Bagnell Dam Spillway
By John Neporadny Jr.
The Bagnell Dam spillway below Lake of the Ozarks harbors a variety of fish throughout the year and offers plenty of angling opportunities for anglers in a boat or on the bank.
Bank fishing is permitted on both sides of the spillway. The banks on both sides of the tailrace are open to the public, but anglers pay a nominal fee to fish the south shore, which is owned by American Legion Post 229. An access area maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation is available at the dam for anglers who want to fish the tailrace from a boat. Fishing is prohibited in the marked restricted zone within 225 feet below Bagnell Dam.
Spring is the prime season to fish below the dam since walleye, white bass, hybrid stripers, catfish and paddlefish congregate at various times to spawn in the spillway. However fish can be caught year-round from the river as long as some current exists. Since fishing is usually best during periods of water flow from the dam, anglers should call the AmerenUE lake level information telephone number (573) 365-9205 for updates on the spillway’s discharge rates.
Here’s a look at how to catch crappie, white bass and catfish lurking below Bagnell Dam.
Fishing is slow for whites in the spillway during the winter but the action picks up in March when some males move up into the tailrace to begin the spawning run. However the peak of the spawning run is usually from the first week of April to mid-May when massive schools of white bass congregate in the spillway.
Areas where water is being released from the turbines hold the greatest concentrations of whites, discloses Rich Duncan, a long-time Osage River fisherman and former owner of Riverview Campground. The most productive lures for fishing the spillway include crankbaits, such as Shad Raps and Rat-L-Traps in shad patterns or 3-inch Sassy Shads in blue-and-white or argent-and-white color combinations. The size of the Sassy Shad jigheads varies depending on the water conditions. When all eight generators are running, anglers use 3/8- to 1/ 2-ounce jigs on 10- to 15-pound line. If the spillway has minimal or no flow, whites can be taken on Tiny Torpedoes and Zara Spook Puppies or Zara Spook Juniors.
Fishing before sunrise is the best time to catch spillway whites in the summer. Duncan suggests throwing 1/8-ounce white marabou jigs into the current. A few whites can be taken on jigs or Sassy Shads in the fall, but the fishing is usually slow due to minimal water discharges then.
Guiding kept him pretty busy on the lake, but Keith Enloe still found some time for catching blue and channel catfish below the dam. Catfish in the 3- to 5-pound range are common catches in the river and tailrace area. “I’ve had times where I’ve caught nothing less than 10 pounds and I’ve caught them as big as 30 or 40 pounds,” claims Enloe.
The former guide catches some catfish in the winter in channel swings cluttered with piles of brush. He uses shad guts for bait all year long.
His catfish rig consists of a main line of 25- to 30-pound test line and a heavy-duty three-way swivel with an 18-inch leader for the bottom-bouncing sinker ranging in size from 3/ 4 to 2 ounces. Also attached to the rig is another leader line of about 1 foot for a 2/0 or 3/0 baitholder hook. “That hook has barbs up on the shank that holds the shad guts which you wind on the hook, then put the gizzard on the hook last and it should stay on there,” recommends Enloe.
Enloe fishes the same rig in the spring but drifts the bait along the bottom of shoots, which are washed-out areas created by the heavy flow from the flood gates. He fishes either the shoots from the dam to the boat ramp or a channel shoot that runs from the boat ramp to the Highway 54 Bridge.
The best action occurs during periods of medium to high generation and the river level is steady or on the rise. “If it’s falling they don’t bite very well,” says Enloe. “You catch the majority of blues in May and June if they run the water pretty hard.”
During summer, Enloe heads back to the channel drops and fishes the front of the brush again. He also tries some of the dikes and levies farther down river if there is minimal water flow from the dam.
Tight-lining in the brush also produces catfish in the fall for Enloe if the river runs slow. However if rains create heavy flow, he resorts to bouncing shad guts along the bottom again.
When AmerenUE starts dropping the lake for winter drawdown, fishing can be good for crappie below the dam.
Enloe recommends trying the north bank where the water eddies into the first pocket below the dam. “The crappie will stack up in there especially if they are running water,” he says. The local expert opts for a tandem rig of a 1/32- and 1/8-ounce jig in pearl-and-white or pearl-and-chartreuse. He ties the jigs on 4- or 8-pound test depending on speed of the flow.
The local angler relies on a slow presentation for his jig fishing. “I’ll throw out there and count to about 10 and then I’ll start barely turning the reel handle just enough to where I can feel the lure hitting the rocks,” he says.
Spring fishing can also be good on the AmerenUE side with the tandem jigs or on the American Legion side by fishing with a bobber and jig or minnow around the iron dikes.
If some water is running from the dam during the summer or fall, Enloe catches crappie from the stretch of river between the launch ramp and the Highway 54 Bridge. He targets the tops of trees at depths of 8 to 10 feet deep and uses a bobber and jig tipped with a minnow or a minnow attached to a number 6 or 8 Aberdeen hook.
For information on lodging at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 152-page 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.