OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — When Jim Dill pulled his boat along a dock at Lake of the Ozarks, he bypassed the easy places to cast to.
He was looking for a spot that was hard to reach — a bass refuge. And he found it behind a cable that extended from land.
“This lake gets hit so hard that it pushes the bass back into some of these quiet, out-of-the-way spots,” Dill said as he launched a cast that sailed over the cable.
“A lot of fishermen don’t want to go to the trouble of fishing these tight spots behind these cables. But a lot of times, that’s where the bass will be.
“Once you hook them, then you worry about how you’re going to get them in.”
Moments later, that’s the predicament that Dill was dealing with. After he cast a buzzbait that he makes to a shaded stretch of water under a walkway, the surface suddenly boiled.
Dill set the hook and watched as a keeper bass came out of the water, shaking its head in an attempt to throw the lure. Dill kept the pressure on and moved his boat to the edge of the cable, then lifted his catch over the barrier and swung it into the boat.
“Especially in late April and May when these fish move in to spawn, these out-of-the-way places can hold some big fish,” he said as he admired the 3-pound bass, then eased it back into the water.
“Sometimes you have to work to get back to these spots, but it’s worth it.”
On a recent weekday, Dill spent half a day invading those bass refuges, squeezing his boat between boat docks, casting over cables and hitting other spots that seldom see lures.
By the end of the day, he and two fishing partners — Jim Divincen and I — had caught and released six keeper bass and a number of smaller ones.
For Dill, it was yet another reminder of how great it can be to live and run a lure company at Lake of the Ozarks.
Dill, 45, has fished the big lake for most of his life. He grew up in St. Louis, but he and his parents would camp and fish at the lake almost every weekend in the spring and summer.
“I still remember going out in dad’s old wooden boat with a 40-horse motor on it,” he said. “My dad, my two older brothers and I would always be out fishing, and it seems like we were always catching fish.”
Fueled by those early experiences, Dill went on to become an avid bass fisherman. He became involved in tournaments and found success, primarily with baits made in Missouri by a company known as Crock-O-Gator.
When the owner of that company put it up for sale last year, Dill jumped at the chance to buy it.
Today, he is busy running that “mom-and-pop” business when he isn’t serving as a firefighter for the town of Gravois Mills. He, his wife Denise and friends do everything from putting the lures together to packaging them and shipping them.
They sell everything from finesse bass jigs to buzzbaits and spinnerbaits to tube baits. Dill takes pride in the fact that he hand-trims every Zapper jig and hand-tunes every buzzbait.
“We spend 30 to 40 hours a week working on our lures,” he said. “We’re still a small operation and that’s the way we want it.
“We don’t mass-produce our product. But we fill a niche.”
Dill has caught bass as big as 7 pounds, 2 ounces on his Zapper bass jig and numerous fish from 5 to 6 pounds. But it’s hearing from others who have found success with his lures that brings him the most satisfaction.
“I have some friends who were just getting into tournament fishing, and they came and asked me what they should use,” he said. “I gave them some of my baits and told them what kind of banks they should hit.
“Well, they went out and caught enough bass to cash a check and they were excited.”
In the spring, Dill follows the bass all the way from deep water to the shallows. He often keys on pea-gravel banks when the fish are getting close to spawning, as they are now.
The wild card, of course, is the weather. The fishing can change day by day, Dill said. But Dill knows he always has one thing in his favor.
“Lake of the Ozarks is a great bass lake,” he said. “Ever since I started fishing it, it has had lots of keeper fish.
“It’s just consistent.”
(c) 2011, The Kansas City Star.
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