On the surface, it looked like a typical summer day at Lake of the Ozarks.
Personal watercraft zipped across the water, boats towing skiers cut across wakes and high-performance speed boats had the throttle down.
But beneath the surface, something unusual was going on.
After a spring of heavy rain, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was releasing a torrent of water (almost 45,500 cubic feet per second) through Truman Dam from the flooded Truman Reservoir into Lake of the Ozarks.
Just as fast as that water went into the big lake, it flowed out. Bagnell Dam on the other end of the lake was releasing an almost identical amount of water into the Osage River to prevent flooding at the popular recreation capital.
That created current — unnoticed by many but not by bass fishermen.
When Marcus Sykora, one of the lake’s top bass fishermen, launched his boat Tuesday, he knew there was a good chance the current would help him catch big bass.
“Current always helps,” Sykora said as he pulled his boat onto a point and started studying the graph. “It balls up the shad, and the bass position themselves so that the current brings those baitfish right to them.”
The key? Finding the sweet spot where bass feed. In this case, Sykora followed the dotted line on his GPS screen to a main-lake hump where the rocky bottom rose from the depths to about 12 feet of water.
“This high spot is like the buffet line,” Sykora said. “They love places like this when there is current.”
Moments later, Sykora proved it. He looped a long cast to the underwater ridge and let his plastic worm settle to the bottom. When he set the hook hard, he felt the throbbing pull of a big bass.
The fish shot to the surface and jumped, then made a powerful run. But it wasn’t long before Sykora had the 3-pound bass in the boat.
“Good fish, but we’re looking for a bass that could eat that one,” he joked as he released his catch.
Sykora and his two fishing partners — Jim Divincen, of the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association, and me — continued to catch bass for a half-hour before the action finally slacked.
By the time we moved to another spot, we had caught and released six keepers — most of them in the 2 to 3 pound range.
But don’t get the idea that bass bite continually in the current. Tuesday was an example. We started fast and ended slowly.
We did run into a school of hybrid stripers and caught several, but the bass made it obvious that they were done feeding.
“In this current, the bass like to position themselves on structure close to deep water,” Sykora said. “They’ll move up to feed, then they’ll drop down to that deep water again. You just have to be there at the right time.”
With so many waypoints on his GPS, Sykora is a master at finding those key spots.
He and partner, Rob Bueltmann, won a recent tournament with five bass weighing 24.24 pounds. And in a practice, he had one of his best days ever on Lake of the Ozarks with five bass totaling 29 pounds.
Sykora has found his best fishing on a straight-tail plastic worm rigged Texas style (with the hook embedded in the plastic). But he also has found success with a jig and pig and a deep-diving crankbait.
Even in the current, every day is different, Sykora said. He uses his electronics to scope out each of the places he plans to fish and won’t even drop the trolling motor until he notices schools of fish.
He has refined the settings on his electronics so well that he can tell when a mark is a crappie or a bass.
“The crappies make a smaller mark. The bass are more of a fuzzy ball,” he said.
He often will mark impressive schools of bass in the current, but that doesn’t mean he will get them to hit. He pulled up to several spots that appeared to be covered with bass, but he made multiple casts without getting one of them to hit.
“Frustrating,” Sykora said, “but sometimes, they’re just not feeding.”
With Truman still 28 feet high, there will still be weeks of large-scale water releases through Truman Dam into Lake of the Ozarks. And that promises to produce more good bass fishing.
“I’m lucky to live on Lake of the Ozarks,” Sykora said. “In my opinion, this is the best lake without aquatic vegetation in the nation. We have consistent spawns, consistent water levels and a massive amount of shoreline for the bass to spawn. Plus, with all of the boat docks, the fry have a lot of places where they can find shelter and survive.”
Brent Frazee is an outdoors columnist writing twice monthly in the Globe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.