Lake of the Ozarks visit yields personal-best largemouth

It’s a small world.

We hear the phrase time and time again. That was confirmed once again in a whole “what goes around, comes around” scenario that culminated with a personal best largemouth bass on Lake of the Ozarks last month.

It started with the Outdoor Writers Association of America conference held in Lake Placid during the fall of 2013. We put together pre- and post-conference trips in Niagara USA for visiting media, and Scott Pauley of Missouri took advantage of one of those offerings. In addition to being a writer, Pauley is also contracted out by the Show Me State’s Division of Tourism to promote its fishing resources. We should take a page out of that promotional book. Anyway, Pauley had a great trip in Niagara and wrote a few stories about his adventures. It worked just the way it was intended. The personal, hands-on fishing tours for media is better than advertising. You are getting the personal endorsement of each and every writer as they reel fish in a perfect setting … like the Niagara River or Lake Ontario.

Fast-forward three years to 2016 and an outdoors experience at Lake of the Ozarks, the largest manmade lake on the continent. The trip’s genesis started with a gentle prodding by Marjorie Beenders, a tourism guru in the state who kept asking when we were going to come and visit. After doing a little research on the lake and the region, we couldn’t take it any longer. We graciously accepted her invitation to check out “the best recreational lake in the nation” based on a national vote conducted by two separate groups – USA Today and 10Best. It would live up to its name.

Bagnell Dam (the structure that created the lake) was actually built from 1929 to 1931, employing some 40,000 people along the way – at a time when the country desperately needed it. Workers from every state, as well as from 9 countries, were employed, making it the largest and last major dam in America built entirely with private financing. To make this project happen, 22 different towns and villages had to be destroyed and relocated. Approximately 30,000 acres of timber land had to be cleared. Over 900 miles of fences and numerous buildings had to be removed. A total of 32 cemeteries were moved to higher ground along with other scattered graves. You get the idea, a massive undertaking to say the least.

When the dam was finally completed, the Osage River provided most of the water. It took three months to fill up. The end result was a lake that was 94 miles long, providing 1,375 miles of shoreline. Average depth is 60 feet. It is almost entirely privately owned as far as the shoreline is concerned, allowing residents to build properties within a few feet of the water. Alhonna Resort and Marina (www.TheAlhonnaResort.com) was a good example of that, allowing us to sit on a deck overlooking the water … and fish if we wanted to. In the neighboring cabin, we watched people fish off a similar porch and reel in bass and bluegill on a consistent basis. It seemed like this lake was loaded with fish. In fact, on a pontoon boat rented from Alhonna (they have a variety of water crafts for rent) I caught a largemouth bass on my very first cast!

From a tourist’s standpoint, the area has a wide variety of attractions that are fun for the whole family. The first attraction we came to was Bridal Cave (www.bridalcave.com), one of the largest caves in the state. Missouri has a wealth of caves and caverns, hitting the 7,000 mark just recently. When it’s all said and done, Missouri will be number one when it comes to overall cave numbers within its boundaries. This cave was cool – literally and figuratively. Calcite deposits with stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and so much more mesmerized folks on the tour. There was a connection with Western New York, where they announced the “Frozen Niagara” calcite formation. More than 2,500 couples have been married in Bridal Cave or renewed their vows – another connection with the Honeymoon Capital in Niagara. This is a must see for young and old alike.

Geologically speaking, Missouri is littered with “karst” topography, a landscape that is filled with sinkholes, caves, natural bridges, large springs and underground streams. Many of the caves in the state can be found on private land. However, there are many on public land, too. For example, nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park – recently named by USA Today readers as the fourth best state park in the country – has 19 caves recorded within its boundaries … so far (www.mostateparks.com). It was a beautiful park and we even hiked up a castle trail that took us up to old ruins on a bluff overlooking the Niangua arm of Lake of the Ozarks, a spot we would be fishing the next morning.

When we stopped into the visitors’ center at Ha Ha Tonka, we immediately found there is no admission fee into any of the state parks in Missouri, thanks to a dedicated funding source (with the exception of camping sites). The public land was just that, for the public to use. What a novel idea! With 88 parks in the state, they will be celebrating a milestone next year (2017) – 100 years of the state’s natural and cultural attractions. Pick up a copy of the state’s Parks Centennial Passport. Earn a stamp by visiting each of those parks and the first 1,000 people receive a prize. Five grand prizes will be up for grabs, too. Last year, some 19 million people visited Missouri parks (www.mostateparks.com).

Our next important activity was the fishing. The first trip was a morning jaunt with Bassmaster Elite Pro Casey Scanlon, who picked us up at our second accommodation, Old Kinderhook Lodge (www.oldkinderhook.com). If you like golf, this should be on your bucket list if you come to the area. The lodge is surrounded by a course that is ranked second in the state – pretty impressive. The food in The Trophy Room was to die for. Scanlon was just returning from a trip to fish Cayuga Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes – another “small world” scenario.

“This is a great body of water to fish,” said Scanlon as he reeled in his first fish, a largemouth, five minutes into the trip. For this time of year, large rubber worms on a jig head was a favorite enticement.  “The lake is over 90 miles long, great for largemouth and spotted bass. My favorite time is November and December when spinnerbaits and topwaters work the best. April and May is also excellent when suspended jerk baits will dominate as a favorite technique. To give you an idea about how this lake fishes, it consistently takes 20 pounds or more per day to win a tournament here. There are lots of three- and four-pounders here and you can catch fish up to and over 10 pounds. In fact, two 10-pounders have been weighed in already this year. Fishing has really been great this season because of the added water flow coming through the system because of the heavy rains earlier.”

Almost on cue, Joe Calvert of Oregon who was tagging along, saw his rod double over and he fought a monster under Scanlon’s Nitro bass boat. When it finally came to net, it was over four pounds – Joe’s personal best. After a couple of quick pictures, we released the fish to fight another day.

On to our final destination at Holiday Shores Resort (www.holidayshoresresort.com), another quality experience but entirely different from the other two accommodations we sampled. This was another one-stop-shop for water fun and a relaxing stay.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, was the final fishing trip courtesy of Pauley. Big Ed Franko, Lake of the Ozarks fishing guide (www.bigedsguideservice.com) and co-owner of Bass & Baskets Bed and Breakfast in Lake Ozark (www.bassandbaskets.com) with his wife, Deb, also offered to help take our little group out in the morning before the sun chased us indoors. It was going to be a hot one!

We met at Big Ed’s lakefront accommodation and boat dock. Pauley was already there. We hopped on board and within five minutes we were fishing. Laurie Calvert from Oregon was the first to create excitement, hauling in a 4.5-pound largemouth – her first fish ever! She was bouncing a rubber worm along the bottom. Her husband, Joe, will now have to include her on future fishing outings! And, yes, it was heavier than Joe’s fish he caught earlier with Scanlon.

Everyone caught fish for the few hours we were on the water. Crankbaits, swimbaits and rubber worms were the three most popular enticements. It was near the end of our trip when my rod tip buried itself into the water while drifting a rubber worm in a depth of 25 feet. Several times the fish stripped out line. Finally, after about a five-minute battle, we pulled in a hefty six-pound largemouth – a personal best. What a great way to end our trip, after exploring a new area and making new friends along the way. That’s what it’s all about. We can cross the Ozarks off of our bucket list, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be back for some more fun in the sun … and on the water. Check out the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website at www.FunLake.com; 1-800-FUN-LAKE.

Categories: Bass, Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr, News

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