By Bill Cooper
Lake of the Ozarks, in south central Missouri, has long been known as one of the premiere bass fishing destinations in the U.S. The lake was built for hydro-electric purposes by Ameren Missouri Electric in 1929. With 54,000 surface acres winding through the rugged Ozark hills, the lake attracted the attention of anglers nationwide. It was the largest manmade lake in the nation at the time and one of the largest in the world.
With 1,150 miles of shoreline, the impounding of the Osages River created a twisting, winding lake through the forested hills of Benton, Camden, Miller and Morgan Counties. It’s serpentine shape earned it the nickname “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
Parts of three smaller tributaries are included in the impoundment: the Niangua River, Grand Glaize Creek, and Gravois Creek. The main channel of the Osage Arm is 92 miles long from beginning to end.
In 1999 several conservation agencies collaborated to address concerns about altered flow regiments, bank and channel erosion, impact on aquatic habitats, low dissolved oxygen, fish mortality at the dam, and negative impacts on freshwater mussels including two federally endangered species.
The Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the National Park Service worked with the Service and Ameren UE to implement studies to better understand the fish and wildlife impacts of the existing hydropower facility and development of measures to reduce the impacts.
Greg Stoner became the Missouri department of Conservation fisheries biologist at Lake of the Ozarks in 1991. Over his 30-year career with MDC, Stoner implemented numerous fisheries studies to better understand a variety of fish species in the lake, including, crappie, bass, catfish and hybrid striped bass.
Stoner quickly began to realize the importance of the lake’s shad population to fish found there and worked to establish scientifically based fishing regulations over the decades to improve the quality of the fisheries.
“Generations of anglers have enjoyed the phenomenal fisheries found at Lake of the Ozarks,” said avid bass fisherman Dale Goff, of Rolla. “I, personally, have spent many enjoyable days and nights fishing on the lake. Crappie fishing is phenomenal here. It’s now a common thing for many people to fish all winter long for crappie and bass, too.”
Goff has been a recognized name in the bass fishing tournaments at Lake of the Ozarks for 40 years. “I’ve been blessed to not only participate in a lot of bass tournaments at the lake over the years, but I’ve met a lot of great guys while fishing various club tournaments, including the Central Missouri BassMasters,” he said.
Goff and I have fished together numerous times over the years, especially while we were co-workers at UPS. He possesses an uncanny ability to put fish in the boat on a regular basis.
After I retired eight years ago, Goff and didn’t see much of one another, but I followed his fishing successes on Facebook and the Central Missouri BassMasters' website. He remained a force in tournament series.
A couple of weeks ago I needed several bass photos for an article assignment from lurenet.com. I contacted Goff. A few days later he invited me to accompany him on a weekday trip to Lake of the Ozarks.
We chatted non-stop on the hour and half derive to the lake. Much had happened in our lives in the eight years since I had retired. Catching up with old friends is always a pleasure.
Goff had retired a year ago and as a retirement gift to himself had purchased a new Nitro bass boat. He is very particular about his equipment and he had his boat tricked out to suit his every bass fishing desire.
We launched the boat and cruised out of the cove on Lake of the Ozarks just at daylight. Heavy cloud cover and threatening rain greeted us. “It’s a perfect morning, “Goff said. “I lie to ash in a light rain. It seems to turn the big fish on, and it keeps a lot of the big boats at bay, too.
Goff didn’t travel far before bringing the boat to a halt along a familiar bank he had fished many times previously. “I can normally catch several fish along this bank early in the day,” he said.
I watched, with camera in hand, as Goff began tossing a five-inch Strike King swim-bait. “Bass are really keyed in on swim-baits right now,” he said. Moments later he swept his rod up sharply while yelling that he had a good fish on. He swung the chunky fish into the boat while stating that wasn’t the five-pounder he wanted to catch.
The swim-bait represented a shad, which are the forage base for bass in the lake. “LOZ has a tremendous shad population,” Goff said. “As a result , along with good management, the lake over the years has become a tremendous bass fishery. This time of year there are fishing tournaments held almost every day here.”
Goff caught two more hefty bass from the bank in the next ten minutes. Next, he moved a short distance and repeated the process. He caught more bass. He repeated the process several times. After competing my photo needs, I picked up a rod and immediately caught a 17-inch largemouth bass.
“Lake of the Ozarks is a phenomenal bass fishery,” Goff said. “Every trip brings different conditions,” he said, “but by and large, I can almost always catch good fish here. If the lake is changing, it’s changing for the better,” he said. “I’m just looking for the day when I land a 10-pounder like was caught here last year.”
Goff will appear in photos on lurenet.com, Pradco’s website, sometime in mid-June. For more information about Lake of the Ozarks go to funlake.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.