B.A.S.S. superstar Kevin VanDam considers the 1998 Bassmaster Missouri Central Invitational at Lake of the Ozarks as one of the "funnest" tournaments he has ever fished.
Kentucky pro Dan Morehead won the three-day event (Nov. 5-7) with 60 pounds, 10 ounces, while VanDam finished 13th with 43-10. Even though he recorded a higher finish (fifth place) in the 1999 Missouri Central Invitational at Lake of the Ozarks, VanDam admitted he had more fun the previous year because of the number of bites and the size of the fish he was catching on a buzz bait. It was just one of those extremely fun tournaments to fish,” he says.
The Michigan pro has fished Bassmaster events in the spring and fall at the Lake of the Ozarks. He favors fishing the lake in the fall when the shad move into the pockets. “You get a tremendous spinnerbait, swim jig and topwater bite,” VanDam says. “I love to throw a spinnerbait and swim jig there that time of the year. Throwing around the flats and docks is just a great pattern. You can catch a lot of fish doing that and even some big fish.
“My favorite things about the lake are the vastness of it and the tremendous population of forage that it has. It has everything. It has tons of boat docks. It has lots of rocks but it is not one of those lakes that set up deep. It always has some color in it, so there are always fish in a somewhat shallower zone. Very seldom do we go there and have to fish deeper than 10 feet.”
VanDam describes Lake of the Ozarks as a tremendous fishery that provides lots of action in the fall. “You get a lot of bites,” he says. “It is really all about finding the type of bank that the fish are holding on. Sometimes you have to go back in the creeks and find those flatter gravel banks and fish those docks. Other times it is finding that chunk rock or ledge rock where the shad are feeding on the algae on the rocks. It is always one or the other, but the neat thing about Lake of the Ozarks is once you determine the type of bank the fish are using or the shad are on, you can run around and really capitalize on that pattern.”
Many of the top finishers in the 1998 event relied on a fall pattern that continues to produce today, but not at the same magnitude as it did back then. “The greatest tournament we ever fished there was that fall tournament,” VanDam recalls. “The lake had a good bit of color in it because of some big rains that they had. The gizzard shad were right up on the bank and we were catching bass with black buzz bait. It was unbelievable.
“In practice I would get 25 or 30 bites a day on a buzz bait and a bunch of them would be 5-plus pounds. After I kind of figured out the pattern I took the hook off of my buzz bait and would throw around and I would have these giant fish just flush it.” VanDam remembers coming in the first day of the tournament with nearly 25 pounds, but he was unhappy because he had been getting bigger bites in practice.
The four-time Bassmaster Classic champ fished the mid-lake area during the tournament, but Morehead won the event on the lower lake. VanDam notes the lower lake features more boat docks and boat traffic so the fish in that area receive less fishing pressure. “That is one of great things that helps Lake of the Ozarks is that during the summer you really don’t want to be out there in the middle of the day and it is hard to fish some of those areas because of the traffic and the heat,” he says. “ But in the fall when there is nobody else out there on the lake and the fish really start moving towards the bank and back into the creeks it can be unbelievable.”
All three days of the 1998 invitational VanDam ran the same pattern and targeted the black ledge rock where the gizzard shad were feeding on algae. “I tried to run as much of that water as I could and not try to fish the same places twice,” he recalls. “It seemed like if you caught a fish there you caught what was there. You couldn’t go right back down the same bank two hours later and catch more of them.”
The fish were so shallow that VanDam had to throw his buzz bait up on the bank and reel it back into the water. He used a 1/2-ounce buzzer with a large blade and added a plastic worm trailer to make the lure bulkier and ride higher on the surface. “The gizzard shad the bass were eating were 6 inches to a foot long, so I wanted a big profile and loud bait,” VanDam says.
The key to his retrieve was to run the buzz bait as slow as possible on the surface. “I just tried to keep it up on top and they would just absolutely flush it. It was like throwing a Volkswagen on top of it when they would hit.”
The Bassmaster Elite Series pro recalls he could also catch some fish on a big spinnerbait or square-bill crankbait during the tournament, but the buzz bait was the most efficient lure for covering a lot of water—and having the most fun doing it.
For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 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.
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 www.jnoutdoors.com.