Bank Fishing Big Lakes and Reservoirs

By Andrew Branson | April 1, 2024
From Missouri Conservationist: April 2024
Casting from the bank
Bank Fishing Big Lakes and Reservoirs

When you go to a big reservoir or lake in Missouri, you often see lots of water and lots of fishing boats. You might be left wondering, how can I fish here if I don’t have a boat? The good news is you don’t have to have a big boat to get in on the angling action. If you follow these tips, you can have just as much success fishing big lakes and reservoirs without benefit of a boat. 

Walk the Bank

Public boat ramps are an easy way to gain access to the water, but better fishing can often be found if you stay away from commonly used boat accesses. Moving down the bank away from the ramp can get you to unfished areas.

“I recommend Corps of Engineers accesses,” said Shane Bush, Table Rock Lake fisheries management biologist. “There are numerous lesser-used public access points at reservoirs that are at the end of public roads. However, anglers should make sure they know exactly what is public land. Contact the Corps of Engineers for questions about locations and whether or not they can fish there.”

Use Radial Casting

Once you find your fishing spot, it’s best to cast your line in many different directions before moving on to a new location. For example, while standing in one spot, make several casts into the water from one side, directly in front of you, and then to the other side. If you have no luck after doing this a couple times, move on down the bank. Target any fish habitat — aquatic plants and wood or rock piles — you come across.

Use Multiple Fishing Methods

Once you find a location, try setting up some rods on the bank with worms or other bait, while you fish with artificial lures nearby. Remember, if you use more than three poles at any one time, the additional poles must be labeled with your full name and address or conservation number.

Fishing Zones 

Fish often congregate in areas above and below dams.

“At Stockton Lake from late February to early April, we have excellent bank fishing opportunities on and around the dam for walleye,” said Ben Parnell, fisheries management biologist at Stockton Lake.

For safety reasons, dams typically have a no fishing zone warning close to the dam, so look for posted signs or research zones before your trip.

Tributaries and Outflows

Samantha Clary, Lake of the Ozarks fisheries management biologist, recommends targeting inlets and outlets of lakes. 

“Wherever there is incoming or outgoing water, there’s going to be food and fish,” Clary said. “Fish often use these areas for spawning where gravel banks are used for spawning beds.”

Bull Shoals Lake Fisheries Management Biologist Nathan Recktenwald has similar thoughts about southern Missouri locations.

“I would encourage anglers to concentrate on fishing tributaries during spawning migrations,” Recktenwald said. “From February through April, there are a lot of bank fishermen around the Tecumseh access on Norfork Lake, Haskins Ford on Bull Shoals Lake, Beaver Creek (Kissee Mills) on Bull Shoals Lake, and Powersite Dam on Bull Shoals Lake. They are there for the walleye and white bass spawning runs. During the spring black bass and crappie spawn in April and May, anglers can take advantage of bank fishing just about anywhere there are small gravel banks used for spawning beds by the fish.”

Manmade Structures

Most fish like to hang out near areas that can provide shelter and food. These areas do not have to be naturally formed.

“Manmade structures, such as walkways, bridge pilings, docks, and preventative erosion rip-rap areas, can also hold fish,” Recktenwald said.

Be aware that there are rules that do not allow close fishing around marinas and gas docks.

MDC Fish Attractors

MDC fisheries management biologists place brush, log, and rock piles in many lakes to attract fish. These fish attractor locations are recorded and can be found in the free MO Fishing app, available on Android and Apple platforms at

“Check the MO Fishing app for a map that will show brush piles that have been installed near shore by MDC,” Clary said. “The Larry Gale Access on Lake of the Ozarks is an example of an area that offers brush piles sunk near shore.”

Points and Breaks

Annie Hentschke, Mark Twain Lake fisheries management biologist, recommends targeting points and breaks.

“Points are shoreline areas that extend out and slope gradually down and into deeper water,” Hentschke explained. “Breaks are areas where water conditions change — shallows begin, waves versus calm water, watercolor change, etc.”

Windswept Banks and Coves

A breeze or strong wind can cause currents that either push bait fish toward the shore or stir up microscopic food. Baitfish will concentrate in these windswept banks and coves, which then brings in larger fish.

“At Truman Reservoir, folks can catch catfish from the bank year-round,” said Chris Brooke, fisheries management biologist at Truman Reservoir. “You can catch white bass and hybrid striped bass on windswept banks in the fall and blue catfish through the winter.”

If you are fishing big reservoirs and lakes, be willing to try different strategies until you find what works on a particular day. All lakes are different and a strategy that works well at one lake may not work as well at another.

“Fishing from the bank can be challenging at Table Rock because the water is so clear, and fish are so deep most of the year,” Bush said. “It would probably be good to scale down your expectations on what you can catch from the bank in a large reservoir because of this. Sunfish species are easy to come by, and bass can be caught during certain times of the year near the bank.”

Bush and Brooke point out some similarities between Table Rock Lake and Truman Reservoir. They say to forget about trying to catch a crappie from the bank unless it’s mid-April through mid-May. If you’re wanting to target bass, they recommend fishing steeper sided banks where deep water is close by. In the spring, fish further up the river arms to target white bass and walleye.

So, you don’t have a boat? No problem. With a little planning and preparation, you can be successful and have a great time fishing big lakes from the bank. 

Also In This Issue

Turkey Hunting

A passion for conservation leads one woman on her first turkey hunt

Hiking around Kansas City

Program connects participants with nature in the city

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
Circulation – Marcia Hale