Tricky Times at Table Rock - Major League Fishing

Tricky Times at Table Rock

High, cool water could make things hit or miss on the Ozark impoundment
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November 5, 2020 • Kyle Wood • Toyota Series

Though the calendar says fall is here, it sure doesn’t feel like it for the final stop of the Toyota Series Plains Division event on Table Rock Lake. Rain and cold temperatures nearly a week ago have given way to highs in the low 70s and things don’t look to change much for the event, making it more than comfortable to fish in but not near the conditions needed to flip the switch for bass to put on the fall feedbag.

Nevertheless, a pro is still going to walk away with a top prize worth nearly $65,000, and more importantly, 25 of the top pros and co-anglers from the Plains Division are going to punch their ticket to the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Championship on Lake Cumberland Dec. 3-5, 2020.


About the fishery

As far as Ozark impoundments go, Table Rock isn’t much different than the rest. The southern Missouri reservoir features everything you could ask for to catch a bass from other than grass. How it differs from the rest, though, is that you can weigh in quality largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass – something not all Ozark fisheries can offer. 

The White River is the major tributary and is prime country to find big largemouths, though spotted bass and smallmouths can be encountered as well. The James River also feeds Table Rock and is smaller and narrower than the White, but offers some dirtier water and plenty of laydowns. The lower end of the lake has the deepest, cleanest water and the highest abundance of smallies and spots. So, really, you can pick a section of the lake that fits your style best and catch fish. 

Currently, the lake level is at 916.97 feet, which is almost two feet above full pool. In fact, heavy rains drenched the area recently and caused the lake to rise almost 4 feet – which is pretty substantial for this Ozark impoundment.


Current conditions

While the weather this week will be gorgeous, that wasn’t exactly the case for the last few weeks of October. Because of that, the lake is higher and a little cooler than normal for this time of year, and according to Major League Fishing pro James Watson, who calls Table Rock home, that may be one of the big reasons fishing is tough right now.

“I’ve fished many a fall on this lake and it’ll get tough like this sometimes,” Watson says. “Heck, when Jared Lintner won that B.A.S.S. Open here last fall he only had 31 pounds. It happens. I think the lake was fishing tough in the [Phoenix Bass Fishing League] Regional the other week. But here’s what really hurt the lake: It was at 913 [feet] the other week before the rain, then it came all the way up to 917, so basically a nearly 4-foot rise in five days. Now, the Corps has already let half a foot off this pond and that really screws things up.

“The bass haven’t come to bank at all this fall. You could go out one day and catch 12 to 13 if you’re lucky, then the next day with the same conditions have three bites if you’re lucky.”

Back in 2016 when the Toyota Series Championship was held on Table Rock during roughly the same timeframe, the Kings and James rivers were the place to be. While they will likely receive plenty of attention, Watson says the conditions just aren’t right.

“With that rain the rivers got blown out and are just starting to clear up in the backs of them, but they’re also 9 to 10 degrees cooler than the main lake,” he says.

With the lake and fish both seemingly in a funk, Cody Huff – who lives just 45 minutes up the road and guides on Table Rock in the summer and winter ­– also believes that the current conditions may shut down the topwater bite that the Ozarks are known for.

“The shallow bite could turn on, but I think this tournament is going to be dominated deep,” Huff says. “The guys that figure out how to catch ‘em offshore are really gonna catch ‘em.

“That’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to try to catch ‘em how I did on Toledo Bend,” he adds with regards to his win in the Southwestern Division season opener to start the year. “I didn’t get a lot of time to practice, but from what I saw, it seems like the fish are set up farther along than normal. The fish I catch this week will be in places they’ll spend the winter. I saw some good quality fish, so that’s what I’m going with.”

Watson is more optimistic about the bank bite, yet points out if the conditions aren’t right then deep will be the place to be.

“I really think the bank bite will prevail in this one,” Watson explains. “If wind don’t blow it won’t be good and you’ll need to have some stuff out deep. But if it does blow, then you got hope. I’m just praying I can catch more than three keepers.”


Tactics in play

Fall in the Ozarks usually screams topwater bite, and while there will certainly be bass caught on a buzzbait, walking bait or Plopper-style bait, the conditions may not be suitable for them to be the deal. Huff believes someone very well may lead the event after today with a topwater, but doesn’t believe it is something that can be sustained.

Instead, we may see a focus on deeper fish focusing on bait. If that’s the case, a jigging spoon, small swimbait, football jig or an umbrella rig should all help bring bass to the scale. Of course, you can’t exclude finesse stuff like a shaky head or a drop-shot.


Critical factors

  • The wind – Ozarks fisheries are notorious for turning on with wind pounding the bank. While the forecast calls for generally light winds this week, whoever can take advantage of small bite windows if/when the wind picks up could really do some damage.
  • Size limit – Having all three species is a fun bonus for Table Rock, but the minimum size is 15 inches. Spotted bass are usually a great way to fill a limit, though 15-inchers can be hard to come by, especially when things are tough. Catching fish may only be the first hurdle to overcome this week for much of the field.
  • Kicker bite – Table Rock is full of bass, but when it comes to largemouth, it has some impressive specimens. There are plenty of 4-, 5- and 6-pounders in here, and one of those bites this week could be a game-changer.


Dock talk

Even with as much griping about the fishing as there is, guys will still catch them this week, especially with a field full of local, regional and national talent.

“We got a pretty good rain last week and the lake shot up 4 feet, which is a lot for here,” Huff says. “It was fishing weird before that, but I’ve talked to a lot of guys that are dang good here and they’re crying the blues. It’s not fishing how it normally does where people can catch piles of fish.

“I still think it’s going to take 14 to 15 pounds a day to win,” he says. “That’s what I think a realistic goal for this week is.”

Watson doesn’t think it’ll be that strong, but still says mid to upper 30s will be strong.

“When I won that B.A.S.S. Open here in 2015 the first week of October, I had 46 pounds and the fish were on the bank, but they haven’t been like that all fall,” Watson says. “The lake is healthy, but it isn’t her normal self. I’ve touched two short fish and caught eight keepers on five different baits since Sunday. So, I’m just going to say 12 pounds a day will win.”


Tournament details

Toyota Series Plains Division

Hosted by

Table Rock Lake

Branson, Mo.

Nov. 5-7, 2020

Takeoff: 7 a.m. CT

Weigh-in: 3 p.m. CT