Head to the Ozark Mountains, where Missouri and Arkansas meet, and you’ll find an incredible fishery nestled among this overlooked pocket of nature. There’s a mix of world-famous fish to target, and a whole host of activities (both land and water-based) to keep you busy. Yep, we’re talking about embarking on a Table Rock Lake fishing adventure!
Technically a reservoir, this man-made lake was initially constructed as a dam to control the fluctuating water levels of the White River. It covers over a whopping 43,000 acres, with the majority of its waters being located in Missouri – although it does reach into Arkansas, too!
The lake isn’t just limited to angling aficionados, either. There are over 100 resorts nearby. This means there are plenty of opportunities to try out a range of activities such as boating, sailing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, camping, hiking and, of course, sightseeing. But we’d be lying if we said that the fishing on offer here isn’t a huge plus!
We’ve outlined the top species you’ll come across on Table Rock Lake, how to cast your line and catch them, and our favorite fish-filled hotspots in the area…
Top Catches in Table Rock Lake
One of the main reasons why Table Rock Lake has stood the test of time as a nationally-renowned fishing destination is because of the variety of species that live here.
Thanks to the variety of waterways that feed into it, including Long Creek and the White, Kings, and James Rivers, Table Rock Lake is the perfect habitat for a whole host of freshwater fish. From gigantic Catfish, to tasty Bass species, to prehistoric Paddlefish – they all call these waters home!
Read on for a breakdown of the top species that no visit to Table Rock Lake would be complete without.
Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Spotted Bass
When it comes to Table Rock Lake’s angling opportunities, chasing Bass species has to come out on top. This fishery’s incredible year-round abundance of Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Spotted Bass means you have a solid chance of hooking all three game fish in the very same trip!
Often described as a haven for Bass fishermen and women, Table Rock Lake is home to winding creeks, shallow coves, and deep channels. These are all Bass-favored hotspots.
Depending on when you visit, the exact areas you should cast your line in for a fruitful day will differ slightly. Make sure you’re aware of this species’ spawning habits, as this has an impact on where you can find them. You don’t want to venture all the way to the far reaches of the lake, only to find the Bass have moved elsewhere!
Although you can target all three Bass throughout the year, the pre-spawn and spawning months between March and May are particularly plentiful.
You’ll find Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Spotted Bass in the lake’s shallowest, clearest waters, which means you don’t have to travel far to hook them. The waters around Table Rock Dam are especially fish-filled. You’ll even find trophy sizes showing up!
In fall, you’ll be able to stick to the shallows as these Bass species follow their food through Table Rock Lake’s skinny “fingers” of water, which usually end in coves. Largemouth Bass in particular are huge fans of these sheltered locations!
In both the summer and winter months, Bass flock to the lake’s deeper waters, meaning it can be harder to bring ‘em out. If you’re an angler who likes a challenge, however, you’ll be able to test your skills as you go after the “Big Three.”
Although it’s most famous for its Bass-fishing opportunities, Table Rock Lake also offers up some pretty impressive Crappie action. Contrary to its name, casting your line for this Panfish on Table Rock Lake is an exciting event that anglers of all ages and skill levels will enjoy!
You can catch both black and white varieties of this underrated fish on Table Rock Lake. Like Bass, they’re a year-round species (one of the many reasons why this fishery is so popular), but one of the best times to target them might surprise you – winter!
Table Rock Lake has a plethora of docks surrounding it, and Crappie love lurking in the brush piles underneath these structures during the colder months.
Throughout the rest of the year, Crappie are abundant in the James River and Long Creek arms of the lake. You’ll also find them in the Shell Knob area, especially where the Kings River feeds into the lake. These waters are full of submerged cedar trees. It’s the perfect location to cast your line for a tasty Crappie haul.
So we’ve covered Table Rock Lake’s game fishing opportunities, as well as giving mention to some tasty Panfish. For those of you who want to hook something a little out of the ordinary, however, there’s one fish in particular that has to be at the top of your freshwater list: the Paddlefish!
You’re in luck. Table Rock Lake is the perfect habitat for this species, so much so that the state record was hooked here in 2015, weighing a whopping 140 pounds.
While there’s no guarantee you’ll come face-to-gills with a fish quite that large, heading to parts of the James River around the Highway 76 bridge and towards Galena will give you a fighting chance at hooking one of these prehistoric beasts.
Something to be aware of, however, is that there are strict regulations in place when it comes to casting your line for Paddlefish. You’ll only be able to target this species from March 15 through April 30, in order to help conserve this ancient fish, so make sure you plan your visit accordingly.
Lastly, take advice from local anglers, and bring a big net along just in case you encounter a record-breaker!
…And the Rest!
Table Rock Lake’s fishing population is so diverse and plentiful that we could spend this entire blog writing about the variety of species on offer! As well as the fish we’ve listed above, perhaps the most popular fish you’ll be able to cast your line for are those freshwater favorites, Bluegill and Catfish.
Bluegill are feisty fish that are also pretty easy and fun to reel in, so if you’re planning to visit Table Rock Lake with the family, this is a great “first catch” to target.
You can find them around pretty much the entire shoreline, and they’re especially plentiful when it comes to those hot summer months – perfectly lining up with the school vacation period!
Although you can cast your line from the bank, the best way to ensure a productive day on the water is by traveling with a local fishing guide, as they’ll take you to the best spots around.
Table Rock Lake is also home to both Flathead and Channel Catfish. These freshwater favorites are a great option for night owls, or visitors who want to explore these waters when they’re quieter – under the cover of darkness! This is because, when the sun sets, Catfish species move to shallow waters.
You’ll find them lurking in the brush-filled waters around Indian Point, as well as where Flat Creek joins James River. These fish are especially popular with bank fishermen and women, but there are charter companies dotted around that are happy to take new visitors Catfishing.
Casting Your Line: How and Where to Fish in Table Rock Lake
So now you know all about the fantastic fish that Table Rock Lake holds. But how should you go about reeling them in, and where? Well, this all depends on a variety of factors, including your previous angling experience and the species you’d like to target.
If you want to hook a huge Paddlefish, for example, you’ll need a pretty big boat! Chasing Bass? A smaller, speedy vessel is probably your best bet. Catfish fanatics will yield good results from the banks or the docks. For a more comprehensive overview of ways to fish here, as well as where to go, read on…
On a Charter
This is how most anglers choose to explore Table Rock Lake. Why? Because it’s a relatively simple and stress-free way of fishing, whether you’re a total newbie or have some experience under your belt.
Your charter captain will usually provide all the gear you need, and will know the lake’s rules and regulations, as well as the best spots to cast your line. We’d especially recommend traveling with a charter company if you’re new to angling, or have never freshwater fished before.
The main downside to charter fishing is the price – as you’ll generally be provided with equipment and your captain’s knowledge, this will be reflected in how much you pay out.
If you’re looking to make the most out of your time on the lake, however, nothing quite beats casting your line alongside someone who has plenty of proven knowledge and experience to share with you.
Table Rock Lake is unusual in that, when it comes to starting your adventure, there is pretty much only one place to go: Branson, MI. Unlike other big bodies of water that have a whole host of departure points, Branson stands head and shoulders above the rest of the locations that surround Table Rock Lake.
When it comes to charter fishing in particular, this is the number one place to go. Table Rock State Park, located at the southern point of Branson, has plenty of charters to pick from!
On Your Own
When it comes to fishing on foot, Table Rock Lake’s shoreline (or “bank”) angling opportunities are definitely something to write home about.
Although this method of fishing means that you can’t reach some of the lake’s deeper spots, it does have its benefits – namely, that it’s a lot less pricey than casting off on a vessel, and you can come and go as you please!
If you’re a more experienced angler who revels in the peaceful nature of this sport, wetting your line for some huge Catfish or spring Bass from this lake’s bank could be just what you’re looking for.
The main obstacle when it comes to Table Rock Lake’s bank fishing opportunities is experience. This method of fishing relies heavily on your own angling know-how, so if you’ve never fished the lake before, trying to locate the best hotspots can be intimidating. You’ll also have to make sure you’re up-to-date with all the local rules and regulations.
Branson remains a strong contender for the best place to start your bank fishing trip, as well as the small town of West Branson, located…well, west of Branson! This location provides access to Aunts Creek, located along the James River arm of the lake, which is a particularly productive shore fishing spot.
Head further west to Shell Knob’s Campbell Point Campground, a wooded area with a long section of shore you can fish from. You’ll also find plenty of amenities here, such as a campsite and park. Want to travel alone but don’t fancy fishing by foot? You can rent kayaks from this location, too!
Table Rock Lake’s Rules and Regulations
By now, Table Rock Lake’s excellent angling opportunities are hopefully clearly laid out on the table (we’re sorry!) for you. You know what you want to catch, when and how you can catch it, and where you should go to cast your line. But before you set off on your adventure, it’s important that you have the proper fishing license!
As Table Rock Lake spans both Missouri and Arkansas, many anglers want to know: Which license do I need?! The simplest explanation is that you need a license that covers that section of lake you’d like to fish in.
As most of the lake is in Missouri, this means you’ll just need to purchase a MI license, right? Well, yes, if you plan to stay in this section of the lake. However, we’d strongly recommend purchasing a Missouri Fishing Permit with a “White River Border Permit.” This means that you won’t get in any trouble if you accidentally end up fishing the Arkansas section of Table Rock Lake!
Something else to be aware of when casting your line here is “limiting out.” Basically, there is a limit to the number of each species in Table Rock Lake you can take home, and they have to be a certain length. These regulations are applicable all year round, except for in the case of Paddlefish, which can only be hooked from March 15 to April 30.
Table Rock Lake: The Best of the Midwest!
Although the Midwest is home to some pretty impressive fisheries, we’re of the opinion that Table Rock Lake is right up there with the best of ‘em. Where else can you chase three species of Bass, battle prehistoric Paddlefish, and take home some tasty Panfish, too? Even better, you’ll get to do all of this surrounded by the stunning backdrop of the Ozark Mountains. Come hook yourself a slice of old-school Americana, as well as some world-famous freshwater fish!
Have you ever explored the waters of Table Rock Lake? What did you catch, and how did you catch it? Any local tips and tricks you’d like to share with us? Let us know all about your experience in the comments below. We can’t wait to hear from you!