Mozingo Lake

By Brent Frazee Photos by David Stonner | June 1, 2023
From Missouri Conservationist: June 2023
Mozingo Lake
Mozingo Lake

“One last cast,” Dave Cochran announced as he used his trolling motor to position his bass boat off a point on Mozingo Lake.

He tossed his weightless plastic worm to the shallows, and watched it land with hardly a splash. When he started his retrieve, the line grew considerably heavier.

Cochran set the hook, and a big bass shot out of the shallow water in an angry attempt to throw the bait. But it was only seconds before he had the fish in the boat.

“Good to see you, big girl,” Cochran said as he admired his catch, which he estimated at 4 pounds.

With that, he eased his catch back into the water and reflected on another fitting end to a fishing trip on Mozingo Lake, a 1,006-acre body of water in northwest Missouri.

Cochran and two friends in another boat caught bass throughout the morning, but nowhere near what they hoped for. Expectations run high at Mozingo.

A Hidden Gem

Against all odds, the water-supply lake for Maryville has become one of the best bass-fishing spots in the nation. If you don’t believe it, talk to the people at B.A.S.S., a national organization that annually publishes a Top 100 list of the country’s best bass lakes and rivers. Mozingo has consistently made that list in the last decade.

Better yet, talk to anglers such as Cochran, who lives about 15 miles from the lake and has fished it since its inception in 1992.

“I’ve fished a lot of places in my life, but Mozingo ranks right up there with the best of them,” said Cochran, 72. “The number of bass from 3 to 5 pounds is unbelievable.

“Sometimes, you have to work to get ’em.  But they’re here.”

Tory Mason, MDC fisheries biologist who manages Mozingo, agrees.

“The lake has gotten national exposure and there are big tournaments

here about every weekend,” Mason said. “But the bass population continues to hold up.

“The data from our surveys on bass this year (2022) was just amazing, both in terms of quantity and quality of the fish. It’s just that they get so much fishing pressure, they get educated.”

A Success Story

When fishermen talk about famous bass lakes, in Missouri, they often mention Table Rock, Lake of the Ozarks, or Bull Shoals.

Mozingo? Well, yeah, the serious anglers include the northwest Missouri reservoir in that group. But amazingly, many casual fishermen, including those in nearby Kansas City, are still unfamiliar with Mozingo.

That could have to do with the traditional look of a powerhouse Missouri bass lake — tens of thousands of acres, located in the Ozarks, with dozens of resorts and dining establishments on the water.

Mozingo breaks that mold.

It’s located in farm country, where cattle and crops are more common than tourist attractions. But Mason points out that may be part of Mozingo’s success.

“When Mozingo was built, a lot of fertile land was flooded,” he said. “I think that definitely is a factor.

“When you flood fertile land, you are adding a lot of nutrients, new vegetation and timber, and lots of food like insects.”

The city of Maryville owns the lake, but MDC manages it.

Before the lake was built, fisheries crews stocked ponds in the basin with bass, bluegills, and channel catfish. The lake filled quickly with the heavy precipitation of 1993, and the fish population flourished.

The bass numbers grew so quickly that they stockpiled at a small size, Mason said. But a fish kill thinned the numbers and allowed the survivors to grow quickly. And a slot limit imposed by MDC — allowing a daily limit of six bass but protecting fish from 12 to 15 inches — had a major impact, encouraging anglers to keep smaller fish.

By the mid-1990s, the vegetation along the banks grew thick. And the bass thrived.

“You could use a plastic frog and bring it over the vegetation or punch a big plastic crawdad, worm, or Senko-type bait into the middle of it, and catch big bass,” Cochran said.

“Back in those days, you could bring in a 20-pound bag in a tournament (five bass weighing 20 pounds) and still not be guaranteed of winning a check.”

The boom phase that all reservoirs go through has ended. But Mozingo still produces big catches, though not as frequently as in the past.

Remembering the Start

Few bass anglers have fished Mozingo as long as Cochran.

He remembers when the lake first flooded, and fishermen anxiously awaited the day when it would open to fishing.

“My buddy would call the city manager every day to see when it would open,” Cochran said. “When he finally told us it was OK, we took off work and went right out there.”

That anticipation was understandable. There weren’t many large bodies of water to fish for bass in northwest Missouri at the time, Cochran said. And for a bass fanatic such as Cochran, that left a void.

“We had some good farm ponds in the area, but that was about it,” he said.

When Mozingo came in, Cochran had a quality bass fishery practically in his backyard. He began fishing the lake several times a week and soon became one of the area’s best tournament anglers.

He catches bass when others grumble about how tough the fishing is. Part of that is because he knows the lake so well — where the humps, brush piles, and drop-offs are. But he also knows when it’s time to switch lures and give the bass a new look.

Most of the baits he uses were made by his friend, Brett Ware, who owns the Tightlines UV Co. on the lake. The company produces enough variety of lures that he knows he can always find something the bass will like.

“I think I’m Brett’s best advertising,” Cochran said with a laugh. “I catch a lot of bass on his lures.”

A Day on the Lake

Cochran looks the part of a bass-fishing fanatic.

On a hot day last summer, he showed up dressed in a bright-colored fishing jersey and loafers that were fashioned to look like a bass.

He rolled up his sleeve to expose a tattoo of a bass. He opened the glove box on his boat and reached for his good-luck charm — a goose feather.

“My wife told me that she read in the Bible that a feather means an angel is looking out for you,” he said. “I found a feather floating on the water one day and I put it in my glove box.”

Cochran has caught and released bass as big as 8 pounds, 3 ounces at Mozingo. He was after fish of that stature when he set out on this cloudy morning.

He followed his normal routine, casting to the clear water off main-lake points, to humps and the riprap along bridges.

The bass were tight-lipped, possibly because of the commotion caused by the recent Fourth of July weekend, he theorized. But he stayed with it and still caught bass, including several exceeding the 15-inch range. All went back.

“If you came out here and caught them on every cast, it wouldn’t be fun,” he said. “I like the challenge of figuring out ways to get them to hit.”

Testing Missouri-Made Lures

Cochran wasn’t alone in his quest to get the bass to hit on this summer day.

In a nearby boat, Ware and his son, Brenden, also worked points and rocky banks. They, too, were rewarded with occasional bass that were soon released.

Ware takes pride in the lake, which he considers one big test laboratory for the baits he manufactures. He established his Tightlines UV Co. in 2008, using new technology to make the plastic baits he produces reflect UV light and make them more visible to bass.

He had his choice of places to manufacture the baits, but he ultimately chose a site along the banks of Mozingo.

“There’s as direct correlation between a company like ours and a great place to test products,” Ware said. “For a little lake in northwest Missouri, this has provided me with a great place to develop high-quality fishing tackle.

“We do research in a lab environment. But the true test comes on the water.”

Ware’s lures — including Whiskers grubs, swimbaits, Senko-type Uvenko baits, and creature baits — are well-known by fishermen who fish Mozingo. They’re hardly a secret weapon anymore.

But they still catch fish, and big ones, too. Meanwhile, Ware continues to tinker with new colors and designs to fool bass.

If they work at Mozingo, he knows they will be productive elsewhere.

Tightline Lures pays a federal excise tax on the lures the company manufactures that then comes back to MDC for the management and construction of lakes, rivers, and streams. The funding helps the department manage the fishery in Mozingo Lake and other reservoirs around the state.

Quality Facilities

There’s more than just bass fishing at Mozingo.

The Mozingo Recreation Park offers recreation to meet a wide range of interest. There is an award-winning golf course along the water, a swim beach, hiking trails, and three ramps to accommodate boaters.

There also is a large campground, cabin rentals, a nice hotel, a farm to table restaurant, and a large convention center.

Though there are no boat rentals, the water is often crowded on summer weekends. But on weekdays, there often is plenty of elbow room.

When Cochran and Ware pulled into the parking lot at the main boat ramp, they were surprised to find that they had the lake to themselves, at least temporarily.

To Cochran, that was just another reminder of why he is so enthralled with bass fishing, especially at Mozingo.

“It’s a passion that I’ll have until I die,” he said. “I’ll probably die with a rod and reel in my hands.”

Mozingo Lake: Fish and More

What: Mozingo Lake is a 1,006-acre water-supply lake owned by the city of Maryville. The fishery is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Age: It opened in the early 1990s.

Location: Five miles east of Maryville.

Fishing: Mozingo is best-known for its bass fishing. But it also has excellent fishing for big channel catfish and walleyes. Crappie fishing is fair but improving.

Access: Three paved boat ramps.

Regulations:  Lake users must purchase a daily or season boat permit, available at the Mozingo Lake Information Booth or Mozingo Public Safety. No boat rentals are available. Maximum length of boats is 28 feet. Boat speed limit is 40 miles per hour.

More than just fishing: Mozingo Lake Recreation Park includes an award-winning golf course, a swim beach, hiking and equestrian trails, campgrounds and cabin rentals, a restaurant, and an events center.

For more information, visit


A hidden gem for bass fishing in northwest Missouri

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This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner