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Pinpointing Runoff Bass at Table Rock

by John Neporadny Jr.

 A heavy dose of rain rejuvenates everything on land and water. Whether it’s the tomatoes withering in your backyard garden or bass languishing in stagnant backwaters, a downpour of H2O provides relief and sustenance for every living organism.
Rain falling directly onto Table Rock Lake adds much needed oxygen to the water, but rainfall that hits land first actually improves fishing the most. Rain water that washes over the ground contains plenty of elements for setting off a chain reaction when it runs off into a lake or river.
“Any time you have fresh water coming in the fish are going to migrate up into that fresh water because it has more oxygen and food coming into it,” says Stacey King, a two-time B.A.S.S. titleholder from Reeds Spring. Baitfish are drawn to the run-off area where they start feeding on an influx of microorganisms, grubs and worms and then bass move in next.
The amount of rainfall determines how much runoff a body of water receives and how long it lasts. “You have to have quite a bit of rain to saturate the ground before a lake starts getting any runoff,” advises King. “Once the ground gets saturated then that water will start running off and it will keep running off as long as it keeps raining.” He has noticed runoff lasting for a couple of days after some torrential downpours.
A change in water clarity is another byproduct of runoff. In many instances, mud lines form where the runoff mixes with the main body of water.
Despite all of its benefits to a fishery, runoff can be detrimental at times. Runoff from melting snow turns off bass. “Any time the water temperature drops in cold water is not good,” advises King. In this instance, bass leave the runoff area to seek warmer water closer to the main lake.
Runoff seems to change the water color more dramatically on a deep, clear highland reservoir such as Table Rock than it does on lowland impoundments. “When we get a good bunch of rain it typically dirties up the water and the fish have a tendency to move into that dirty water to feed,” says Stacey King.
The best runoff areas are the backs of major creeks and hollows. Small niches along the steep banks in the coves also are prime spots for catching runoff bass. As the rainwater flows down these gullies it collects twigs, limbs and other debris that settles into the pocket below and forms a mat that King calls a “sawdust pile.”
When the sun shines after the rains, bass use the mat as cover so King flips a heavy jig into the pile. If heavy rains cause the lake level to flood shoreline bushes on his home waters of Table Rock Lake, King also keys on this type of shallow cover in a runoff area.
Spring is the absolute best time to fish runoff on highland reservoirs because bass move up into the shallows to spawn along the flatter areas in the backs of pockets. “If you get a warm spring rain and the lake temperature has been pretty cold, the fish are going to charge in there,” says King. “There will be a lot of fish move up.”
King’s top choice for fishing the runoff is a big-bladed spinnerbait. “I’ve seen many times here on Table Rock where it would rain real heavy and you could go out the next day with a big spinnerbait in the back of one of the areas where the fresh water was coming in and just catch a big stringer of fish.” He also favors a one-half to three-quarter ounce jig with a twin tail plastic trailer that he bumps along the rocks to imitate a big crawfish rooting around on the bottom.
Some bass can also be taken in the fall when runoff cools down the water in the backs of coves. “There are a certain amount of fish that move deep and stay deep for the winter,” says King. “And then there is another group of fish that are going to move up shallow and feed aggressively, then stay up there until it gets real cold. With that group of fish if you get a cool runoff in the fall they come up and feed in a hurry.” King believes runoff in the summer and winter has little effect on the fishing since bass usually stay deep in Table Rock during these seasons.
If it looks like rain is going to dampen your fishing trip at Table Rock, look for some runoff and you’re likely to find plenty of bass moving up to meet you there.

For information on shows, lodging and attractions in the Table Rock Lake or Lake Taneycomo area or to receive a free vacation guide, call the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-BRANSON or visit the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB web site at
Reprinted with permission from Bassmaster Magazine.