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 good the past few years and has kept sport fish growing at a good pace. Additionally, high spring water levels resulted in excellent spawning conditions for most sport fish species. This could result in large year classes of sport fish species being produced.
Higher overall densities of crappie and decent size structure should result in excellent fishing in 2018. Recent crappie trapnetting surveys from 2016 and 2017 revealed back to back, large year classes of white crappie. In fact, these two year classes produced the 1st and 4th highest catch rates found in the last 22 years of trapnetting. This should produce good numbers of keeper fish for anglers throughout the spring, summer and fall. Anglers will also likely notice an abundance of sub-legal fish, especially throughout the spring and early summer. Black crappie densities were slightly down from the last couple of years. Fortunately, size structure was excellent which should produce more keeper fish for anglers. In addition, a decent amount of young of the year black crappie were observed in the 2017 sample. This can be indicative of a strong year class, which can lead to good fishing 3-4 years down the road. 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 year. A map of attractor locations and GPS points can be found at www.mdc.mo.gov. Several of the attractors are marked with signs on the lake shore. For anglers 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. Sampling is conducted on each of the major lake arms on alternate years. In 2016, largemouth bass catch rates on the Big Sac Arm were improved from 2014 and suggest good recruitment the last few years. The data revealed a very high number largemouth bass in the 13-14.5 inch range. This is consistent with recent reports from anglers, catching an abundance of sublegal fish. The good news is that these fish should provide anglers with more keeper fish in 2018. Catch rates from 2017 on the Little Sac Arm were below the long-term average, in fact the 2nd lowest since 2007. Size structure was poor with only 10 percent of fish sampled reaching the 15in. minimum length limit; however, this could be partially attributed to less than optimal sampling conditions at the time. Sampling efforts were hampered by inclement weather and rising water levels. The high water levels produced during the spawn could potentially produce a large 2017 year class of fish. This could result in excellent fishing several years down the road.
Walleye anglers should expect good fishing in 2018. Walleye densities are excellent and fish over the 15-inch minimum length limit are common. 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 six years. Walleyes stocked in 2016 will be in the 14-16 inch range in spring of 2018. Walleyes stocked in 2017 will offer catch and release opportunities. Electrofishing surveys conducted in the spring of 2017 revealed catch rates slightly below the long term average. Size structure was good with approximately 92 percent of the fish sampled at least 15 inches or longer and 19 percent of fish at least 20 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 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, 2017 was a productive year for white bass fishing on Stockton Lake. White bass fishing in 2018 should continue to be good, as white bass recruitment has been strong throughout the last few years. The presence of numerous young of the year white bass observed in our fall electrofishing surveys could be indicative of another strong year class produced in 2017. 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 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.