Lake of the Ozarks offers outdoor opportunities for all

Lake of the Ozarks is one of the best all-around 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 another destination offering more diversity for outdoor enjoyment. Add in the fact local amenities like restaurants, lodging and entertainment options abound, and you really have something for everyone.

Watersports are a huge draw to the Lake. Pleasure boating and all forms of towable sport – skiing, tubing, wake boarding, surfing and more – bring enthusiasts to the immense expanse of water all summer long. There are actually small yachts suited for the Great Lakes cruising around and there are some large speed boats. There’s no shortage of wave runners either. This is great for the folks who like boat life. Bring your toys and have a great time. But the traffic tends to scare off some fishermen. Don’t let it. There is plenty of room for both, as long as you’re smart about where you fish.

Ed Franko owns and operates Big Ed’s Guide Service on Lake of the Ozarks. He’s one of the most reputable guides on the lake and last week I was able to get in the boat with him for a day of bass fishing. This was on 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 antique fishing equipment. Big Ed keeps his boat on a dock just behind the B&B. This is where our trip began.

We were out early. Our first casts were at dawn, before the sun was up. I was surprised with our first stop, which was in water 100 feet deep. We were fishing a top water bite of bass blowing up shad on the surface. Big Ed had me using a Zara Spook and he was throwing a Whopper Plopper. When a fish would swirl on the surface, we’d cast right at it. I’d say we landed close to 30 bass, a mix of largemouth, spots and whites. The bite lasted about two hours.

The first wakeboarders, the real hardcore crews looking for the smoothest water, started showing about 8 a.m. With music blaring, they began producing the waves many fishermen fear. And rightfully so, because it can get really rough out there. So don’t fish where it’s not safe. Move into a protected cove, as Big Ed did around 9 a.m.

We began fishing jigs on points in about 15 to 20 feet of water. Big Ed would move around until he found fish on his sonar, then we’d set up to work the point. On one particular spot, we caught two bass about 3 pounds each and one pushing 5. I was really impressed by the luck, but Big Ed didn’t think it was so special. He said the lake consistently produces bursts like that. When you find them and put what they want down there in front of them, you can catch some big ones fast. We were done fishing at 11 a.m.

Such an early morning had me hungry. I met up with Nathan “Shags” McLeod at Tucker Shuckers on the Strip. This part of the Lake has the souvenir shops and tourist attractions. It’s hopping in the summer and has recently seen an uptick in revitalization. The seared Ahi sandwich paired 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. This is one of my favorite resort destinations for a number of reasons. It’s newer and the rooms are great. Jasen Jones, the Director of Hotel and Marketing, said he personally tried out a dozen mattresses before selecting the models in the rooms. He nailed it, because the beds are super comfortable. There is great outdoor pool area with a bar and beach volleyball. Lawn games, like cornhole, keep guest entertained. In the winter, the volleyball courts become Lake area’s only ice skating rink. There is also first class spa onsite.

The restaurant at Old Kinderhook is called The Trophy Room, and I found the food to be exceptional. I had a prime rib dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. The truffle fries and calamari appetizers were great. For a restaurant so nice, the drink prices were fair. 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 6,726-yard, par-71. The fairways a pristine and the large bent-grass greens put like you’re on glass. This course is challenging for the serious golfer. I played on a Sunday morning and was happy with the round. The course was in great shape. There are many other golf courses throughout the Lake of the Ozarks Region, and the Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail offers a pass that includes rounds at 12 different courses. If you’re going to spend substantial time in the area, it’s a good investment.

Camping 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 padding on a beautiful Ozarks river. Hunting opportunities on public lands exist all over the area. There really is something for everyone at Lake of the Ozarks.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler writes an outdoors column for The Republic. Send comments to [email protected] For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed.