OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — The 2023 Bassmaster Opens EQ points race is winding down, with the second of three divisions of the season wrapping up at the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake of the Ozarks. By design, the dynamics in play will challenge the anglers vying for the nine invitations to the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.
The Opens EQ format is truly a snapshot of what those incoming Elite Series rookies will experience with the Elite Series schedule, which typically includes back-to-back events during a season. The final event of Division 2 finished last Saturday (for the Top 10) at Watts Bar Lake in East Tennessee, followed by a nonstop drive to Missouri for practice at Lake of the Ozarks.
The nine Opens events occur over eight months, also closely in line with the Elite calendar. Avoiding duplication in the fishing characteristics of each playing field is another similarity to prevent an angler from getting on a hot streak. Each Opens fishery is different, played out from lowland to highland impoundments, across all phases of the spawning cycle and into the summer and fall.
At Lake of the Ozarks, that means a bass population beginning to transition into fall behavioral patterns. Shad are on the move with the bass in pursuit. The unique challenge here is the sheer size of the creeks and arms of the lake used as those transitional routes on the 54,000-acre impoundment. There is much more in play that falls in line with the Opens EQ plan to prepare anglers for the challenges of competing at the sport’s highest level.
I interviewed Ronnie Moore for a different perspective about how the tournament could evolve. Here’s what the Bassmaster LIVE analyst predicts might play out, along with my observations from practice.
Saturday and Sunday derby dates
The shift from a traditional Thursday through Saturday (to a Friday through Sunday) event matters more on Lake of the Ozarks than anywhere else on the 2023 schedule.
The central Missouri lake, located roughly midway between the major cities of St. Louis and Kansas City, is mecca for pleasure boating. And not just your average ski rig. The lake is 91 miles from end to end, and cigarette racing hull boats are commonplace on weekends. As traffic builds the narrow main lake becomes a washtub of waves that can wreak havoc on boat positioning offshore and on the docks, both patterns that will be in play. What is more, running wide open won’t be an option on a long run.
Keeping in mind that practice occurred during the week makes me wonder how much the anglers prepared for the excessively loud race boats, bellowing bow riders and massive cruisers that can turn the lake upside down.
“All that could be the X factor in this tournament,” Moore said. “The warm weekend will bring out the recreational boats, and there still are some deep fish to be caught on an offshore program, or a main lake pattern.”
Moore suggested those anglers might be forced to run their patterns backwards.
“A guy might consider fishing offshore sooner than planned, or even start there, and then when the boat traffic builds move into the creeks or secondary arms of the lake.”
The saving grace might be what’s in the weather forecast. A low-pressure system will bring gusts up to 18 mph on Saturday, followed by heavy rain and then showers and thunderstorms on Sunday.
Prolonged summer temperatures had the daytime highs into the mid-80s preceding the tournament. However, nighttime temperatures dropped to the low 60s. The weather was the same last week at Watts Bar, where the top finishers prioritized an early morning topwater bite, before moving on to their daytime programs.
“All it takes is a few of those cooler nights to signal transition time for bass,” Moore said. “The opportunity for a topwater bite is in play here too, and so will schooling fish in the transition areas.”
Docks, docks and more docks
What else stands out on Lake of the Ozark are the private boat docks that span one end of the lake to the other. For that reason, docks are a key player in the fall transition here. Docks function as rest areas and ambush points where the bass set up and wait for migrating shad to come past them.
“Docks will play in the morning when the bass are roaming, and then later in the day when the sun positions the fish tighter to the docks,” Moore said.
A Google inquiry about how many docks are at Lake of the Ozarks returned with 70,000 as the number. That’s astounding but not surprising considering the size of lake and age of those docks. That makes my point about the importance of determining the best systematic approach for eliminating unproductive docks.
“Certain docks will form a pattern that can be duplicated into a milk run,” Moore said. “A guy might run into an arm and start catching fish three-quarters of the way back, and then save time by duplicating that in other areas over his run.”
Obviously, there are other variations of how the bass set up on a dock, based on its proximity to deep water and other factors. The sheer number of docks makes that doable. All it takes is finding how far back into the creek arms the bass are transitioning along with the shad.
Stained water, the other X factor
The potential for significant rain could bring a wildcard into play. Lake of the Ozarks is ultra-clear, so it doesn’t take much runoff to create ideal conditions for a rogue pattern to develop.
“it can only be in one arm of the lake, or even a single creek, given the size of the lake,” Moore said. “Shallow, long creeks will get muddy quickly, and that bite could only last one day as the water settles.”
Moore also pointed out such a short-lived pattern could be a huge difference maker. Even so, running to the back of a creek would be worth escaping the recreational traffic and potentially angling pressure.
“Think about it: Cooler, stained water. A guy could capitalize on that scenario and include it in a nearby dock pattern,” Moore said.
Watch Moore and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Greg Hackney in the Bassmaster studio for the live coverage on FS1 this Sunday from 7-10 a.m. Central.