Changing daily conditions made for tough adjustments in the final Costa FLW Series Central Division tournament of the year on Lake of the Ozarks. That’s probably why the final day of the tournament, which was presented by Evinrude, featured a who’s who of Ozark hammers.
Summerlike weather during practice gave way to fall by the start of the event, and adapting daily was key for most to survive. With water temperatures still in the mid- to upper 70s at the start of the event, those who found fish still in summer patterns were able to make haste the first two days, but saw their patterns fizzle by Saturday.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Lawyer ran new water each day, checking the developing topwater bite while flipping sections of docks that got in his way. He was able to climb the leaderboard each day to grab the win.
Below is a look at how the rest of the top 10 pros put the pieces together on a pressured Lake of the Ozarks.
Starting the Central Division season in the Ozarks left a bit of a sour taste in Garrett Paquette’s mouth with an 83rd-place finish at Table Rock. Moving on to Kentucky/Barkley lakes, the Canton, Mich., pro took home second to get back on track. This week, he followed up with his second consecutive runner-up finish to cap off his best season yet.
It’s no secret docks are the deal on Lake of the Ozarks, and that program carried Paquette all week. From deep to shallow, Paquette ran plenty of docks while dialing in where the fish set up each day.
“I had one or two areas I found in practice that I knew I could get bites in, so I pretty much committed to hunkering down in them,” says Paquette. “The key for me wasn’t to pattern the lake like a lot of the locals do. I was better off sticking to my two- to three-mile stretch of the lake I knew had fish and trying to catch all the bass from it.”
On day one, Paquette caught most of his fish shallow on docks. However, cloud cover on days two and three repositioned the fish to the outsides of the docks in 8 to 12 feet. He used his electronics to locate brush alongside the docks and dial in on high-percentage areas in order to attack each dock more efficiently.
Paquette needed one rod to do work, and that was rigged with a Texas rig with a 1/4-ounce weight and a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm. He threw it on 17-pound-test fluorocarbon, noting that the line was heavy enough to not break off on the dock, yet thin enough to maybe get him a few more bites than if he threw 20-pound test.
“It’s funny because jigs usually get the bigger bites all across the country, and I gave both the jig and worm equal time in practice,” explains Paquette. “I got bites on both, but my better quality came on the worm, so I stuck with that.”
Dennis Berhorst of Holts Summit, Mo., has made a killing on Lake of the Ozarks over his years there, and this week he added more hardware to his mantle.
Having a pulse on the lake year-round led him to stick to the offshore bite since a lot of fish were still in their summer patterns.
“Most of the fish I caught were offshore in 20 to 25 feet of water,” says Berhorst. “The key for me was rock. I fished little rock piles and concentrated on probably a dozen certain ones.”
On day one the fish just didn’t bite, and he came in with 12 pounds, 1 ounce. The clouds and rain on day two had them chomping, and he sacked up 18-10 to jump into the top 10. On Saturday, he spent most of the morning sidelined with trolling motor issues and didn’t get out until mid-morning, missing the prime bite window. Fortunately for him, the bite was tough for his competitors, and Berhorst’s 12-10 limit was enough to move him up to third.
“The morning bite was better for me all week,” he adds. “I probably fished a little too fast on the final day just trying to make up for lost time.”
On the rocks, Berhorst used a 3/4-ounce Strike King jig matched with a NetBait Paca Chunk Sr., or a Texas-rigged Chompers Boss Hawg rigged on a 5/0 Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover Flipping Hook. Both were matched to a 7-foot, 4-inch St. Croix Legend Xtreme rod with 20-pound-test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon.
Legendary pro Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Mo., has accomplished a lot throughout his time in professional fishing, and this week he notched another first in his career – winning the Strike King Angler of the Year title in the Costa FLW Series Central Division.
King, at age 69, put up two fourth-place finishes – at Table Rock and Lake of the Ozarks – and a 10th at Lake Barkley in June. That puts his average finish at sixth.
At Lake of the Ozarks, he focused on points and docks from the Glaize Arm to the mouth of the Osage River.
Simplicity was the name of the game, with the majority of his fish – including the monster 23-2 bag on day two – coming from an Evergreen Shower Blows topwater fished around banks with large rocks. He also tossed a Zoom Trick Worm in brush piles.
While Austin Brown isn’t a local from Lake of the Ozarks, previous experience on the pond helped him bank a top 10. The Benton, Ky., pro went all-in on the topwater bite, and it paid off big time on day two when he caught 20-8. However, on the first and final days he didn’t catch a limit.
“I fished a lot of docks in practice, but I didn’t really do much good on them,” Brown says. “I knew from past experience on Lake of the Ozarks from this time of year that when you get a cool front coming in and the water cools off that I could catch them on a topwater.
“I didn’t know how many fish I could catch, but I knew if I got bit on the topwater it’d be a good one. With it being the last tournament of the year I wasn’t really worried about points. I just thought that’d be my best chance at winning.”
“I never really left the main lake,” adds Brown. “I was fishing bluff banks where they transitioned to slate rock. I’d probably hit 40 points throughout the day and make 10 to 15 casts at each spot before moving to the next.
“I’ve seen in the past where there are small feeding windows that happen. So, you may fish a bunch of places and not get bit, and then all of a sudden catch six or seven fish on the next six or seven stops. That’s why you just need to cover water.”
On the final day, boat traffic and fishing pressure from the previous weeks took their toll and forced Brown to pick up a shaky head and move to shallow pea gravel banks. He threw a 1/8-ounce Slongs Fishing Lures head with an Attack Pak Fishing finesse worm to scrounge up four keepers.
Jason Vance of Battle Ground, Ind., made his first career top 10 with FLW thanks to a trio of baits and one magic spot.
“I look at Google Earth before practice and pick out areas I think will be good,” says Vance. “My magic spot was actually something I marked ahead of time and checked the first day of practice. Every day of practice I’d keep checking it, and there were always fish there, so I thought it’d be a good place to start each day of the tournament.”
Only three pros managed to catch a limit each day, and Vance was one of them thanks to the magic spot on the main lake that was essentially a ledge with about 8 feet of water on top, falling to 25 feet. The big factors were the presence of current on it and a heavy concentration of shad.
“It was just a good spot for fish in transition [from summer to fall patterns],” he adds. “There weren’t always big fish there, but it was someplace I knew I could get bites.”
He fished the spot with a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce Tight Line jig (Guntersville special color) or a Zoom Ol’ Monster worm on a Texas rig. From there, he ran docks with the same baits.
When the sun got up or it got later in the day he turned his attention to creeks with flats in the back and moving water to throw a homemade buzzbait rigged with a 4.8 Keitech Swing Impact FAT in sexy shad. He also mixed in a Strike King spinnerbait rigged with a 4.8 Keitech in electric shad.
“I need to thank Bob Rohrman Toyota and Lew’s, because without them I wouldn’t be able to be out here doing this,” Vance adds.
Arnold Payne Jr. of Kokomo, Ind., fished as a co-angler in the Central Division for 11 years, but this season his brother convinced him to move to the front. Though he owns some top 10s as a co-angler on Lake of the Ozarks, this was his first as a pro.
While Payne now calls Indiana home, he actually used to live in Missouri, and Lake of the Ozarks was his home lake. Because of that, he already knew a lot of the water he wanted to fish from Grand Glaize to the dam.
“I tried to fish about 25 brush piles each day in 12 to 18 feet of water,” Payne says. “I have a bunch of brush piles marked from years ago. I’m comfortable fishing offshore, so I figured if there were fish out deep, I’d catch them. If they moved like they did on the final day, then I’d struggle.”
A 1-ounce homemade jig and a Texas-rigged Berkley PowerBait 10-inch Power Worm were the recipe for success in the brush. On the final day, he only managed one bite out deep, so he picked up a River2Sea Whopper Plopper 110 and covered water to pluck a few more keepers.
James Watson of Lampe, Mo., may be known for his ability to catch bass on a Whopper Plopper, but he credits this top 10 solely to a Jewel Special Ops Tactical Flip’N HD jig with a Luck-E-Strike Drop Dead Craw trailer.
The decision to flip didn’t come without a little initial disappointment. Watson had a limited practice period. That, combined with a bit of stubbornness, had the pro committed to throwing the Whopper Plopper on day one. But after nearly six hours without any action, he finally ran to a pocket he had history in and started to pitch the jig around docks.
“I have a buddy that caught fish pretty good in a cove years ago about this time,” Watson says. “Since I only got about five hours of practice, and my first six hours of the tournament weren’t going good, I figured I’d run to it and give it a shot. Man, were they biting when I pulled in there.
“The docks that were about 6 feet deep on the shallow end and 22 feet on the deep side seemed to be the best.”
Watson pretty much made his living there on day two after making two laps through the cove. On the final day, he started there and it was a bust, so he scrambled to scrape together four keepers.
“I don’t think that cove ran out of fish; I think the bite just got terrible on the last day,” Watson adds.
He pitched the jig on a 7-foot, 6-inch, heavy-action Cashion Elite Flipping Rod with a 7.5:1 Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier 2 reel spooled with 20-pound-test fluorocarbon.
Making yet another top 10 on Lake of the Ozarks was Shawn Kowal of Linn Creek, Mo. Like a few of the other locals, he knew a lot of fish were still out deep, and targeting them was his initial game plan.
“I was fishing deep out in 30 feet,” says Kowal. “I got spooked on day two when all those big bags were coming in on a topwater, and I thought that’s what I needed to do on the final day.
“I just lost too many fish on the final day on the Plopper. Anytime you fish a topwater you’re going to lose some, and it hurt.”
Local David Ryan of Levasy, Mo., leaned heavily on the Osage River to produce the bulk of his weight – including the 19-1 bag he caught on day one. He committed to it on the final day, but after running up there with nothing to show for it, he pulled the plug and snatched one keeper before heading to weigh-in.
A variety of baits played for Ryan up the river. He’s been making his own balsa crankbaits since 2005, and he put one to good use this week by throwing his custom #3 Black Market Balsa crankbait (wicked puff color). He also utilized a white Z-Man ChatterBait with a Yamamoto Zako. When he flipped, he used a Chompers Boss Hawg in green pumpkin candy.