A man and his water.
On a warm June afternoon when the clouds divided allowing the welcome sun to emerge, Stacey King was indeed the ruler of these waters, known to the rest of the world as Table Rock Lake, and known to the 55-year-old Missouri native as the lifeline of his youth. Long before he began plying the trade of a professional fisherman, King was walking these banks and wading the shallows with rod in hand.
In fact, he has never left these waters except for destinations where his profession has taken him. Today, he lives in Reed Springs in the shadow of this 43,100-acre impoundment of the White River that straddles the Missouri-Arkansas border.
"I've always loved fishing this lake," King says. "I can't imagine living anywhere else."
The reasons for his affinity for this 46-year-old reservoir become evident in the next few hours as King seines a variety of structure spots for more than two dozen bass that include several 4-pound-plus spots and a 5-pound largemouth. He did it by deftly making an old milk run, zigzagging like an open-field runner, scoring all along the way.
This, on a day and week when the fishing was universally considered tough in these woods.
And likely King would have produced a big smallmouth if he had taken the time to run down to the lower end of the lake where the brown fish thrive.
There is plenty about this reservoir on the Missouri-Arkansas line for a bass angler to love. The picturesque impoundment sprawls through the valleys and hollows of the Ozark Mountains (mostly in Missouri). One of four White River lakes located between Beaver and Taneycomo, a sizable portion of Table Rock's 745 miles of shoreline lies in Mark Twain National Forest. Dotted along that shoreline are more than 100 resorts.
Table Rock's largemouth population seems to have significantly recovered from a bout with the deadly Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV).
"It's really coming back," King says. "We've had a couple years of pretty good spawns here and high water during the spawn or right after the spawn.
"So really, we're starting to see quite a few more quality fish than we did for a couple of years. And numbers on largemouth are real good, too."
Despite a limited growing season, Table Rock's largemouth get large — up to 12 pounds (King's best has topped the 10-pound mark). But the number of 7-pound-plus largemouth is down throughout the lake due to LMBV, he notes.
"The Rock is just a wonderful smallmouth fishery," King emphasizes. "It's always had a lot of smallmouth in it, but the last 10 years the smallmouth have really bloomed. I don't know that anybody really has an answer as to why it's happened, but the fishery has done well. The spawns have come up good, and we've just got high numbers of quality smallmouth in here. The 2- to 4-pound class — there's millions of them.
"That is mainly in the mid and lower lake area in the clear water areas. You'll find the occasional smallmouth in the river arms, too, but the lower lake here is the best place for the good smallmouth. And we catch a few of them out here every year up to 6 pounds."
Spotted bass emergence
King is unabashed in his praise of Table Rock's spotted bass fishery.
"I think it's the best spotted bass fishery in the world," the well-traveled three-time BASS winner says. "I don't know of a big lake like this that has more quality spotted bass from one end to the other.
"I know there are lots of wonderful spotted bass fisheries in the country, but no lake has the spot numbers you see here. We just have millions of 2- to 3-pound fish in this lake. And lots of fish up to 5 pounds, and a few 6-pound ones. I've fished all over the country, and I don't know any place else that's got them like this."
The burgeoning spot population is scattered throughout the lake, although the river arms harbor more than the main lake regions. The lake record spotted bass weighed more than 7 pounds.
This place is a bass sanctuary that ranks among the very best mixed-bag fisheries in the country.
King's favorite season is the summertime (June through early September).
"Summer is great because the bass school really good," he says. "They get on bait and they school up, and if you can find them, you can catch a lot of them quick, whether they are chasing bait on top or holding on the bottom.
King and friends sometimes enjoy 100-bass days during the hottest months by running the humps, points, breaks and bluffs.
"The reason you can do that is because the fish have a tendency to school so tight," he explains. "Once you find a big school, you may catch that 100 right in one spot without ever moving the boat. This every-cast deal happens more often than you might think. It's not one of those deals that's just a phenomenon — a once in a lifetime deal. I've done it lots of times."
The best of this summertime action occurs in one of the river arms (James, King's or Long Creek). Although our success came in the James River, King says the other two arms were less impacted by LMBV.
"In the summer, you'll have a day where the water temperature is real high," he relates. "The baitfish move out on these points, and you'll see a lot of shad up on top and on the (depthfinder), and a lot of movement.
"Then you're going to have a situation where the dam is churning four generators. You've got some current moving that's also going to push the bait and the fish on these points. You'll find a point that a lot of free roaming baitfish and bass move in on all at one time. The conditions are just right, and you'll have a huge school of fish there. That's when you'll get into one of those situations where you'll whack them on a tube for a while. Then you'll catch them on a jighead worm. Then you'll pick up a crankbait and catch 20 without ever missing a cast — including doubles."
During our afternoon trip last June, King never seemed to miss a beat as he moved from point to hump to intersection to ledge (in 14 to 30 feet of water) where he mixed up a jig, jighead finesse-type worm and Bass Pro Shops Stick-O soft stickbait (both Texas rigged and on a drop shot). When the action slowed on one lure, changing baits kept the bass biting.
The summertime action isn't limited to deep structure, though. King and others often run well up into the rivers where they catch fish consistently on the shallow flats with crankbaits, topwaters and buzzbaits.
In late September when the water starts to cool, King looks for resident bass to suspend in the top of trees or move to the banks where he scores consistently on a spinnerbait as fall begins arriving. Another strong pattern involves vertically presenting a jig to bass holding in standing timber located on the sides of main lake points. That approach produces big largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
Inside Table Rock
The resort city of Branson lies in the shadow of Table Rock. And every fishing fanatic knows that the Bass Pro Shops headquarters (located about 30 minutes north) is well worth adding an extra day into your trip. A terrific place to stay is Big Cedar lodge, which is located on the shores of Table Rock. Big Cedar offers a variety of family oriented accommodations, along with a full-service marina and guide service. Also available is the Kids Club that includes a fishing program involving stocked ponds on the grounds. For more information, phone 417-335-2777 or visit www.big-cedar.com.
Trip check report
Name of Lake:
Table Rock Lake
Prime time to go:
Table Rock is a quality year-round lake, but the time to experience it at its best is in the spring and summer months.
Lures to pack:
A variety of lures and techniques will work here, but make sure you bring plenty of stuff for fishing mid-depths to deep structure. The reservoir is famous for its countless bottom contour hotspots.
Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102; telephone 314-751-4115.