Stockton Lake is a 24,900-acre U. S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir located in Cedar, Dade and Polk counties in southwestern Missouri. Fishing prospects for sport fish species will be good this year. Gizzard shad production continues to be excellent, supporting quality game fish populations. In 2020, spring spawning conditions were decent for most sport fish species and likely produced solid year classes of sport fish.
Recent crappie trapnetting surveys resulted in the second highest white crappie catch rates documented in the last 24 years. This is primarily due to a large year class of white crappie in the 7.5-9 inch range. Anglers will likely notice an abundance of sublegal white crappie throughout the spring and summer months. Size structure was poor with only 9% of the fish collected in the sample over the 10-inch minimum length limit. This could result in fewer white crappie harvested for anglers in the spring of 2021. However, anglers will likely experience excellent fishing down the road as fish from this large year class begin to reach the 10-inch minimum length limit. Black crappie catch rates were above average. This was also primarily due to a large year class of sublegal fish in the sample. Anglers will likely notice an abundance of sublegal black crappie throughout 2021. Some very large white and black crappie were present in this falls trapnetting survey. Depending on winter survival, some of these fish could provide trophy opportunities for anglers in 2021. Crappie 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 over 400 fish attractors at Stockton Lake. In the winter of 2020 several fish attractors were created or replenished out of Master’s boat ramp and along the east side of the State Park area. These, along with all other maintained fish attractor locations, can be found at www.mdc.mo.gov. Many 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.
A new regulation went into effect on March 1, 2019; the spotted bass minimum length limit was changed from 15 inches to 12 inches.
Sampling is conducted on each of the major lake arms on alternate years. In 2018, largemouth bass catch rates on the Big Sac arm were down from 2016 and slightly below the long-term average. Size structure was good with 28% of the fish sampled over the 15-inch minimum length limit. In 2019 lake levels were too high to conduct spring sampling. High spring water levels in 2015 most likely produced an above average year class of fish. Largemouth Bass from this year class should provide high quality keepers in 2021. Additionally, high spring and summer water levels produced excellent spawning conditions in 2019 and most likely produced a large year class of fish. This should set the table for good fishing further down the road.
Walleye fishing should continue to be good in 2021. 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 nine years. Fortunately, we have experienced several years of good recruitment on Stockton. This should provide anglers with plenty of keeper fish. A surplus of hatchery produced fish allowed for higher stocking rates in 2020. These fish will offer catch and release opportunities in 2021. Electrofishing surveys conducted in the spring of 2019 revealed catch rates well above the long-term average. Size structure was good with approximately 94% of the fish sampled at least 15 inches or longer and 23% of fish at least 20 inches or longer. Techniques used for walleye angling depend upon the time of year and the 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. Walleye are often caught on suspending jerk baits in these areas. During the summer season, it is important to fish for walleyes at or around the depth of the thermocline. Walleye are often caught using nightcrawlers or minnows bounced along the bottom in 15 to 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, white bass fishing was excellent on Stockton Lake in 2020. White bass fishing in 2021 should continue to be good, as white bass recruitment has remained consistent 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 catfish and channel catfish are present in the lake and at times will provide good fishing. Channel catfish are abundant and size structure appears to be excellent. 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 fishing should be excellent on Stockton in 2021. Good numbers of 6 to 8-inch bluegills are common. Bluegill fishing is usually best during the summer months using small portions of nightcrawlers or crickets around structure 15 to 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.