While Missouri may not be known for its trophy bass fishing, there are plenty of large bass around to keep an angler busy for a lifetime. In order to catch them, you will probably have to use different techniques than you use to catch smaller bass. If you are willing to catch a few less fish in search of that wall hanger, then this article is for you. First, I will share some of my favorite big bass techniques. Then I will choose a few of the best lakes and rivers in the state to find the bass of a lifetime.
This is personally my favorite way to catch big largemouth bass. The setup is very simple. I use a 2/0 plastic worm hook, a split shot, and a large bobber. I hook the bait (I prefer a green sunfish between two and five inches) in the back, just under the spine. The depth I fish depends on where I am, but generally two to four feet is best. It is important to wait several seconds after the bass strikes to set the hook. When you do set the hook, do it firmly, but not excessively. Besides green sunfish, live shad, shiners, suckers, and various other minnows work very well, fished the same way.
This is one of the best techniques for big springtime largemouth and smallmouth bass. Cast the jig into heavy cover, or near docks, let the jig sink, and jig it up and down slowly as you reel. Set the hook as soon as you feel resistance. This works well into the summer as well, but it particularly shines between March and June. My favorite jig for the method is mini-Strike King Jigs, in green and brown colors.
Plastic worms are good big bass bait from April until early November. The general rule is the bigger the bait, the bigger the bass. I prefer to Texas rig the bait, and reel in very slowly, but there are countless ways to successfully fish plastic worms, including the Carolina Rig, the Wacky Rig, and the weightless rig. My favorite big bass worm is a 7 inch Black Berkeley Power Worm. It works well for largemouth bass between two and five pounds, especially at night.
Lakes and Rivers:
Table Rock Lake
Most people would consider Table Rock the best trophy bass lake in the state. This approximately 40,000 acre reservoir is exceptionally clear and deep. The deep water is home to many smallmouth and spotted bass, and the shallower water holds mostly largemouth. Probably the number one trophy bass technique here is free lining three to five inch shiners. Other successful offerings are spinnerbaits, tube baits, crankbaits, and plastic worms. The main channel near the dam, the James River arm, and the Kings River arm are all great spots to find trophies, but the entire lake holds bass.
Lake of the Ozarks
This 55,000 acre lake in Central Missouri is very heavily fished, but somehow the trophy bass fishery remains one of the best in the state. Largemouth bass reign supreme here, although limited populations of smallmouth and spotted bass do exist in some river arms. The best trophy baits tend to be flipping jigs, spinnerbaits, and various plugs. The key to success here is to fish the many docks lining the lake, because the lake offers very little other cover. The Niangua Arm, Grand Glaize Arm, and the Osage River Channel are all good places to find big largemouth.
The Gasconade River is a world class trophy bass river. From its humble beginnings near Springfield all the way through the town of Vienna, the river is almost entirely dominated by smallmouth bass. Between Vienna and the mouth at the Missouri River, largemouth bass take there place alongside the smallmouth. Live minnows, crankbaits, tube baits, flipping jigs, and spinnerbaits work well for both species of bass found in the river.
You may have noticed in the section of this article about Table Rock Lake, I mentioned the James River arm was an excellent place to catch big bass. The fishing does not end upstream of the lake, however. All the way from upstream of Springfield downstream to where it becomes Table Rock Lake, the James River is an excellent float fishing river for huge smallmouth and spotted bass. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, live minnows, and soft plastics are all popular.
Hopefully this article helps you learn the techniques and places to catch trophy bass here in Missouri. It may not be likely that you will catch a world record bass in Missouri, but that does not mean that fishing for them is not an exciting or heart throbbing experience.
Davidson Manning is an avid outdoorsman spending over 100 days per year pursuing his passion for fishing, many of them in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. He details many of his favorite spots on his website Family-Outdoors where he writes articles not only on fishing, but also camping and hunting. Looking for recipes for wild fish and game? Visit his recipe section at Wild Game and Fish Recipes for recipes for venison, trout, as well as most other game and fish species.
His other pursuits include many days spent in the field camping and hunting. Davidson loves to share his knowledge of the outdoors in the hope of helping others to find their own connection to the outdoors.
THE OLD ART OF CATCHING FISH WITH THE HANDS
by Todd Waterman
“Noodling can be dangerous,” an old-timer said. “You can get skinned up pretty bad, and there’s a few that’s drowned at it, especially if you wear clothes. First one thing and then another happens when they try to noodle with clothes on. They go down in the water and get hung up and drowned. That’s why I never did wear clothes–nothing! Just like you were born. You find a hollow log down in the river. Then the first thing you do is find out if the fish is in there, and you stop him up, all Duc just a place for your hand, for if you don’t he’ll run out over you and knock you out of the hole. Did you ever get an old sow in the barn and have her get her nose through the door and then try to get it shut? That’s the way of a catfish trapped in a hole when you try to catch one by hand.”
Nowadays any kind of fishing done in the Ozarks is a sport for the most part with regular open seasons. But before the practice of noodling was outlawed in Missouri, it was mostly done for the sake of putting meat on the table. The meat of a catfish is a tender and savory dish. If the larger fish are cleaned correctly, they will produce sizeable slabs of boneless meat. One man said that he had noodled a catfish that measured eleven inches between its eyes. “I tell you what you can do,” he said. “You can eat several meals off from them fish and never hit a bone.”