Renowned for its bass fishing, Lake of the Ozarks draws numerous tournaments ranging from 10-boat bass club derbies to 200-boat national circuit contests, which are held each weekend just about year-round.

Thriving fish populations have made the Lake of the Ozarks a mecca for tournaments.

Renowned for its bass fishing, Lake of the Ozarks draws numerous tournaments ranging from 10-boat bass club derbies to 200-boat national circuit contests, which are held each weekend just about year-round. With this sort of attention, the Lake receives heavy fishing pressure yet still yields heavyweight limits of bass to tournament competitors. 

I have been reporting on bass tournaments at various lakes and rivers throughout the United States since 1993 and have seen how Lake of the Ozarks stacks up against other popular tournament sites. During my travels, I have noticed the winning weights on my home lake are frequently heavier than the events I have covered at other bass fisheries. Lake of the Ozarks simply attracts bass tournaments because it is loaded with quality-sized bass. 

Despite the heavy fishing pressure from numerous tournaments held every weekend in the spring, the Lake continues to yield one-day winning limits in the 20-pound range. It’s a  popular spot for bass clubs, charity benefit organizations, and high school, college, regional and national circuits to hold tournaments — especially from February through May and September through November. Night tournaments are popular throughout the summer and winter tournaments attract competitors from across the state because the Lake rarely freezes over completely. 

Heavy boat traffic during the summer limits most of the major tournament circuits to holding events in the spring and fall. One local tournament competitor believes this works to the advantage of out-of-town anglers.  

“Lake of the Ozarks is unique in the fact that in tournaments it is hard to have a local advantage because of the time of the year events are held here,” claims Roger Fitzpatrick, a Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American qualifier from Eldon. “Tournaments are usually during times of the year when the fish are shallow to where anyone can catch them. They are usually not held here in July where a guy can catch bass 30 feet deep on a hump somewhere. So it’s hard to take advantage of those really good spots on this Lake that hold fish in the summertime because there are no major tournaments then.”

Touring professionals have discovered throughout the years that bass fishing at Lake of the Ozarks rates among the best in the country.  

“It is one of the best largemouth bass lakes without grass,” said Kevin VanDam, five-time Bassmaster Classic champ from Kalamazoo, Mich. “It has a tremendous population of big bass. I’ve had the greatest several days of my life with a buzz bait on that Lake.”

It is also a special place for Oregon pro Jay Yelas, a former Bassmaster Classic champ and winner of the 1997 Bassmaster Invitational  at Lake of the Ozarks.  

“I love the Lake,” he said. “It is one of the few lakes in the country where I have finished in the money every time I have fished it.  The Lake fishes so big for tournaments because it seems like there is not a cove or pocket that doesn’t have keeper bass in it. Everywhere from the (Bagnell) Dam to Warsaw has quality bass fishing.”

While bass tournaments dominate the competitive fishing scene at the Lake, crappie and catfish tournaments have increased in popularity throughout the years. The crappie and catfish tournaments also range in size from small club events to national circuit contests. 

Most of the crappie tournaments are held in the spring and fall when the reservoir produces some of the best crappie fishing in the state. Limits of keeper-size crappie (9 inches or longer) can be taken in the shallows from March through May and again in October through early December. Tournament competitors weigh in numerous 1-pound-plus crappie and during the Crappie Masters Lake of the Ozarks event on April 14, 2018, the winning team weighed in a seven-crappie limit totaling 12.54 pounds.   

Lake of the Ozarks has a reputation for yielding big blue catfish each year and has also produced a former state record flathead catfish, a 66-pounder caught by Howard Brownfield in 1987. The Cabela’s King Kat Tournament held on March 24, 2018 produced a winning weight of 12 catfish weighing 121.46 pounds. The biggest catfish of the tournament weighed 39.46 pounds. 

Lake of the Ozarks has proven over the years that it is a great place for bass, crappie and catfish anglers to compete for cash and prizes.