Fishing for a Living: Sunrise Beach couple brought together by a love of the lure

Lake Lifestyles
Fishing brought Jim and Denise Dill together and drew them to making Lake of the Ozarks their home.

Fishing brought them together and has provided Jim and Denise Dill with a lifestyle that is perfect for Lake of the Ozarks. 

The Sunrise Beach couple vaguely knew each other when they went to high school at Cedar Hill, Mo., but during a chance encounter at a gas station about 16 years later they discovered a common bond. They renewed acquaintances when Jim was heading with his bass boat to a tournament at Lake of the Ozarks and pulled into the gas station at De Soto, Mo., while Denise was at the station after returning from a trout fishing trip. The couple discovered they both had a passion for fishing, which led them to dating and fishing together for the next four years until they married in 2004.

They also had a fondness for Lake of the Ozarks which eventually steered them to moving to the Lake. 

“We both had been coming here all of our lives,” Jim says.  He grew up visiting with his parents and staying at Bull Run Bluff Campground; Denise spent her childhood summers at Windermere camp.  

While dating, and after they were married, the couple competed together in the Guys and Gals bass tournament circuit and frequently fished the Lake of the Ozarks. 

“We came down on the weekends to fish and then we would always dread that drive home,” Denise says. “We just got to the point where we enjoyed fishing so much that we asked ourselves if our careers would enable us to move here.”  

When they decided to move to the Lake, Jim was a carpenter superintendent in St. Louis and Denise was a teacher.  

Denise secured a teaching job with the Camdenton School District and Jim worked construction jobs for a while, managed the Blue Anchor Bay condos, sold some spec homes and started his fishing guide service ( When he won an FLW Costa Series tournament at the Lake in 2010, he used his tournament winnings to purchase Crock-O-Gator Bait Company.  Jim also is EMS certified and spends two days a week working for Lake West Ambulance and guides the rest of the week. He and Denise also squeeze in some time to operate their Crock-O-Gator business. 

 “We are extremely busy and doing stuff all the time but we enjoy everything we do,” Jim says. “We still find some time to get out and fish for fun. Obviously tournament fishing is a lot of fun. We like the fishing, the people, the camaraderie and all that goes along with tournaments.” 

The Dills have won some of the Guys and Gals tournaments and the circuit’s point standings in the past. They have also consistently finished in the Top 5 or Top 10 of Ozark Mountain Team Trail events at the Lake of the Ozarks and won the point standings of the Bass World Sports winter series. Jim has fished the pro side of FLW Costa Series and BFL tournaments while Denise has fished the pro side of BFL tournaments and the co-angler division of Costa Series events.

Three years ago Denise started her own fishing guide service specializing in teaching her clients the basics of bass fishing. She teaches fourth grade at the Hurricane Deck Elementary School and guides on the weekends and throughout the summer. 

The Lake’s great fishing allows the Dills to succeed in their various endeavors. “We just have an abundance of quality bass in the 3- to 5-pound range at the Lake,” Jim says, “and the crappie fishing is second to none.”

Jim’s favorite lure for catching Lake of the Ozarks bass is a jig. “There is so much you can do with a jig whether it is fishing out deep on ledges or flipping docks,” he says. “I really enjoy making good accurate smooth flips underneath docks and back in hard-to-reach places where the better fish seem to hang out.”

Denise opts for a shaky head tipped with a soft plastic bait for tricking the Lake’s bass. “It is a bait that once the water temperature gets warm you can use it all the way up until fall,” she says.  “It is just a real versatile bait that you can fish for many months. You can also change up your shaky head trailers and have some flexibility with that.”  

Newcomers to the Lake should heed the following advice from the Dills to catch Lake of the Ozarks bass. “Put on a 1/4-ounce Crock-O-Gator shaky head with a little worm and throw it wherever you want to throw it and you are going to catch them,” Jim says. “Keep it simple and just go out and catch fish.”