Back to my roots. A last minute decision sent me packing back to the homeland to chase largemouth bass on Tablerock Lake with my Dad. His good friend Sam had to cancel on the annual trip this year, so the old man was thinking of going by his lonesome anyway, just to get away and enjoy the outdoors and lake life. Well, being the good son I am and not wanting Dad to go it alone, I less than slyly suggested he help me-meaning buy me- with a plane ticket so I could come down a fish with him.
Dad’s a great sport, and fell for the ploy hook line and sinker, setting up a killer fishing adventure for us based out of Lunker Landing in Shell Knob, Missouri. Located on the northern bank of the King’s River arm of Tablerock Lake, Lunker Landing’s accomodations are comfortable; small town friendly; and steps away from the boat slip. Walking down to the water at sunrise, we see the mist rising off the lake, hear the blue jays’ sharp cries of the day, smell the green and lush scents of the oak forest, and spot local largemouth guarding spawning beds in the shallows near the docks.
Which get us into the fishing. Late April/early May is prime time for the largemouth’s pre-spawn here on Tablerock: clean water and a warming 61 to 65 degree water temp brings the fish up from deeper water and into the spawning regions of the lake. Protected coves, gravel beaches falling to dropoffs, and woody banks were our focus for finding bass staged up before the spawn. With Dad Fitzpatrick’s lifetime of knowledge of Tablerock and a steady foot on the trolling motor, we found feeding fish in all his favorite haunts.
For three days we worked up and down Tablerock, usually fishing the nearby King river arm but also travelling down past the James river and into the White. Our usual tactic is a spin rod with a plastic worm rigged Texas style with a bullet weight, which is cast to the bank and retrieved slowly-and I mean S-L-O-W- back to the boat. Jigging plastics in deep timber proved effective as well, especially later in the mornings and afternoons when the bass moved deeper to escape the bright angle of the sun. The take is subtle, and one must be very patient to let the fish take the bait, but once a good bass locks on the line starts to move and the tug gets heavy, you give her the mustard! Every fish we stuck came straight up and taildanced with fury, throwing their heads with open mouths and flared gills.
On the final day of our trip, I had yet to stick a bass on a fly rod. Deep holding fish are tough on the fly, and the shallow spawners weren’t interested in my quick moving Clousers or crawdad imitations. Trolling along a gravel beach early in the morning, a few bass finally showed themselves chasing shad minnows near the bank. Big smacks to the surface and minnows hurling erratically showed me a target some fifty feet away, so with a quick rod switch (the XP #9 was rigged and ready from day one) and a long double haul, I airmailed a Montana tied frog pattern within a couple feet of the last explosion. One twitch and it was lights out for that poor frog. With a huge gulp and boil, said frog vanished and up came a flaring pissed off largey, hooked on a 9 foot 9 weight Sage.
Our week flew by too quickly: just when I was adjusting to nightly ribeyes and cocktails at noon, I had to hop on a plane back to Montana. This trip reminds me how much I love warmwater fishing, and the bucket mouthed largemouths that inhabit those waters. Our Montana rivers and lakes hold bass as well, down in their lower stretches where temps allow these fish to exist. When the time is right this summer, we’ll certainly pay a visit or two to some of these haunts, throwing plastics and stripping topwater flies to fish rarely targeted by Montana folk. Back to my roots, full circle.