before the tournament.
“Every fall the lake starts to turn over and it starts first way up the river,” says Fitzpatrick. “You get green and brown streaks in the water and the fishing is terrible for a little bit. It makes its way down, and you don’t notice those streaks so much down here, but it (the water) just gets dirtier. You look on the rocks, and you can’t even see the bottom 3 foot deep like you have all summer. The bite follows that – all of a sudden they’ll move up shallow on the bank when that happens and I usually try to follow wherever that line is.”
Fitzpatrick says it’s a pattern you can follow all the way down to the dam, though it might take until Thanksgiving for the lake to turn over that far down. For some reason, the pattern betrayed him on the final day.
“That first day of the tournament I got excited,” says Fitzpatrick. “I caught a 4-pounder immediately and I wrecked ‘em, I had probably 15 keepers and it was just Shawn [Kowal] and I and I thought it would only get better. Today I probably fished it until 10 o’clock and had two little Kentucky bass.”
Up shallow, Fitzpatrick targeted the areas behind docks heavily, and made sure to work his way in and around the cables to do so. It seems like the best cast on dock lakes is often the hardest to make, and most of the top finishers went to great lengths to make them this week. His primary baits were a black or white River2Sea Whopper Plopper or an Omega Alpha Shad Buzzbait trailered with a white Stanley Ribbit. He fished the buzzbait as slowly as he could, shaking it a lot with his rod tip to try and slow it down even more.
On the final day, he finally scrapped his shallow bite at about noon and went deep to catch three keepers on a June bug-colored Zoom Magnum Trick Worm on a 5/8-ounce wobble head. It might have been an error of judgment, but shortly after filling his limit offshore he went back to the bank and didn’t get a bite the rest of the day.
3. Topwater key for Dill too
Finishing in third with 45-12, James Dill relied heavily on a topwater pattern that was similar to Fitzpatrick’s, but mixed some more docks into his game plan.
On the topwater side, Dill targeted roughly the same type of main-lake bank that Fitzpatrick did, saying that he wanted it to be close to the main channel and have gizzard shad on it. Some of the banks were history places, but he scoped out some in practice as well, getting right up on the rock and visually spotting gizzard shad working along them. The main difference between the two was location, as Dill spent most of his time around Hurricane Deck. For his topwaters, Dill rolled with a black or white River2Sea Whopper Plopper and a ¾-ounce Crock-O-Gator Headknocker buzzbait.
According to Dill, the dock pattern was great until the lake level dropped before the tournament started.
“I watched it going down and I watched the fish go with it,” says Dill. “A week ago that’s all I would have done, but once they pulled out they got on those channel swings and deep little points and stuff.”
Despite the waning dock pattern, he did manage to pluck keepers from them, sometimes targeting the braces on large marina docks and sometimes flipping shallow docks in the back of short pockets. For his bait, Dill went with a ½-ounce Crock-O-Gator Zapper Jig trailered with a Crock-O-Gator Swamp Bug.
4. Hays rises by the day
Dylan Hays has put together an impressive 2017, finishing 12th in the standings in the Southwestern Division and 10th in the Northern Division of the Costa FLW Series. He capped the regular season off with his second top 10 of the year, to go with a third place showing in the FLW Tour event at Lake Travis.
Hays tapped into both the brush bite and the topwater bite to weigh 45-7 on the week.
“The first day I caught one on a buzzbait and then I fished brush piles the rest of the day,” says Hays. “The second day I couldn’t get a topwater bite going at all, I actually caught one flipping a dock, and then I caught the rest out of brush. Today I had an epic morning right off the bat and caught four keepers in 10 minutes on a buzzbait.”
Unfortunately, that epic morning fizzled a bit, and Hays was only able to scratch up one more keeper from his brush the rest of the day.
Fishing mostly mid-lake and in the Glaize Arm, Hays found the brush he targeted in practice and says that most of it was 15-to-20 feet deep.
He relied on a variety of baits for the brush including a ¾-ounce PB&J football jig, a 10-inch worm and a Strike King 6XD. His buzzbait of choice was a Hart Tackle buzzbait with a black Zoom Horny Toad.
5. Another Lake of the Ozarks top 10 for Berhorst
Dennis Berhorst has an incredible 15 top-10 finishes on Lake of the Ozarks, mostly in BFL competition, and he’s always a threat to win. Had he not stubbed his toe with 12-6 on day one, he may have been in contention for the win, as he fished the final two days almost perfectly.
After fishing deep with little success on day one, he took a tip from Fitzpatrick and hit the bank with a River2Sea Whopper Plopper on day two to sack up 17-8.
“I thought I was going to catch them on top and I couldn’t, so I switched up and went flipping,” says Berhorst of his day three attack. “They were shallow boat docks, and they didn’t necessarily have to be in the backs, as long as it was real shallow. They were on the windy, shady sides.”
Catching about a dozen keepers on the final day, his flipping bait of choice was a 6.5-inch black and blue Yamamoto Kut Tail Worm on a 5/16-ounce Texas rig.
6. Just flipping for Long
Shane Long won the FLW Series event on Lake of the Ozarks in 2009, and though he moved up the leaderboard each day, he fell shy this time around.
“All I did was fish boat docks,” says Long. “I started each day down in the clear water trying to throw some topwater and I never got that going. Up the river they were on the docks at the mouths of the pockets, it was more of a main lake deal. But those docks were picked over pretty hard, and today I wasn’t getting bit out there so I moved into the secondary points and did the same thing in there in fresher water.”
Long says he caught 10 keepers on day one and seven keepers on day two and three. He says he fished all the way around each dock, and never dialed into a specific pattern dock to dock, but that the deepest fronts he fished were 6- to 8 feet deep. His sole bait was a 3/8-ounce JaKKed Baits DoKK RoKK trailered with a Strike King Rage Chunk.
7. Brush does it for Scanlon
After a stellar season on the FLW Tour, Casey Scanlon finished his year with a top 10 on his home lake. Totaling up 43-3, his 18-13 catch on day two propelled him into the top five going into the final day.
Scanlon chased a Plopper bite, but could never get it going enough to convert. On the final day, he reported getting about 20 bites on top and only putting one in the boat. Fishing in the Glaize Arm and down toward the dam, his primary plan was brush and docks with brush.
“They varied, but a lot of them were in that 12-to 18-foot range, it was mostly around flatter stuff,” says Scanlon of his brush game. “I was just running a lot of spots. I would have liked to fish the boat docks a lot more this week, but I feel like they got destroyed with the Big Bass Bash last week so I tried to key on some of the less obvious stuff.”
Scanlon guides on the lake, so he’s had plenty of time to scan around for brush, but he says that picking through it to find the good piles was a challenge. He tossed a crankbait some, but his primary brush baits were a 5/8-ounce Trophy Bass Company Trophy Pro Jig and a 10-inch Luck-E-Strike Dead Ringer worm on a ½-ounce Texas rig.
8. Lawyer stays shallow
In an interesting coincidence, Jeremy Lawyer banked his second top 10 of the season at Lake of the Ozarks just like Dylan Hays, with his first top-10 finish coming at Lake Travis – again, just like Hays. Fresh off an impressive first season on Tour, Lawyer proved he hasn’t forgotten how to catch ‘em in the Ozarks, either.
Lawyer mixed dock flipping and the standard Plopper and buzzbait pattern, but never really tuned in to the topwater pattern to the degree that others did.
“I tried on corners and bluffs and points,” says Lawyer. “I was really jumping around. I couldn’t key on any one thing, though. I had to keep the trolling motor down and I couldn’t run around and key on certain stuff.”
On top Lawyer stuck with a River2Sea Whopper Plopper custom painted by Fall Creek Lures in black and white on days two and three, but caught some key fish the first day with a 7/16-ounce Freedom Tackle Swing Buzz with a grey ghost-colored Zoom Horny Toad. On docks, Lawyer used a JaKKed Baits DoKK RoKK trailed with a Zoom Z-Craw Jr. Lawyer fished mostly up the lake from takeoff, in the Hurricane Deck area and up into the Niangua River.
9. Bohannan takes ninth and AOY
Coming in to Lake of the Ozarks for the season finale, FLW Tour pro Greg Bohannan figured he had a shot at the Central Division Angler of the Year title if he could throw up a good finish and young gun Cole Floyd had a poor showing. When Floyd finished 41st and Bohannan made the top 10 he knew he had it.
Weighing 40-11 on the week, Bohannan fished a War Eagle Buzz Toad matched with a black Zoom Horny Toad shallow on some banks he had history on around Hurricane Deck, but he threw a crankbait on docks a lot as well.
“It’s a pattern I got on a few years ago,” says Bohannan of his cranking deal. “It’s a matter of covering a ton of water. You have to be kind of specific about which docks, I mostly fish main lake ones and docks at the mouths of pockets. I make one cast down the edge, one cast across the front and one cast down the other edge and go to the next one. It’s a numbers game.”
Throwing a Skirmish Baits M9 One Knocker squarebill in a shad pattern, Bohannan says that most of his docks were in anywhere from 14- to-30 feet of water – truly deep docks. Though he would often strike out completely, occasionally he’d be able to pull multiple keepers off one dock.
10. Watson plops ‘til he drops
James Watson arrived at Lake of the Ozarks looking to do one thing – throw the heck out of a River2Sea Whopper Plopper. It proved successful the first two days, but totally fell flat on the final day.
“I was trying to key on the best stretches of rock that had big enough gaps between boat docks so I could run my Plopper,” says Watson. “I was looking for that big ol’ busted up lava-looking stuff and my boat was never deeper than 5 or 6 feet of water.”
Watson says he needed about 11 blowups a day on the Plopper to make it happen, and he only got one bite on it the final day. Running thin margins all week, he primarily fished in the Glaize Arm and resorted to re-fishing some of his water on both days two and three, which is something he says he never does.