Lake of the Ozarks is one of the best outdoor destinations in the country. Bold statement, I know.
But when you consider all there is to do on and around this 54,000 acre reservoir, I don’t know of any other destination that offers more diversity for outdoor fun. Add to that the fact that local amenities such as restaurants, accommodations and entertainment options abound, and you truly have something for everyone.
Water sports are a huge draw to the lake. Pleasure boating and all forms of towable sports – skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, surfing… – bring enthusiasts to the immense expanse of water all summer long. There are actually small yachts suitable for Great Lakes cruising and there are large speedboats. There is no shortage of wave runners either.
It is ideal for people who love boat life. Bring your toys and have a good time. But the traffic tends to scare off some anglers. Don’t let him. There’s plenty of room for both, as long as you know where you’re fishing.
Ed Franko owns and operates Big Ed’s guide service on the Lake of the Ozarks. He is one of the most reputable guides on the lake and last week I was able to get on the boat with him for a day of bass fishing. It was a Saturday in the summer, so boat traffic was at its peak.
Big Ed and his wife also own and operate Bass & Baskets Bed and Breakfast. This cozy little lodge is adorned with old fishing gear. Big Ed keeps his boat on a dock just behind the B&B. This is where our journey began.
We had left early. Our first casts took place at dawn. I was surprised by our first stop, which was in water 100 feet deep. We were fishing for a mouthful of water bass which was exploding shad on the surface.
Big Ed made me use a Zara Spook and he was throwing a Whopper Plopper. When a fish swirled on the surface, we threw it directly. I would say we landed close to 30 bass, a mix of big mouth, spots and blanks. The bite lasted about two hours.
The first wakeboarders, the real hardcore crews looking for the smoothest water, started showing up around 8am. With deafening music, they began to produce the waves that many anglers fear. And rightly so – it can get very difficult there. So don’t fish where it’s not safe. Move to a protected cove, like Big Ed did around 9am
We started fishing jigs on points in about 15-20 feet of water. Big Ed would move around until he found fish on his sonar, then we would settle down to work the point. At one particular spot, we caught two basses about 3 pounds each and one pushing 5. I was really impressed with the luck, but Big Ed didn’t think it was that special. He said the lake was constantly producing flashes like that. When you find them and put what they want there in front of them, you can catch some big ones fast. We finished fishing at 11 a.m.
Such an early morning made me hungry. I met Nathan “Shags” McLeod at Tucker Shuckers on the Strip. This part of the lake is home to souvenir shops and tourist attractions. It hops in the summer and has recently seen a slight increase in revitalization. The seared Ahi sandwich with fries and side salad hit the spot. We had coconut shrimp for an appetizer. They were good too.
Old Kinderhook was home for the weekend. It is one of my favorite vacation destinations for several reasons. It’s newer and the rooms are great. Jasen Jones, the hospitality and marketing manager, said he personally tried a dozen mattresses before selecting the models in the rooms. He succeeded, because the beds are super comfortable.
There is a large outdoor swimming pool with a bar and beach volleyball. Lawn games, like cornhole, keep guests entertained. In winter, the volleyball courts become the only skating rink in the lake area. There is also a first-class spa on site.
The restaurant at Old Kinderhook is called The Trophy Room, and I found the food exceptional. I had a prime rib dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. The truffle fries and calamari starters were excellent. For such a nice restaurant, the drink prices were ok. A quality bourbon-based Old Fashioned was a nice compliment to the beef.
What Old Kinderhook is really about is golf. Tom Weiskopf designed the course. It’s a par 71 of 6,726 yards. The fairways are immaculate and the large bentgrass greens putt as if you were on glass. This course is challenging for the serious golfer. I played Sunday morning and was happy with the round. The course was in great shape.
There are many other golf courses in the Lake of the Ozarks area, and the Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail offers a pass that includes rounds at 12 different courses. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the area, it’s a good investment.
The campsite is huge around the lake. In fact, Lake of the Ozarks State Park is the largest state park in Missouri. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is another draw for its incredible hiking trails. The nearby Niangua River offers canoe and kayak rentals for paddling a beautiful Ozarks river. Hunting opportunities on public lands exist throughout the region. There really is something for everyone at the Lake of the Ozarks.
See you on the trail.
For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast at www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or wherever podcasts play.