At 55,600 surface acres, Truman Lake is the largest reservoir in Missouri. It is an amazing fishery with standing timber scattered throughout. Surrounded by more than 100,000 acres of public land, Truman is a very special destination for sportsmen and outdoors enthusiasts.
When most southern reservoirs were impounded, the trees were logged. Not Truman. Here the trees were left standing. This is great for crappie anglers and boat repair shops specializing in lower unit replacements. With a rocky shoreline and many bluff walls, the trees are only part of the structure that makes Truman a special crappie fishing lake. Unlike many other Ozark reservoirs that have very clear water, Truman is normally stained and often muddy. It’s not a deep lake, with the average depth around 20 feet.
Truman Lake is an excellent destination for a number of fish species, including largemouth bass and catfish, but it’s the crappie fishing that really sets this place apart. These hard-fighting panfish are fun to catch and great to eat. Using minnows under slip-bobbers is a common tactic for catching crappies, but jigs often work just as well.
This time of year, you’ll catch fish shallow, in less than 10-feet of water, over solid bottoms around brush or near drop-offs on ledges. The crappie bite might be strong, but you have to know where they’re at. If you don’t have a boat, there are many options for fishing from shore, but you can also rent a boat from one of the marinas on the lake.
It’s always great to learn from real professionals when you can, and a couple of years ago I had an opportunity to jump in a boat with a couple of crappie fishing pros on Truman. My wife was out of town, so my two young daughters had no choice but to come along.
Kevin Jones and Jon Gillotte compete as a team on the Crappie Masters tournament trail. They compliment each other well. Kevin’s specialty is big, open water crappie fishing. Lake of the Ozarks is his home water. Jon is more of a Truman Lake kind of guy. He excels at fishing brush.
When it comes to fishing, I know a fair amount. But every time I get around professionals, I feel like a little kid again, because these guys know so much more than average anglers, like me. I was expecting some elaborate crappie tactics to be unveiled. I must admit, I was quite relieved when Jones handed me a long B’n’M “dipping” pole with nothing more to it than a sinker, hook and minnow.
“Fish this minnow down about 8 feet next to that tree on the shady side,” he said. “If you don’t get one, drop it by the tree next to it.”
I asked if it really matters to fish on the shady side of the tree.
“Oh yeah,” Gillotte said. “You’ll catch way more fish in the shady side of the tree than you will on the bright side.”
Just then his theory proved true. A nice 11-inch crappie slammed my minnow. I couldn’t believe how aggressive the bite was. I dropped the fish in the livewell and put on another minnow. A minute later, I was dropping another keeper in the box.
Now the girls were interested. Jones helped Bailee catch fish after fish, while I worked with Annabel. Gillotte maneuvered the boat through the standing timber. Over the course of a few hours, we compiled a real nice mess of fish.
“These timber filled flats are productive all spring,” Gillotte said. “The fish are aggressive on jigs. You can also use minnows.”
Another good tip I picked up during this trip is how well the Engel Live Bait Cooler with an aerator works for keeping minnows alive. You need to keep minnow water cold and oxygenated. This contraption does both. Adding a shot of U2 Pro Formula water conditioner to stabilize the minnow water will also help keep your minnows alive.
When it comes to cast and blast opportunities in Missouri, Truman is right at the top of the list. There are plenty of places in Missouri where you can go fishing and hunting in the same day, but few offer the quality you’ll find at Truman. All at once, crappie fishing catches fire, turkey season opens and morel mushrooms start popping up in clusters. You can experience all three of these rights of spring in the same day.
Just like crappie fishing, turkey hunting is a passion of mine. The turkey population around Truman is really good. And with so much public land, you can hunt almost every bird you hear gobble. During Turkey season, keep a shotgun in your crappie fishing boat. If you hear a gobbler go off, pull your boat up on the shore and go after him. It’s so cool to be able to combine hunting and fishing passions.
While you’re fishing, also keep in mind you can pick a bushel basket of morel mushrooms from the sprawling public lands surrounding the lake. Good areas to look for morels include south-facing slopes, around fallen logs and around the bases of elm trees, especially dead ones. South-facing slopes are prime spots early in the season because they warm up first.
Truman Lake is quite different from Lake of the Ozarks. There are no mega-resorts to stay at, but there are multiple options for lodging. Plus, you can camp or rent a cabin. Bucksaw Resort and Marina offers a lodge and nice cabins. They have all the amenities you need on site, like a boat ramp, bait, ice and even a restaurant.
Truman isn’t just a lake. It’s a nature experience. River otters, osprey and bald eagles call this place home. It’s wild and scenic. You can hunt, fish, hike, bird-watch, paddle and more. Plus, Truman Lake State Park offers campsites with modern amenities and many activities. This is a destination to take the whole family because there is something for everyone to enjoy.