Stockton Lake is a 24,900-acre U. S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir located in Cedar, Dade and Polk counties in southwestern Missouri. Overall fishing prospects for sport fish species will be good this year. Gizzard shad production has been exceptional the past few years and has kept sport fish growing at a good pace. Additionally, spring spawning conditions were excellent in 2015 and likely produced good year classes of sport fish species.
Recent crappie trapnetting data indicate that the 2013 white crappie year class was not as large as the 2012 year class that produced good numbers of legal fish in 2015. The 2013 year class will likely provide the majority of legal fish for anglers in 2016. This could result in fewer white crappie harvested for anglers at Stockton Lake this year. Fortunately, the 2014 white crappie year class appears to be larger and these fish should provide anglers with quality fishing in future. Trapnetting catch data from 2015 also revealed a much higher percentage of black crappie than usual. The majority of these fish are between 9 and 11 inches, which should provide anglers with catch and release opportunities as well as some additional harvest in 2016. Crappies are often caught using small jigs or minnows around brush structure. The Corps of Engineers and the Missouri Department of Conservation have created and replenished a large number of fish attractors at Stockton in the recent past. Angling success has been good on these structures throughout the spring, summer and fall months. A map of attractor locations and GPS points can be found at www.mdc.mo.gov. About half of the attractors are marked with signs on the lake shore. For those without GPS technology, attractors can be found using a sonar fish finder in 20 feet of water (at lake water elevation of 867) just in front of signs.
Largemouth bass are the most numerous black bass species in Stockton Lake, especially in the upper portions of the lake. Spotted bass and smallmouth bass are present throughout the lake, but make up larger percentages of the population in the lower portion of the lake. Largemouth bass electrofishing catch rates on both the Little and Big Sac arms of the lake are coming down from all-time highs observed in 2012. Sampling is conducted on each of the major lake arms on alternate years. Catch rates from 2014 on the Big Sac arm were slightly down from 2012, but still above the long-term average and suggest good recruitment the last few years. Catch rates from 2015 on the Little Sac Arm were below the long-term average, in fact the lowest since 2007. However, this could be partially attributed to less than optimal sampling conditions at the time. Fortunately, successive strong year classes should continue to produce quality fishing for anglers. Individuals remaining from the extremely large year classes of 2008 and 2009 could offer the opportunity for trophy experiences in 2016.
Walleye anglers should expect good walleye fishing in 2016. Walleyes are stocked in Stockton Lake at 1-2 inches in size and typically grow to 15 inches in two years. In 2012 the Stockton Lake walleye stocking regime was changed from a biennial (every other year) stocking to an annual stocking. Thus, walleye have been stocked in each of the last five years. Walleyes stocked in 2014 will be in the 14-16 inch range in spring of 2016. Walleyes stocked in 2015 will offer catch and release opportunities. Electrofishing surveys conducted in the spring of 2015 revealed catch rates above the long term average and approximately 76 percent of the fish sampled were 15 inches or longer. Techniques used for walleye angling depend upon the time of year and confidence anglers have with different methods. In the spring and fall, walleye are often found along the dam, in coves, and in more shallow water. During the summer season, it is important to fish for walleyes at or around the depth of the thermocline. Walleye are often caught using night crawlers or minnows bounced along the bottom in 15-20 feet of water during mid-summer. Trolling deep running or suspending crankbaits or casting these baits along the shoreline and windswept main lake points can be equally effective at certain times of the year. Be sure to use good release practices on sub-legal fish, which will increase the chances of the fish’s survival.
According to angler reports, 2015 was a productive year for white bass fishing on Stockton Lake. White bass fishing in 2016 should continue to be good, as white bass recruitment has been strong throughout the last few years. Spring white bass spawning runs occur near or in the lake’s tributary streams from mid-March to the end of April. During July and August anglers can often find white bass chasing schools of shad in the early morning and late evening hours on the main lake open water areas. In the fall, angling efforts should be concentrated on windy main lake points or banks. Shallow crankbaits, Rooster Tails, swimbaits, and white jigs are good choices for catching white bass. Both flathead and channel catfish are present in the lake and at times will provide good fishing. The upper half of the lake or large coves will usually provide the best channel catfish angling opportunities. Mid-May to mid-June, just before the spawning season, is usually the best time to fish for catfish. Trotlines or jug lines baited with live baits are the method of choice for most flathead anglers. Bluegill can provide some enjoyable fishing and tasty meals when fishing Stockton Lake. Good numbers of 6-8 inch bluegills are available. Bluegill fishing is usually best during the summer months using small portions of nightcrawlers or crickets around structure 15-20 foot deep. The many bridge pillars throughout the lake are a great place to escape the summer sun and get into some good bluegill fishing.