It was prime time at Lake of the Ozarks.
The pleasure boats that had been sending waves rolling across the water were returning to dock. And the big lake was showing its mild site.
James Dill looks forward to this time of the day. As the sun sinks, the big bass rise. And Dill is often out to greet them.
“When everything calms down and the sun starts to go down, these bass will move in to feed,” said Dill, a guide and owner of the Crock-O-Gator lure company. “The last hour of light is usually the best.
“But we’ll catch them at night, too.”
Dill proved as much Wednesday night at Lake of the Ozarks.
When he and two partners — Jim Divincen and me — hit the lake just before dusk, he knew we had a few things working in our favor. The busy lake was calming down, the water temperature was dropping just a bit, and the bass that are so accustomed to hunkering down during the day were coming out of hiding.
“The fishing is usually the best when there is a full moon,” said Dill, 49, who lives in Sunrise Beach, Mo. “The bass have just enough light to see and the bite seems to be better.
“We’re not out here in the best moon phase. We’re in the dark of the moon. But they’ll still hit.
“We just have to work our baits slowly and give them plenty of time to see them and feel the vibrations they’re giving off.”
Dill followed a familiar routine Wednesday night. He started off by positioning his bass boat along a bank where the main channel swung in and began casting a plastic worms affixed to a shaky head that his Crock-Gator company sells.
“We’re in 50 feet of water. But look how close we are to the bank,” he said. “These bass like ledges in the summer. They can spend time out in the deep water during the day, then move up in the evening to feed.”
By the time it was dark, we had caught and released one bass that Dill estimated at “4-pounds plus,” and several smaller ones. Then Dill followed the light to other fish.
He moved to a cluster of condo docks across the channel, and maneuvered his boat toward the shallows where the lights from the building illuminated the water.
“They’ll move shallow at night,” Dill said. “With these long condo docks, a lot of times they’ll spend the day out in the shade in deeper water, then they’ll follow the docks in at night to feed. I’ve caught some big bass this way.”
Dill flipped his plastic worm behind a cable into a patch of water that was glistening from the condominium lights. A bass immediately hit, Dill set the hook, and he lifted a 2-pound fish into the boat.
As the lights in several stories of the condo went out one by one, we found that the bass were still up. No, the bite wasn’t great. Dill, Divincen and I had to work for our fish. But by the time we took out near midnight, we had caught and released several of the big bass that have given Lake of the Ozarks national fame.
“Lake of the Ozarks still has a lot of 4- to 6-pound bass,” Dill said. “I’ve been fishing this lake since 1975, and the bass fishing has always been good.
“But I’d say it’s as good now as it’s ever been since I’ve been here.”
Dill has fond memories of the days when his family lived in Jennings, Mo., and his dad would load the family into a pickup camper for weekend trips to the big lake.
“He would load up three boys and a dog into a ’69 Ford pickup truck with a camper shell and off we’d go,” Dill said. “We had an old wooden boat with a 40-horse motor on it, and we’d fish constantly.”
When Dill grew up, he moved to the lake and now splits time among designing lures, guiding and driving an ambulance. His Headknocker buzzbaits are his top sellers, but his bass jigs and shaky heads also are popular. He also has started a line of soft-plastic baits and is encouraged about the early feedback from fishermen.
Business is good, and so is the fishing when he finds time to get on the water.
“Just the other day, I had a 14-year-old boy that I was guiding catch a 5-pound bass,” Dill said. “Days like that, those are the ones you remember.”
Summer’s night life
At this time of the year, some outdoors enthusiasts turn nocturnal. Here a few of the ways they enjoy the outdoors after the sun goes down.
▪ UNDER THE LIGHTS: Fishermen often use floating lights to set up a food chain under the spot they are fishing. The lights attract insects, then the baitfish that feed on them, and then the gamefish that move in to prey on the baitfish. Fishermen catch crappies, white bass, walleyes and even trout on minnows and small plastic baits.
▪ TOPWATER FISHING: Some fishermen prefer fishing at night for smallmouth bass in the Ozarks float streams. They will wade pools, especially when there is a full moon, and cast noisy topwater lures.
▪ NIGHTTIME FLY FISHING: In low water, fly fishermen traditionally have waded the upper end of Lake Taneycomo and caught big brown trout in the pools below the dam.
▪ WALLEYE FISHING: Particularly in the upper Midwest, many fishermen prefer to fish for walleyes at night. Because the walleyes have eyes that are adapted to help them see in low-light conditions, the toothy gamefish will feed readily in the dark. Fishermen often use live bait along weed lines or troll crankbaits.
▪ CHASING FROGGY: Last Sunday, we had a feature on another nighttime favorite — frogging. Hunters use lights to locate the gleaming eyes of the frog, then keep the spotlight on them, which blinds them to the approach of the hunters. Hunters catch the frogs by hand, with gigs, by rod and reel and a variety of other ways.
| Brent Frazee, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on night fishing at Lake of the Ozarks, call James Dill at 573-204-9005 or go to his website, jamesdillguideservice.com.