Scott Pauley eyed the rocky bank at Stockton Lake and knew he was in the right spot.
“This is an ideal spring bank, especially for jig fishing,” Pauley said as he launched a long cast. “It has a good mix of rock and gravel, and that’s what they like when they’re staging for the spawn.
“They’ll move up out of the deep water on the main lake, where they’ll be in the winter, and they’ll stop at a bank like this to feed up before they gradually make their way back into the cove to spawn.
“There should be fish here.”
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There were. As Pauley dragged his bass jig with a plastic crawdad imitation across the rocky bottom, he felt a tap. When he pulled back, he felt a strong tug.
Moments later, Pauley lifted the flopping largemouth out of the water and into his boat. He wasted little time unhooking the 2-pound fish and tossing it back.
“There have to be more in an area like this,” Pauley said.
And there were. Pauley caught two more bass on consecutive casts before the action tailed off. The only disappointment? They weren’t the giants that Stockton, a 24,900-acre reservoir in southwest Missouri, is known for.
Pauley, 57, has caught them before at the clear-water reservoirs of the Ozarks. Using a Jewel jig tipped with a plastic trailer, he caught a largemouth weighing 81/2 pounds at Table Rock Lake several years ago. And he has landed many bass weighing 4 to 5 pounds at Stockton.
Pauley will tell you that this is the best time of year to chase big bass at the Ozark reservoirs. The females are heavy with eggs and they are feeding up for the spawn, which is quickly approaching.
Cast your lure at the right time at the right place, and you could end up with the bass of a lifetime, Pauley said.
Other fishermen already have landed those fish at Stockton this spring. In a recent Burton’s Bait and Tackle buddy bass tournament, three teams of anglers weighed in bass exceeding the 8-pound mark. The biggest, caught by Ryan Dickson and David Mitsdarffer of Belton, weighed 8.61 pounds.
Other fishermen also have found exceptional bass fishing at Stockton this spring. Fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation aren’t surprised. Gizzard shad production at the Ozarks reservoir has been exceptional the past several years, producing impressive growth rates among bass. And some largemouths from the extremely large year-classes of 2008 to 2009 have grown to trophy sizes, providing fishermen with a shot at the fish of a lifetime.
“Late March and the first part of April are the best times of the year for catching big bass,” said Pauley, who lives in Hartsburg, Mo., and is on the pro staff for Jewel Jigs, which are made in the Ozarks. “And the jig is one of the best ways to catch them.
“The bass are in here feeding on crawdads right now, and that’s what a jig is supposed to imitate.”
Using jigs and crankbaits, Pauley and I caught and released more than 30 bass Thursday. But the giants Pauley was seeking were elusive.
“They’re in here,” he said. “But they’re not always easy to find.”
At this time of the year, Pauley often targets secondary points and banks leading into spawning coves. He has found his most success casting to rocky banks with a good slope to them, allowing him to work a variety of depths when he drags his jigs along the bottom.
But the jig and plastic trailer isn’t a one-season wonder for Pauley.
“Whenever I go bass fishing, I have a jig tied on one of my rods,” said Pauley, who works for the Missouri Division of Tourism, promoting the state’s outdoors. “I throw a jig and craw almost year-round.
“Years ago, when I qualified for the Red Man All-American, every keeper I caught during the regular-season tournaments was taken on a Jewel jig. I use a lot of different baits now, but the jig is still my favorite.”