Unsuccessful autumn bass fishing elicits a common lament from
hard-luck anglers at the Lake of the Ozarks. Whether they're
tournament veterans or weekend warriors, they blame the lake
turnover for their unlucky days on the water.
During the summer, surface water is warm and light, while the lower
layers are cooler and heavier. The top and bottom layers contain
less oxygen than the middle section, so the fish tend to hold in the
In autumn, the surface water cools and sinks, mixing with the lower
layers. The process causes currents, which mix the sinking surface
water and the colder layers below. Wave action from fall winds
result in the circulation of the various layers (turnover) and the
mixing of the whole lake. By late fall the water has cooled off to
39 degrees from top to bottom. The change causes a good supply of
oxygen at all levels of the lake, and the fish will tend to spread
out and seek new habitat.
Professional anglers Guido Hibdon and Denny Brauer are unsure what
happens to bass during the turnover on their home lake, but they
agree that the fish are affected. "I think it almost affects them
like a cold front situation; it disorients them a little bit about
what they're wanting to do," Brauer says.
"I think they're a little bit goofy about that time," says Hibdon.
Before the turnover, fishing tends to improve with the cooling water
conditions. During and after the turnover, however, fishing tapers
Hibdon and Brauer, both former BASS Masters Classic champions, agree
that the average fisherman can use the turnover as a good excuse for
a poor fishing trip, but they don't have to.
"At times, it's probably the No. 1 reason people don't catch fish
for a certain period of time," Brauer says. "It's not that they're
doing a whole lot wrong, it's just that the fish aren't biting very
well at all. If they haven't made adjustments, they're not going to
If anglers can make the proper adjustments, though, bass can be
caught. "I think it's always been a big myth that you couldn't catch
fish during a turnover," Hibdon says. "It makes them tougher to
catch and makes them hit differently, but you can still catch them."
Hibdon cites his first pro tournament as an example of how fish can
be taken while the water is changing. During the two-day tourney,
Hibdon and his amateur partners concentrated on the upper end of the
Lake of the Ozarks, which was turning over at the time. Hibdon found
suspended fish in the upper end and hit the jackpot. He won the
tournament by a 20-pound margin, and his partners finished first and
second in the amateur division.
If an angler feels uncomfortable fishing in turnover conditions, he
has some options. "The majority of the time I try to avoid the
turnover," Brauer says. "You can pull into one cove and it can be
turning over, and you can run three or four miles down the lake and
you do not have the turnover problem. Even if you're locked into one
cove, there's going to be certain areas in that cove that the
turnover isn't going to affect as much."
The back half of a cove will turn quicker, or it might be unaffected
by the turnover if a creek is flowing into it. "If you've got good
current, more than likely you're not going to have turnover," Brauer
says. "Current is absolutely great for avoiding the turnover."
Anglers can merely glance at the water to tell whether or not
they're fishing the dreaded condition. The affected area almost
looks like sewer water with decaying material releasing from the
bottom and floating to the top.
Hibdon says turnover water will have a different color (usually pea
green) and "foamy stuff" from the rocks will be floating on the
"You can follow that right down the lake and get ahead of it and
generally catch more fish than you would fishing right in the middle
The affected area will look like a watery graveyard--devoid of fish
and fowl. "The area just seems dead," Brauer says. "If you can find
an area that's got the water birds and shad, it's a good indication
that it hasn't turned over yet."
The length of time the turnover affects fishing at Lake of the
Ozarks varies. "It can knock fish for a loop for two to three
Brauer says. "A real
protected area can be real messed up for quite a while." Severe cold
weather, wind and current accelerate the turnover. Hibdon estimates
that the turnover will normally run its course in five or six days
on impoundments without fast-moving water.
While fishing in the turnover, try to find the most stable water,
which is usually in the 1- to 2-foot range. "That little layer of
water hasn't really changed a whole lot," Brauer says. "My advice is
to get to the bank and beat the shoreline." He concentrates on the
shallow brush, which usually holds more active fish. "If the weather
conditions have been bad, I'm going to get in tight to whatever
cover I can find, whether it's a shallow boat dock or lay-down
The turbid water caused by the turnover can actually work to the
fisherman's advantage in this situation. Limited visibility prevents
bass from detecting anglers working closer to the bank.
Brauer avoids fishing weeds during the turnover. He says weeds start
to die when a lake turns, and they will use oxygen. When the dying
weeds deplete the oxygen in the area, the bass will seek other
Once the pros find the active fish, they determine which lures and
retrieves will work best. "As a rule, just slow down," Hibdon
Sometimes it takes 10 to 12 casts to the same brush pile before a
bass will strike. Hibdon suggests fishing smaller baits, such as
1/8- or 1/4-ounce crankbaits and jigs. He also recommends using tube
Brauer's lure choices depend on the weather. If the weather is
stable, he will throw a 3/8-ounce chartreuse or white buzz bait and
retrieve it slowly around stumps and lay-downs. In an area that
receives heavy fishing pressure, he will switch to a 3/8-ounce buzz
bait with a clacker because it produces more noise to agitate the
"If you're getting a few strikes on something or not a lot, or if
you're missing some fish, or if the fish aren't really taking the
bait, then you need to experiment with sound, size or color. If
you've got two guys in the boat, one guy should be throwing
something different than the other," Brauer says.
When the weather turns nasty, Brauer switches to a blue or black
3/8-ounce Strike King jig and a black plastic chunk in clearer
water, or a black-and-chartreuse or black with bright green
combination in murkier water. He will flip the jig into the heaviest
cover he can find.
His third option is to cast a 3/8-ounce chartreuse or white
spinnerbait with gold blades and a 4-inch plastic trailer. He'll
slow roll the spinnerbait through the shallow cover.
When the turnover ends, don't expect a fishing bonanza. Both pro
anglers agree that fishing improves gradually after the turn. "I
don't think anyone can say, 'Bang, the turnover's over,'" Brauer
Whether the lake is just starting to turn or has already turned
over, the two pros believe bass can still be caught. "I'm convinced
that fish can be caught under any circumstances," Brauer says.
"There's no such thing as a fish that cannot be caught. On some of
them, you just run out of time."
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 & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or
visit the Lake of the
Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.
John Neporadny's book, "THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide" are
available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site