Catching Lake of the Ozarks Bass During the Fall Turnover
by John Neporadny Jr.
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
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 oxygen-rich middle.
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
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
Before the turnover, fishing tends to improve with the cooling
water conditions. During and after the turnover, however, fishing
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 catch them.”
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 surface.
“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 of it.”
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 weeks,” 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 tree.”
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 sanctuaries.
Once the pros find the active fish, they determine which lures and
retrieves will work best. “As a rule, just slow down,” Hibdon advises.
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
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 fish.
“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 says.
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 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.