LAKE OZARK, Mo. -- You won't find Vern Jaycox's bass boat decked out with the latest electronics.
Because he's fished Lake of the Ozarks since 1973, he can find bass on his own. He doesn't need the help of some machine, he'll tell you.
"I don't need $7,000 to $10,000 of electronics," said Jaycox, 81. "I had a guy tell me, 'You wouldn't believe what I saw on my electronics. I saw a bicycle under one of the docks.'
"Well, what good is that? If I wanted to see a bicycle, I could go to Wal-Mart."
That isn't to say that Jaycox doesn't have a few sonar units on his boat. But he doesn't really need them.
He has dozens of spots that he knows will hold bass. He has been catching healthy largemouths from some of them for years.
He'll make a "milk run" of those spots virtually each day he goes out, staying on the move until he finds the bass at home. And it often pays off.
"Very seldom will I just drop the trolling motor and work an entire bank," said Jaycox, who lives on the water in Lake Ozark, Mo. "I'll work a spot, then move on.
"I learned bass fishing by spending time on the water. There aren't too many people who have spent as much time fishing this lake as I have."
On a cool, gray weekday recently, Jaycox made his "milk run," hoping to find a big bass willing to bite. Fishing with Jim Divincen, administrator of the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association, and me, he concentrated on areas where the bass would be spawning. He worked gravel banks between docks, the back of coves, rocky pockets and shallow flats. And it paid off.
Moments after we pulled into a cove and began casting to a rocky bank, I felt a bass thump the Jewel Jig I was using. When I set the hook, it felt solid. When it came to the surface, it looked solid.
"That's a 6-pound fish," Jaycox said as he slid a net under the fish.
When Jaycox hoisted the bass onto a hand-held scale, he found he had underestimated.
"Six pounds, seven ounces," he said. "That's one of those bass this lake is known for."
After we released the fish, Jaycox paused to reflect on the bass fishing at Lake of the Ozarks.
"This the time to catch those big ones," he said. "Right before they go onto their (spawning) beds, they're heavier because they're carrying eggs.
"If you can get them to hit, you can catch some big ones right now."
Jaycox often casts a Baby Brush Hog to spawning banks and crawls it across the bottom at this time of the year. He'll also use suspending jerkbaits in transition areas where the gravel meets bigger rock, especially when a cold front causes the bass to drop deeper.
He also uses an array of other plastic baits, spinnerbaits such as the twin spin that he designed, and crankbaits to entice the bass.
One thing is certain: Lake of the Ozarks doesn't lack good places to cast to at this time of the year. The giant reservoir in central Missouri has hundreds of coves with gravel banks, boat docks and gravel flats where the bass will spawn.
Jaycox hit some of those spots on the lower lake on a recent weekday. By the time he, Divincen and I were done, we had caught and released more than 30 bass, five of them keepers (15 inches or larger).
That's pretty much business as usual for Jaycox. From the moment he first fished Lake of the Ozarks in 1973, he knew it was a special place.
"I had just bought a brand-new boat and I didn't know a thing about the lake," said Jaycox, who was living in Ellisville, Mo., where he was mayor for four years." I entered this bass tournament, and I caught a 5-pound bass on the first cast I made. Then, I got a 4-pound Kentucky.
"I thought, "Man, I'm going to like this place.' "
More than 40 years later, he hasn't changed his mind. He and his wife moved to the lake permanently in 1996 and he has spent his retirement fishing.
He has done well in bass tournaments, winning numerous trophies. But he often judges his success by the number and size of fish he catches when he fishes by himself on weekdays.
He remembers a June day several years ago when his best six bass weighed 33 pounds. He also reminisces about the day he caught an 8-pounder at the big lake.
He has caught bigger bass elsewhere. He landed a 10-pound largemouth at Table Rock one year.
But he hasn't given up hope that he one day will hit that mark at Lake of the Ozarks.
"Lake of the Ozarks is a fabulous lake," he said. "It is so consistent.
"With all of the rocky banks and points, the boat docks and the brush that fishermen have put in, the bass have a lot of good habitat. And because the water level doesn't fluctuate drastically like it does at some reservoirs, the fish can usually pull off a good spawn.
"I'm lucky to live here and have all this out my back door."
BASS FISHING AT THE BIG LAKE
Lake of the Ozarks is known nationally for its bass fishing. Here are a few facts about the lake and its bass.
-- AGE: Lake of the Ozarks is an old-timer. It was created in 1931 when Bagnell Dam was finished.
-- SIZE: The big lake covers 55,000 acres. It has 1,375 miles of shoreline, longer than the entire state of California. It stretches 92 miles from end to end.
-- DOCKS: There are 70,000 boat docks on the lake, and many of them provide good hiding places and shade for the bass.
-- BASS POPULATION: Because the water doesn't fluctuate the way some reservoirs do, the bass consistently pull off good spawns. In 2013, surveys showed that 23 percent of the bass in the Niangua arm exceeded 15 inches in length.
-- HIGH PRAISE: Nationally known bass pros Guido and Dion Hibdon live on the big lake, and they say it is one of the best bass-fishing spots in the country.
-- MORE INFORMATION: http://www.funlake.com
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