Fishing for black bass should be excellent in 2020. Largemouth bass are very abundant throughout the lake as a result of good recruitment in 2015 and 2017. The percentage of largemouth bass greater than or equal to 15 inches was 36 percent throughout the reservoir during the spring 2019 electrofishing surveys. The abundant year class of largemouth bass that were produced in 2015 will exceed the legal size of 15 inches in 2020 and should provide good catches of 2-3 pound fish. Anglers should also expect to catch above average numbers of 12 to 14-inch fish in 2020 as the 2017 year class continues to grow. Electrofishing surveys conducted in the spring of 2019 revealed an abundance of spotted bass in the 11to14-inch range, with six percent of the spotted bass captured in the spring surveys exceeding the minimum length limit of 15 inches. Many of these fish should reach legal size by 2020. Smallmouth bass fishing was great in 2019 and should be good again in 2020 with good numbers of keeper size fish available. Largemouth and spotted bass comprise the majority of the black bass population in the river arms, while smallmouth bass comprise a substantial segment of the black bass population in the main lake from the Highway 86 bridge to Campbell Point. Anglers need to fish a variety of water depths and types to find bass. Outside of the spring spawning period and in the fall, bass are often found in deeper, offshore water. Extended main lake points, humps, and bluffs are productive areas. Jigs, spoons, and drop-shot rigs are effective during summer months in the 10-25 foot range or deeper, depending upon the depth of the thermocline. Largemouth and smallmouth bass can typically be caught fishing on the bottom while spotted bass are commonly found suspended over deep water following schools of baitfish. Good electronics can greatly increase your chances of finding suspended schools of spotted bass.
Crappie fishing should be good in 2020 and best in the James, Kings, and Long Creek arms. Both black and white crappie are present in the lake, but black crappie are more abundant. Fall 2018 netting surveys revealed a large year class of black crappie produced in 2017 and many of these fish should reach the legal size of 10 inches in 2020. A fair number of larger sized crappie are present in the lake as well. In spring 2019 electrofishing surveys, 49 percent of the black crappie sampled were greater than 10 inches and 30 percent were greater than 12 inches. The percentage of white crappie greater than 10 inches was 75 percent and 56 percent were greater than 12 inches. White crappie are more abundant further up in the river arms while black crappie comprise the majority of the population in the clearer sections of the lake. The best crappie fishing will be in the spring and fall during which small plastic jigs and minnows are very effective for catching crappie around woody structure and the numerous brush piles throughout the lake. Crappie fishing is also fair during the winter months and they can be caught fishing around deeper brush piles and under docks that extend over deep water.
White bass fishing should be fair in 2020. The best opportunity to catch white bass will be when the fish congregate far up in tributary streams to spawn in March. Anglers willing to troll or fish jigging spoons can also catch white bass during the summer months. Gravel flats 25-50 feet deep are the best areas to troll or spoon for white bass. Trolling can also be effective in February and early March when these fish begin to move up the river arms. As water temperatures warm, the white bass will move further up the river into shallower water, but will congregate in deeper holes in the channel up the river arms of the lake before moving up. Quality sized white bass are present with fish commonly exceeding 15 inches.
Walleye fishing opportunities have improved in recent years. Areas around the dam, the Kings River Arm, the James River Arm, and the White River Arm can all provide good spring walleye fishing. Walleye typically move up the river arms to spawn around the first part of March and are often caught in the same areas as spawning white bass. Walleye can be caught throughout the year by trolling deep points and channel swings in the main lake. The Missouri Department of Conservation stocked surplus walleye in the James River Arm in 2013, 2014, and 2016. Fish sampling surveys in early spring 2019 indicated a quality number of walleye in the 21to 24-inch range in the James River Arm. In addition, 75 percent of the walleye sampled in the James River Arm in March 2019 were > 20 inches. Good populations of walleye are also present in the Kings River Arm and upper portions of the White River Arm. Walleye catch rates in the 2019 spring electrofishing surveys in the Kings River were the highest ever recorded.
For experienced bluegill anglers, Table Rock Lake can provide quality fishing. Good numbers of quality sized fish in the 7 to 9-inch range exist. The best time to catch bluegill is late May through early July. Look for gravel areas, points, and pockets in 10-20 feet of water. Fish on the bottom with live crickets or worms with light tackle. Goggle-eye are present in good numbers and can reach large sizes (greater than 10 inches) in Table Rock Lake. They can often be caught in the same areas as smallmouth bass around larger rock structures but in shallower water (less than 20 feet). Brush piles in the main lake areas also congregate good numbers of goggle-eye. Both channel and flathead catfish are also present in the lake in good numbers, but receive relatively little fishing pressure, especially in the main lake. Channel catfish are more prevalent in the river arms, while flathead catfish are more common in the clearer sections of the main lake. Both prepared and live baits are effective when using setlines, jug lines, or rod and reel, especially in late spring and early summer.
Snagging for paddlefish should be excellent in 2020. Numerous legal-size paddlefish were observed in netting surveys in the winter of 2018-2019. These fish ranged from 20 to 60 pounds with a few fish exceeding 80 pounds. Paddlefish concentrate each spring in the upper reaches of the James River Arm above Cape Fair. Early in the snagging season, most paddlefish are caught between Virgin Bluff and Point 15. As water temperatures warm, the paddlefish will move farther up the James River Arm. If the James River rises enough to stimulate a spawning run, paddlefish will migrate upstream to spawn. The extent and duration of these migrations are dependent upon river flows and water temperatures, but can extend as far upstream as Lake Springfield Dam. A smaller number of paddlefish make spawning runs up the White River Arm each spring and can be caught from Eagle Rock to the Missouri/Arkansas border. Note that snagging for paddlefish is not legal in Arkansas from the Missouri/Arkansas border to 100 feet below Beaver Lake Dam. Paddlefish can be legally harvested in Missouri from March 15 through April 30 and the limit is two paddlefish per day. Because paddlefish feed on zooplankton, the best way to catch them is by snagging them with large treble hooks. Look for schools of paddlefish in the lake channel using a depth finder and cast to them or troll over the school with a boat while snagging. A project to help determine the number of paddlefish harvested each year began in 2015. Many paddlefish have been tagged with metal jaw bands and anglers are encouraged to report tagged paddlefish they catch to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Tag returns will be entered into a drawing for a cash reward at the end of the 2020 snagging season. Anglers should not remove tags from sublegal fish (<34 inches) but are encouraged to report the tag number to the Conservation Department.
An extensive six-year habitat project was completed in Table Rock Lake in 2013. Over 1,400 fish habitat structures including brush piles, stump fields, and rock piles were added to the lake and an interactive fish habitat map of these structures is available on the MDC public website at http://huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing/where-fish. These structures can also be found using the MO Fishing App, available to download for free on a smartphone.