Table Rock Lake Fishing Report: Complete Angler’s Guide

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Nestled in the Ozark Mountains near Branson, Missouri, Table Rock Lake is one of the best and largest lakes to fish in this part of the country.

There are over 43,100 acres to explore, mainly in southern Missouri; however, the massive reservoir stretches a few of its long fingers into the northern portion of Arkansas.

Fishing at Table Rock Lake is simply excellent for multiple species. No matter which fish is your favorite to catch, there’s a good chance you’ll find it swimming in the clear waters of Table Rock Lake.

Below I’ll explain the best ways and spots to catch each species on this massive reservoir.

Let’s get to catching ’em!

Bass Fishing on Table Rock Lake

Bass fishing is the main draw to Table Rock Lake. Major bass fishing tournaments are held on this reservoir each year, targeting largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. 

While these competitions increase pressure on the lake, Table Rock Lake bass fishing must be good. Otherwise, the national tournaments would find somewhere else to fish.

Through my years of fishing, I’ve noticed that all three black bass species in Table Rock have a similar spawning cycle but significantly differ in location and food preferences.

So let’s discuss the general spawning cycle for black bass, then break down where you should find each species and what lures work best for them.

Black Bass Spawning and Seasonal Movement

To better understand where to fish and what lures to use, as anglers, we must know what phase of the spawning cycle the bass are in. 

In the spring, typically April and May at Table Rock, bass move shallow to spawn.

Bass search out rocky areas near a depth change to make a nest and lay their eggs. Often you can see the nests since the water is so clear here.

At these times, you’ll have to bug the fish until they bite, tossing a soft-plastic lure around their nests. 

Once they’ve spawned, most fish return to deeper water, while others will move under docks and into vegetation casting a shadow. 

They’re easy to catch for a short period because they’re hungry, but once they get their fill, the bite slows down from about late June to August. 

This time of year, the fish move out to 20-40 feet deep to find cooler, more oxygenated water.

As fall comes around in late September and October, they follow the baitfish back shallow and begin feeding up for winter. They’ll then spend most of the coldest months in deeper water, occasionally moving shallow on the warmer days.

That’s generally where you can find bass; now, let’s talk about some specifics for each species.

Largemouth Bass

Largies get the biggest, which is why most people target them.

They’re also the easiest to catch from the shore because largemouth bass often hold in the shallows. That’s why the best places to catch largemouth are in the backs of the many creeks and coves on Table Rock Lake. 

When targeting largemouth bass, I look for ambush locations, such as logs, docks, and vegetation. Creek channel swings are also great places to start your search.

I prefer to use natural colors when fishing in clear water; that goes for this lake too. Sometimes it helps to be slightly different by mixing in a bright color, such as bubble gum pink or chartreuse.

My favorite lures for largemouths are spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs, Texas rigs, and wacky rigs. Rarely do I not get a bite when using one of these lures. 

Smallmouth Bass

Smallies are my favorite black bass to catch because they’re aggressive and hard-fighting.

Most of the time, you’ll find them in deeper water around rock piles. They’re also better suited for current, so the creeks and rivers flowing into the lake are great places to fish for smallmouths.

Any bridges crossing the lake are an excellent place to begin searching for smallmouth.

My color selection stays natural when fishing for smallies; however, I use more crawdad colors (reds and oranges) since they are always a mainstay of the smallmouth diet. Green pumpkin, white or translucent are also excellent color picks.

Besides choosing a different location, generally farther off the shore, I also downsize my lures. This is because smallmouth, as their name suggests, have smaller mouths than largemouth. 

I’ll primarily use Mepps spinners, crankbaits, jigs, wacky rigs, and drop-shot rigs to catch smallmouth bass. Now and then, I’ll mix in a small swimbait to get a bite or two.

Spotted Bass

Spots also prefer deeper water, and they are more likely than their cousins to stage in open water.

You’ll often find spotted bass patrolling a depth change on the main lake and on secondary points inside a cove or creek arm. This preference means the bridges are among the best places to begin fishing for spotted bass.

Shad are the primary food source for spots, so I’ll use translucent, white, and chrome colors to target them. That’s not to say the ole trusty green pumpkin won’t be effective on many days.

I’ll use lures similar in size to smallmouth because spotted bass have a smaller mouth than largemouth but bigger than smallies. 

The main lures I use for spots are small spinnerbaits, crankbaits, swim jigs, swimbaits, Carolina rigs, and drop-shot rigs.

Catch More Bass

You’ll find Table Rock Lake on both our list of the best largemouth bass fishing lakes in Missouri and the best smallmouth fishing lakes and rivers in Missouri. Click the links to find other great places to catch these bass.

Table Rock also made the cut for our guide to the best smallmouth bass fishing spots in Arkansas.

Learn to catch all of these species with our simple angler’s guide: Bass Fishing: How-To Techniques and Tips.

Crappie Fishing

If you’re looking for a tasty meal, look no further than the crappie. Black and white crappie call Table Rock home, and while they have slightly varying preferences for water conditions, anglers often catch them in the same spots.

Long Creek, James River Arm, and Kings River mouth are all top-level crappie locations.

The best time to fish for them is in the spring when they’ve moved shallow to spawn along rocky banks and bluffs. You’ll often find Table Rock Lake crappie beds around a shallow log or brush pile when spawning.

After they’ve spawned, crappies move to deeper brush piles, in 25-40 feet of water at times. This makes them harder to catch during the heat of the summer. 

During the fall, crappie will migrate back shallow to feed up before winter sets in. Fall is another excellent time to catch crappie because they’re more aggressive.

In the winter, you’ll find them patrolling shallow flats on warmer days and along steep ledges during the cold stretches.

Natural colors with bright pink or chartreuse work very well in clear water. I’ll also use translucent with shiny flakes to help my baits appear more natural.

Speaking of baits, my favorite is a crappie jig; however, many crappie veterans will rack up the catches with live minnows on a slip bobber. 

Sometimes trolling with small crankbaits can help you locate a school of crappie when you don’t have high-dollar electronics. This is my mom’s favorite way to catch them.

Walleye Fishing

The tastiest fish in Table Rock is easily the walleye, though crappie give them a good run for their money on the table. Walleye are not as easily caught but don’t worry; you can do a few things to up your odds. 

As with all fish, understanding the spawning cycle is the best way to know where the fish should be at a specific time of year. 

Walleye spawn about the same time as white bass in early March. They head up the creek and river arms in search of rocky banks. This means the Kings River, James River, and White River arms are all excellent stretches of the lake to begin fishing for walleye in the spring.

After spawning, they move back to deeper water, so main lake points and around the dam are the best places to wet a line during the summer.

I recommend fishing for walleye before sunrise and after sunset, as their eyes are very sensitive to light, and they primarily feed at night and are very deep during the day.

In the fall, they’ll follow the baitfish back towards the shallows, and during winter, they’ll primarily stay in the creek and river channels until the water temperature indicates it’s time to spawn again.

Casting naturally colored jigs and swimbaits is one of the best ways to catch them during the spring. Walleye also like pops of chartreuse and pink on some days. As always, live minnows on a slip bobber are tough to beat this time of year.

Trolling along ledges with deep-diving crankbaits is excellent for summer fishing. In the fall and winter, minnows are my go-to live bait.

Catfish Fishing

Perhaps the most commonly eaten fish out of Table Rock Lake is the catfish. Two species are found throughout the lake, channel catfish and flathead catfish.

Starting at one of the bridges crossing the lake is always a good idea, as bridges tend to funnel fish through a small area. Indian Point and the dam areas are also good places for bank anglers to go catfishing.

In mid-to late spring, both species head to the shallows to find and make nests; the spawn is one of the most challenging times to fish for catfish since they’re most concerned with locating and protecting their nests. 

As summer sets in and the spawn ends, catfish return to deeper holes and river and creek channels. Catfish are hungry and ready to chow down, making this one of the best times of the year to catfish if it wasn’t so hot to be a human.

The fall is another excellent time to go catfishing because they follow the baitfish to shallow flats and feed up before winter takes over. Once winter has set in, you’ll find them following schools of bait fish in deeper waters.

There are many ways to catch catfish on Table Rock, from rod & reel to jugs and a trotline. All methods will catch both species. 

The time of day also affects where they’ll likely be; catfish tend to move shallow at night and head for deeper water during the day.

While they have a similar spawning cycle, they have varying preferences for baits, so let’s split them up to discuss in further detail.

Channel Catfish

Channel cats are the smaller of the two species but are much more abundant. You’ll find them all across the lake, but the river and creek arms are where you’ll likely find the most success. 

I like to fish ledges and flats for channel catfish.

Chicken liver, nightcrawlers, stink bait and cut bait work best. Hot dogs are also a good option if you forget the bait.

I advise downsizing your hooks to a 5/O or 6/O and using smaller bait so it fits in their mouth better.

Flathead Catfish

Flatheads grow much larger than channel cats but aren’t as abundant. Most anglers catch more flatheads in the clearer sections of the lake. However, I’ve found them in murky water too. 

You’ll find them in very similar locations to channel cats. When fishing for flatheads, I target deep holes, ledges, and brush piles. 

I’ve had the most success with live bluegill as bait. While I get the occasional flathead on cut bait or worms, fishing a live bluegill is hard to beat.

Using larger hooks and baits will often deter the smaller channel catfish from pestering your baits, but you’ll likely just have to deal with that no matter what.

White Bass Fishing

One of my favorite fish to catch anywhere are white bass, or sand bass, as I call them. They’re hard-fighting fish and patrol the water in schools, so the action tends to be fast once you find them.

They spawn in early spring in many of the same places as walleye. They travel up the creeks and rivers to spawn on shallow rocky banks.

I love casting crankbaits, jigs, and swimbaits into shallow brush piles and along rocky shorelines to catch sand bass during this time of year.

As summer heats the water, they often school up in deeper areas such as river and creek channels and out in the main lake.

Trolling with crankbaits and spoons is one of my favorite ways to catch them during the summer; it makes for a fun day with the family.

During the fall, as with all other predator fish, white bass follow the bait fish back to the shallows. And in the winter, they are found primarily in the deeper open water.

I use chrome or white lures since shad are their primary food source. They don’t have big mouths, so downsizing your lures is also a good idea.

More: Check out my top tips to catch more white bass, including my favorite lures and tactics I use for different times of the year.

And then read through our listing of Missouri’s best white bass fishing spots and top white bass fishing locations in Arkansas to further boost your odds of catching these fun fish on either side of the state line.

Sunfish Fishing

Sunfish are the fish that got me hooked on fishing as a kid. They’re abundant all over the lake and are easy to catch from the shore. 

Bluegill, goggle-eye, and redear sunfish are all present and willing to bite a hook with a worm. 

Catching sunfish is the best way to introduce someone to fishing because the action is often non-stop and doesn’t require fancy gear or equipment. Just find some fish near a dock, vegetation, or rock pile and drop your hook with a bobber down to start catching fish.

More: Catch more bluegill and other sunfish using these simple tips and tricks.

Paddlefish Snagging

A big draw to the lake from March 15th through April 30th are the paddlefish that call Table Rock Lake home. 

They are heavily regulated fish, so thoroughly read the fishing laws before you head out to snag one.

Yes, you have to snag these fish using a surf rod and large treble hooks because they eat zooplankton.

The Upper James River Arm around the Highway 76 bridge is the best place to test your luck at snagging one of the ancient fish while they’re moving upriver to spawn.

Trout Fishing Below Table Rock

The White River flows out of Table Rock Dam. It is one of Missouri’s best trout fishing locations before it turns into Lake Taneycomo, the Missouri Department of Conservation stocks this stretch of river with rainbow trout and brown trout.

Whether you’re a fly caster or spinning rod angler, the White River allows you to catch trout throughout.

I love using a Super Duper Spoon, PowerBait, and trout worms, while my dad has dabbled in fly fishing. Be sure to read the regulations before fishing, as the laws vary on what trout baits are legal in specific locations.

When trout fishing, I always fish current breaks and deep holes. A current break can be anything from a rock, a tree, or a river bend.

Trout use these barriers to conserve energy while waiting for their next meal to float by, so they’re great places to cast your lure.

Planning Your Trip

Now that you know how to fish Table Rock Lake, it’s time to start planning your trip. Below you’ll find a few boat ramps, public access areas, and places to stay all around the lake.

Boat Ramps & Public Access Areas

Since the lake is so large, many boat ramps and public access areas exist. 

Table Rock State Park is the best place to use the boat ramp and access the water on the eastern side of the lake. 

The Big Indian Public Use Area is located mid-lake on the southern side; there’s also a quality boat ramp here.

You can find some other boat launch facilities as well as other amenities on this Corps of Engineers map and guide.

You also can find rental boats or fully equipped fishing guides at Table Rock.

Places to Stay

There’s no shortage of places to stay in Branson, only about 10 miles from the east side of the reservoir.

There are also campgrounds and lakefront resorts scattered all around Table Rock Lake. Campgrounds include the state park linked above and a raft of federal campgrounds.