Enclosed docks warm-up fishing in the winter

John Neporadny Jr.
A pair of fishermen hold up the crappies they caught from an enclosed fishing dock at Alhonna Resort.

Lake of the Ozarks anglers can still enjoy some wintertime fishing when the lake freezes and becomes inaccessible by boat.

The most comfortable way to fish in the wintertime is from an enclosed heated dock, which provides an ice-free fishing spot. Some resorts on Lake of the Ozarks cater to their wintertime customers by providing enclosed docks furnished with rocking chairs, toaster ovens, coffee makers, televisions and wood-burning stoves. Some heated docks are open to the public and charge a daily fee for walk-in anglers, while other resorts allow only their guests to fish from the heated docks.

Enclosed docks at the Lake of the Ozarks emerged when fishing cabin resorts prospered at the lake during the 1940s and 1950s. Most of the docks were on the Niangua arm of the lake, while the rest were scattered on the Osage arm. Although the number of enclosed docks has dwindled in recent years, there are still a handful of resorts featuring these winter fishing sanctuaries.

The weather outside might be frightful, but inside some of these docks it's a balmy 60 to 70 degrees. Wood, kerosene and natural gas stoves or electric heaters keep the customers comfortable. When the lake freezes, the water inside the docks remains accessible to anglers because of the enclosed heat. The warmth and shelter from the wind provided by these fishing houses makes it much easier to detect the light strikes of wintertime fish.

These floating structures are usually sitting over deep water (20 to 30 feet). Inside the docks are large wells filled with brush sunken on the lake’s bottom or hanging on wires at various depths. Some resorts also bait the wells with hay bales, dog food or oatmeal to attract minnows and shad.

Anglers catch mostly crappie from the heated docks. If they have plenty of time, customers can catch 20 to 60 fish a day with keepers averaging 9 to 10 inches long.

In wintertime crappie usually suspend 15 to 20 feet deep in the brush below the docks. The fish will stay above the brush or drop down in the cover. The thickest brush usually holds the most fish.

Minnows or jigs work best for dock crappie. White or chartreuse 1/32-ounce tube jigs fished on an ultra-light rod and reel and 6-pound test line consistently takes crappie. When the fish suspend 8 to 12 feet deep, scale down to a 1/64th-ounce jig and 2-pound test line if the fish are hitting lightly. While using live bait, try a small- to medium-sized minnow on a number one gold Aberdeen hook. The light wire hook enables you to pull it out of brush easier, which cuts down on lost tackle.

Casting in the well is impractical, so pick a spot and drop your jig or minnow straight down. Look for any cables hanging in the water, which indicates a brush pile tied to it.

Target bottom-hugging fish by letting your bait fall to the lake’s floor and then cranking the reel handle once. If this fails to produce, slowly reel up or stitch the line in your hand. When a strike occurs, keep track of the depth so you can present your bait at the exact location with your next offering. If the dock isn’t crowded, move around the well to fish different sections of brush.

When fishing with a minnow, let the line sit to allow the bait to do all the work. Jig fishing requires a slight bouncing of the rod tip to create the lure's action. Crappie bite lightly and infrequently this time of year, so pay close attention to your line.

Resorts around the lake featuring enclosed fishing docks are the following:

*Alhonna—an enclosed heated fishing dock open to the public for a fee.

*Breezy Point—an enclosed heated fishing dock for guests only.

*Hawks Landing—an enclosed heated fishing dock open to the public for a fee during the offseason.

*Point View—an enclosed heated fishing dock open to the public for a fee only if the resort has vacancies.

*Rippling Waters—an enclosed (but not heated) fishing dock open to the public for a fee only if the resort has vacancies.

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.