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Outdoors with Mike Roux

Great May Crappie Action

Published on Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May is the month when school gets out and a lot of vacations start. For our Missouri, southern Iowa, and western Illinois customers and staff, one of the most popular destinations in the Midwest is Lake Ozark, Missouri. If you are heading there, plan to fish. Here’s why:

All I could do was shake my head. I sat there, with a professional fishing guide, in his boat, thinking for sure that we were not going to catch a crappie all day. I usually have great confidence in a guide’s knowledge and abilities, but I thought this guy was nuts. We were on one of the hottest springtime crappie lakes in America, Lake of the Ozarks, in May, and this fellow was putting a red and white plastic bobber on my jigging line. I was confused, to say the least.

I have been jigging for crappie every spring for over 35 years. I know how vertical jigging works. I even believe I am pretty good at it. But now all I could do was sit and watch as Rob Shonfelt, owner and operator of Buck Creek Store and Guide Service near Gravois Mills, Missouri prepared to waste my afternoon of fishing.

“Cast your jig past that brush-pile and wind the bobber right in to it,” my expert companion instructed me. I did as I was told. My small gray and red plastic jig hung about four feet beneath the colorful bobber. I stopped the retrieve, as instructed, right in the exposed portion of the brush.

The small waves made by the light afternoon breeze caused the small bobber to raise and lower in a rhythmic action. Within seconds the bobber disappeared into the brush. I immediately retrieved a mostly solid black crappie measuring 14 inches. “See. I told ya,” was all Shonfelt said as he grinned at me. “Just keep goin’ right back there,” he suggested.

“A bobber gives you two distinct advantages in the spring. First, it allows you to control your depth, helping you find the day’s strike zone and keep your bait in it. Second, it lets you move your jig slowly, which is a key to getting early crappie to bite.”

Rob also explained that this technique works best on days with light wind. “The waves that the wind creates on the surface move the bobber enough to give the jig great action down in the brush-pile,” Shonfelt said. This instruction worked to perfection and Rob Shonfelt is now my new crappie hero.


Mike Roux, with the help of guide Rob Shonefelt, hammered big crappie at Lake of the Ozarks. (Photo by Ralph Duren)


Finding the proper depth for crappie fishing should not take you very long. Once you find a brush-pile, start with your jig about four feet under the bobber and then cast into the cover. If you are not successful, try varying your depth with each cast until you find fish. In May, you could find them anywhere between one to eight feet, depending upon the clarity of the water.

You may think that finding good, crappie holding brush-piles would be difficult at Lake of the Ozarks because of all of the private and public shoreline development around the Lake. This is actually a good thing for crappie anglers. Many private and public boat docks and marinas have sunken cover around them placed there by the owners. These are not hard to find with even simple electronics, and they can all be accessed from a boat.

As the spring spawn begins, look for heavy cover close to the bank. Gravel bottoms are best, especially if there is brush on them. Start on the deep edge of the brush and work your way in until you find fish. Remember to cast your jig and bobber into the brush from a distance so as not to spook the fish.

The month of May at Lake of the Ozarks can mean warm days and warm water. Because of this, crappie will move further up the creeks. They will also be attracted closer to the banks as the cover on shallow banks will for new hot-spots. This time of year, the fish will not all feed at the same time. Therefore, you should be able to find and catch a limit at about any time of day. The fish Shonfelt and I caught were between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on an overcast day. He said we could have done that same thing between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. as well. 

Another good boat launch location is the Coffman Beach Public Boat Ramp. This might be your ramp of choice if you are coming to the lake from the north.  From Columbia, Jefferson City and St. Louis, take highway 54 to Eldon, Missouri. Then take route “Y” to Rocky Mount, MO. This puts you in the North Shore Area. Look for the junction of routes “Y” and “W”, and follow the signs to the Coffman Beach ramp.

If you are arriving at Lake of the Ozarks from the west or from the Kansas City area, take Highway 5 out of Versailles, MO. Go to Gravois Mills, Mo. and follow the signs to the Missouri Department of Conservation Gravois Arm public boat ramp. This ramp puts you in the lake right where May crappie fishing is at its best. You can begin hitting brush-piles without ever starting-up your outboard motor.



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