OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – With the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. train off and rolling, it finally turns north to start the Plains Division Presented by Outlaw Ordnance season and what better venue than Lake of the Ozarks. The event, which is presented by Smart Digital, hits the lake at a prime window of the year, as fat, prespawn bass are feeding up and recreational traffic – which can be unrelenting in the summer – is light, meaning the 175 boat field should have the run of the lake this week.
Spanning some 54,000 acres along the Osage River – with Gravois Creek, Grandglaize Creek and the Niangua River tributaries – Lake of the Ozarks is sort of an oddball when talking about major Ozark Reservoirs. Unlike Beaver Lake, Table Rock or Bull Shoals, Lake of the Ozarks isn’t as clear, nor does it support the bass species diversity of the others. It is also more heavily populated, though that doesn’t mean the fishing isn’t up to par. Lake of the Ozarks is known for producing monster bags of largemouth – especially in the spring. The main reason for that is Lake of the Ozarks is loaded with big gizzard shad that help grow fat largemouth wherever they’re present.
Lake of the Ozarks is dominated by hard cover, and docks take the cake for the most abundant structure. Brush piles and laydowns are also commonplace throughout the lake, coupled with bluff banks and 45-degree shorelines, it’s a safe bet to say they’ll all see some action during the course of the event.
Even though March on Lake of the Ozarks can be a magical time where 20-plus-pound bags can be the norm, the weather this time of year isn’t so magical. Just last week snow, ice and temperatures in the mid-20s and teens stuck around the region for several days causing the water temps to take a bit of a dive. Even over the last few days, ice blanketed the backs of many of the coves, especially on the upper end. Thankfully, the weather is warming up, with highs over the next few days forecasted to be in the mid-60s and 70s, and the warmer weather should help get the bite rolling.
“It’s Missouri,” joked local pro and Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit rookie Andy Newcomb of the weather. “But I think this is going to be a good one. I think they’re going to bite just with the way the weather is setting up and the clarity throughout the lake, I think people are going to be able to spread out and catch them a bunch of different ways.”
Sunshine and warm temps can do wonders for late winter and early spring bass, but Lawson Hibdon, who’s spent his entire life growing up on this pond, isn’t quite as optimistic as Newcomb.
“It’s been tough,” said Hibdon of the fishing. “This last cold front we had bumped the water temperature down a little bit – it’s anywhere from 38 to 42 – and it knocked everything back a little bit. It’ll still be pretty good fishing, but it’ll be slow fishing. You can’t just tear down the bank.
“Another thing that kind of hurt the bite is our lake level has been high all winter and finally [the power company] brought it down to 656 (feet), which is fairly normal. Then, just a week and half ago they dropped it 2 feet overnight and that really shocked the fish. They pulled so much current through the lake and it cooled the water down a lot further down than just the surface. It’s something a lot of people don’t think about, but it can make a big difference. This time of year we don’t have a lot of current, but for the last week there’s been a bunch of current and that cools the water down and I think that’s hurt the fishing more than anything.”
Though Newcomb and Hibdon may not be on the same page about the fishing, they both agree that the water clarity is right for two cold-water staples to really shine.
“The water is about as clear as I can remember it for a long time for this time of year,” said Newcomb. “So that lends itself to an Alabama rig or jerkbait. There’s dead water, but when you run into a group of them that are active, they’re real active and you can get a lot of bites.”
Obviously, an A-rig and jerkbait will be big factors, especially with the use of forward-facing sonar. They just simply get the quality of bites you need on this pond for this time of year.
“I think your big bites are going to be on a A-rig or stick bait,” said Hibdon. “Still, you’re not getting many bites. Saturday I only caught four keepers, but I caught one over 7 and one over 6. So, there’s big ones biting.”
Another Ozark staple that’s sure to have an impact is a jig. A jig has made plenty of money on Lake of the Ozarks throughout the years – just ask the Hibdons – so don’t be surprised to see some in the Top 10 Baits article at the end.
Aside from the obvious, given the warm forecast, there should be plenty of fish that get brought to the scale thanks to a spinnerbait, flat-sided crankbait, vibrating jig and lipless crankbait, too.
“There’s a big chunk of this lake that’s fishing pretty wide open,” Newcomb said. “I’m not going to say the tackle box is wide open because the water is still 40 degrees, but guys will be able to do what they’re good at.”
There’s plenty of blues singing to be heard from the competitors as far as the fishing goes, but this is Lake of the Ozarks in March and there will be good bags brought to the scale.
“I think you’re going to have to catch 20-plus-pounds a day,” said Newcomb. “I don’t know that it’ll be 21 a day, but I think it’ll be around 62 pounds, plus or minus, is what I’m thinking. I’m just basing that off of local tournaments lately, my practice and the weather we’re going to have.”
Hibdon may not be as hopeful, but he’s on board with the thought fishing will get better with each passing day.
“The fishing has gotten better since it’s warmed up,” Hibdon said. “So, by Thursday we might be really seeing some good bags. It’s still going to be a good tournament. Do I think it’ll be like last year and take 60 (pounds to win)? Probably not. That would be pretty fortunate for somebody to catch 20 a day. Now, somebody might catch 20 one day and 13 the next. It’s fishing a lot like Florida right now and I’m not crazy about that.”