Finding big bass at Lake of the Ozarks

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Kansas City Star
(LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo., AP) – Ed Franko, the fishing guide better known as Big Ed, paused to reflect on the fringe benefits of his job before he started another workday on Lake of the Ozarks.
“I’ve had a couple of very gratifying trips lately,” said Franko, 60. “I had an 85-year-old gentleman who hadn’t fished for a long time who caught a 4-pound bass with me. He was just thrilled.
“And then I had another older man whose health is declining rapidly. He caught a dandy, too, and you could just see him light up.
“Those are the days you remember.”
Actually, though, Franko has enjoyed plenty of memorable days at Lake of the Ozarks lately.
Even in the heat, he and his customers have been catching keeper bass. Included was one largemouth in the 6-pound range, and several others weighing 5 pounds or bigger.
That’s what Franko was trying to duplicate as he pulled up to a point on the Osage Branch of the lake not far from Bagnell Dam.
“The bass will relate to points like this right now,” he said. “After they’re done spawning, they’ll move out of the coves and relate to these points that have a sharp drop-off.
“That’s why this point is so good. This is a good spawning cove. And the point has a sharp drop-off, so they’re close to deep water.”
The best way to catch those fish? Franko slides a Zoom Mag Finesse Worm on a heavy jig head across the rocky bottom until he feels the tick he is waiting for.
“The bass are relating to the bottom in about 20 to 25 feet of water,” he said. “They usually don’t hit real hard. Sometimes, it’s just a little tick. That’s when you have to lay the hook to them.”
Minutes later, that’s what one of Franko’s customers, Jim Divincen, was doing. As he felt a faint strike, he set the hook and watched his fishing rod bend sharply. The bass shot to the surface and wallowed before Franko scooped it up with a long landing net.
“That’s what we’re after,” Franko said. “That’s a good Lake of the Ozarks bass. That one will probably go 3 pounds.”
There were more to caught. In fact, later in the morning the fishing actually improved. By the time the bright sun was pushing the temperature into the 90s, the bass went on the feed. Our group caught and released six bass, four of them keepers (15 inches or longer), before the flurry ended.
“You’ll find that,” Franko said. “You’ll be fishing along without so much as a hit, then you’ll really get into them. And a lot of times, they won’t start hitting until 10:30 (a.m.) or so, about the time some fishermen are coming in.”
Franko has a routine that he follows. He uses the electronics on his boat to make sure baitfish are schooled off the point he wants to fish. Then he either drags a finesse bait on a heavy jig head or casts a heavy jig with a plastic trailer across the rocky bottom.
Later in the summer, the bass often move main-lake brush piles and Franko will target them with either a 10-inch plastic worm or a jig.
Whatever the case, Franko and his customers often catch keeper bass.
“This lake has plenty of keepers, and you can catch them in the heat of summer,” he said. “It’s just that a lot of people aren’t fishing deep enough.
“A lot of fishermen are still beating the banks, and that’s not where the quality fish are.
“They’re out here in 20 to 25 feet of water.”
For Franko, guiding others to big bass is more than just a job, it’s a passion. Check out a line on his website: “I was born during the spawn — April 21, 1953. So it only figures that I’ve lived, eaten and slept fishin’ since I could first walk around my backyard pond.”
Franko moved to Lake of the Ozarks in 1999 and he’s been fishing it hard ever since. He has caught several bass exceeding 7 pounds through the years, and like any true fisherman, he’ll tell you stories about bass even bigger that he got away.
Today, he and his wife, Deb, own a bed and breakfast on the water called Bass and Baskets. The house features Longaberger baskets that Deb collects, and rooms are decorated in themes. One features bass fishing, of course, with old signs and pictures adorning the walls.
An old fishing boat, complete with antique tackle inside, hangs from the ceiling in a commons area, again adding to the theme of the bed and breakfast.
Deb runs the establishment, which opened in 2001, while Ed takes people fishing. It’s a great match, both say.
“This is a great place to live,” Ed said. “There’s a lot for people to do, and it’s one of the best bass lakes you’ll find.
“Even when it gets hot like this, you can still catch quality fish.”