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Topwater Time At Lake of the Ozarks

by John Neporadny Jr.

There's no greater thrill in bass fishing than watching a calm surface suddenly explode and your topwater lure instantly vanish.

This scene will be played out many times this month as the waters become warm enough to activate bass into feeding on top. May has always been a prime topwater time for me on my home impoundment, the Lake of the Ozarks. My favorite springtime topwater lure is the Heddon Zara Spook, but I've also caught plenty of bass on the surface with topwater chuggers and propellor baits.

A number of factors stimulate bass into striking at objects on the surface during late spring. Mike Kruse, MDC fisheries biologist, suggests this time of year, particularly in a bass' post spawn stage, is a period of heavy feeding when water temperatures are optimum for largemouth bass and food is abundant. "It's just an overall period of optimum
conditions for growth and feeding when bass' metabolisms are running
full bore and they are looking for food," the biologist says.

Bass might be looking toward the surface during this time because a lot of terrestrial insects, such as locusts and grasshoppers, fall in the water, Kruse says. But probably the main reason why male bass key in on the surface during May is to protect their fry. "A lot of times the fry hover just under the surface, so the adult males tend to be fairly close to the surface anyway," says Kruse.

These fish also tend to be extremely aggressive and strike at anything that approaches them along the surface. The speed at which you work a topwater lure during this time of year depends on the water temperature. Typically, the cooler the water, the slower the retrieve.

A multitude of boat docks makesLake of the Ozarks an ideal place to fish topwater lures in May. Bass use these floating structures for cover throughout the spawning cycle. "A lot of guys are afraid to get behind the docks, because they don't want to scratch up their boats on the cables, but that's where the fish are a lot of times in the spring,"
says Mark Dahl, a former guide at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Bass tend to congregate at the back ends of docks in the first half of the month, depending on the spawning conditions. During the post-spawn later in the month, some bass can still be found behind the docks, but others tend to move out to the sides or even the front of the floating structures where they suspend over sunken brush piles or
under the dock's foam. When fishing behind the docks, Dahl throws
his topwater lures on braided line to cut down on line breakage if he hooks a fish next to the dock's cables.

In early May, the water temperature is usually in the upper 50s to low 60s so Dahl slowly retrieves topwater chuggers, such as Rebel Pop-R's or Storm Lures Rattlin' Chug Bugs. He also catches sluggish bass by slowly swimming or twitching a floating minnow across the surface. By the end of the month, he has switched to Zara Spooks, buzz baits and topwater propellor plugs that he works at a faster pace since the water has warmed into the 70-degree range.

The backs of pockets and coves are productive topwater areas for Dahl. He looks for dark-color bottoms which tend to hold heat better and warm the water faster. Most bass gather on the pea-gravel banks during the spawn and then move to the chunk rock banks during the
post-spawn. Areas close to deep water are best. Even when fishing
in coves, Dahl concentrates on the areas where there is 15 to 18 feet of water in the back end. In addition to targeting docks, Dahl also throws his topwater lures around any lay-downs or any brush piles he sees along the shoreline.

Dahl notes that the lake's size allows you to move from one area to another and enjoy prime topwater fishing for three weeks to a month. The best areas for topwater fishing are in the clear-water mid and lower sections of the lake.


For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 152-page vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau web site at

Copies of John Neporadny's book, "THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide" are available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site