By Marc Rogers
Nestled in the northeast Ozark Mountains lies a smallmouth bass fishery few are aware exists. Clearwater Lake, a small impoundment on the Black River, is located just minutes west of Piedmont, Missouri. Clearwater Lake is controlled by the Army Corp of Engineers and its normal summer pool level covers just 2,000 acres. However, the lake level varies drastically, and during heavy rains it can reach flood stage and cover 10,000 acres or more as the water backs up into the Black River and Logan Creek arms.
Many local residents flood to the lake on holiday weekends and throughout the summer months. They take advantage of the many area campgrounds and resorts near the shoreline of the lake and river below the spillway. While enjoying the boating and swimming, something is happening below the water surface that is known mostly to only local anglers. Clearwater Lake is growing some big bass willing to entertain the anglers during any season.
The most overlooked opportunity Clearwater Lake has to offer is the smallmouth bass fishing during the fall through spring. As the temperatures begin to cool in the fall, the smallmouth bass travel from their shallow summer hideouts in the Black River downstream to Clearwater Lake. Some tagged smallmouth bass have been reported to travel as far as 30 miles to the lake during this annual migration.
Once arriving in the upper ends of the lake, the smallmouth have only one goal. Smallmouth bass are intent to fatten up for the coming winter conditions, and stories of anglers catching trophy smallmouth are not uncommon around the town of Piedmont.
Due to the size of the lake, big boats are not necessary to cover the entire surface during a day of fishing. Small aluminum craft, as well as fully loaded bass boats are all common on Clearwater Lake.
Several tournaments are held throughout the entire year on the lake and the heaviest bags weighed in are during the cooler weather from November through March. Many times the winning weight exceeds 20-pounds and all five fish are smallmouth bass.
The techniques used most often by local anglers consist of crankbaits, jerkbaits, jigs, shaky heads, and the Alabama Rig. Crankbaits and jigs are usually a crawdad pattern while jerkbaits are most often shad patterns or bright colored chartreuse patterns. The most productive Alabama Rigs consist of soft plastic shad baits with several chrome blades on each wire for added flash.
My favorite crankbait for any season on Clearwater Lake is the Storm Wiggle Wart. While the crawdad patterns catch big bass, I often throw a shad pattern with great success when bass are keying on the abundant shad population. Seldom do I find reaching depths of more than 15-feet with any crankbait is necessary to catch bass in these waters. During the cooler seasons, the smallmouth bass are mostly taken in water less than 15-feet deep and at times less than 5-feet deep.
When fishing a Wiggle Wart, I maintain a steady retrieve while digging the lure’s lip into the bottom. Anytime the lure is paused by hitting underwater debris, or deflects off the many rocks and stumps on the lake’s bottom, it is subject to getting engulfed by a big bass.
Jerkbaits are popular with Clearwater Lake anglers. Most prefer lures in shad or chartreuse patterns that will suspend just below the water surface. A twitch-and-pause retrieve is deadly on the winter-time smallmouth bass in the shallow area of the upper creek and river arms. However, both largemouth and spotted bass can be just a eager to strike this offering
Jigs are a favorite of many local anglers during the cooler weather due to the ability to present the lure slowly and maintain bottom contact. A jig in a crawdad pattern is one of the best ways to imitate a slow moving crawdad and are known to catch big bass in any water. Local anglers Aaron and Alton Hunter log many hours on Clearwater Lake and reside just minutes away from the lake’s shoreline. They report fishing a football head jig and slowly dragging it along the bottom during any season. “My biggest bass from Clearwater have come on football jigs”, Aaron said. “I sometimes throw a brush head jig in the heavy cover as well as a soft plastic craw on a jig head with no skirt, poured in a custom-made mold”, Alton added.
At times, a shaky head presentation is needed to coax finicky smallmouth bass to inhale anything. When a finesse lure is needed, a shaky head rigged with a 4-5 inch finesse worm is ideal. Natural colors such as green pumpkin, watermelon and pumpkin seed are most productive.
When bass are actively chasing shad, the Alabama Rig is hard to beat. “I use a 5-wire rig with custom made jig head on my A-Rigs”, Aaron reported. The jig head is a special made round head with a light-wire hook and a hand-made lure keeper wire. “I like the light-wire hooks because when they get hung I can bend them and get my rig back. I use heavy braid line with the A-Rig”, Aaron said. Both Aaron and Alton say catching doubles on the Alabama Rig is not uncommon when the smallmouth bass are after schools of shad.
Clearwater Lake is a great fishery during any season. Anglers pursue all species of fish including bass (largemouth, spotted and smallmouth), crappie, bluegill and catfish during every season. The lake rarely freezes over and public boat ramps are open all year. However, if your desire is a trophy smallmouth bass, visit Clearwater Lake from November through March for some phenomenal results.