BRANSON WEST, Mo. -- Rick LaPoint uses a whopper of a fish story to illustrate just how good the bass fishing can be at Table Rock Lake at this time of the year.
"One time, I was reeling in this 5-pound bass and I looked down and saw this other big bass following it, trying to take the lure away," said LaPoint, who has guided on the Ozarks lake for 14 years. "Well, I got that first fish in, unhooked the Fluke (a plastic jerkbait) and just dropped it into the water.
"That 3-pounder immediately hit it and I brought that one in, too.
"I know that sounds wild, but that's a true story."
LaPoint laughed and added, "Another fisherman was watching me and he yelled over, 'I'm struggling to catch them, and you're getting them two at a time."
That's a rare occurrence, to be sure. But in the spring, LaPoint knows that anything is possible at Table Rock.
The 43,100-acre reservoir in southwest Missouri has gained national fame for its bass fishing. It offers the sport's rare triple crown: all three species of black bass. Largemouths, smallmouths, Kentuckies -- all are abundant in the rocky, clear-water reservoir.
And in the spring, those bass put on quite a show for fishermen.
As the water temperature warms in April and May, the fish head for the shallows to feed and spawn. That's when fishermen get an idea of just how strong the lake's bass population is.
"You can basically catch all three types of black bass in the same place right now," said LaPoint, 53, who runs Rick's Chauffeured Guide Service. "You can use a Fluke along these rocky banks back in cuts and coves and you will never know what you're going to catch."
LaPoint looks for ledges in creek arms when he is targeting largemouths and pea-gravel banks for smallmouths. The Kentuckies? "You'll catch them anywhere," LaPoint said with a laugh.
He was looking for all three when he launched his boat at the Holiday Hide-Away Resort on a recent overcast day. And he knew he didn't have to go far.
In fact, he never started his big motor once he hit the water. He just dropped his trolling motor and began fishing.
"This Aunts Creek arm has a lot of bass," he said. "I usually don't have to burn much gas when I start out here in the spring."
LaPoint maneuvered his boat back into a rocky cut and immediately cast a white Fluke into the rocky shallows. He jerked it several times so that it darted erratically through the clear water. When he paused and let it flutter down, it disappeared -- into the mouth of a bass.
LaPoint set the hook and watched as the largemouth rocketed out of the water. It landed with a loud splash, then strained to get free. But in a matter of seconds, he had a 3-pound fish in the boat.
That was No. 1 in a long list of bass that he would catch that day.
Around the corner, La Point caught a nice-sized smallmouth bass off a gravel bank. About 30 yards down the bank, he was greeted with the jolting strike of a Kentucky bass.
And so it went, LaPoint and I spent the next several hours catching bass off the spawning banks. By the time we were done, we had caught and released 44 bass in a variety of sizes. There were no trophy fish; the biggest was probably 3 1/2 pounds. But there were plenty of 14- to 16-inch bass, many of them the result of recent years when heavy rains produced flooding on the reservoir.
"We had huge year-classes of bass from those years when the water was high and there was a lot of cover in the lake," LaPoint said. "We have a lot of keepers right now, but what's really impressive is the number of 12-inch fish we have. They're everywhere.
"The future looks great."
The present doesn't look too bad, either. But that's nothing new at Table Rock. With its rocky and gravel banks, clear water and abundant shad population, Table Rock has always been known as one of the state's best bass lakes.
LaPoint can attest to that. He regularly guides his customers to good catches of bass at this time of the year. But he knows the good fishing isn't restricted to spring.
His biggest bass ever, 9 1/2 pounds, came in late July five years ago.
"I was using a jigging spoon in 45 feet of water along a channel edge," he said. "There was a load of fish in there. I had caught several 3-pounders, then this big one hit."
In fact, LaPoint said, catching bass shallow is the exception to the rule at Table Rock. They move in to spawn and feed in the spring, but then many of the fish drop deeper.
Once they are done spawning, they will move to secondary points, as they are starting to do now. As it gets hotter, they will move to deep structure.
"We'll catch bass here year-round," LaPoint said. "It's just a great bass lake."
TABLE ROCK LAKE
--WHERE: Kimberling City, Mo., which is one of the major hubs for the lake's bass fishing, is 215 miles southeast of Kansas City.
--BASS FISHING: Table Rock is known as one of the best bass lakes in the nation. It has outstanding populations of all three types of black bass -- largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky.
--SPRING TIME: March, April and May are prime time for bass fishing. The bass move shallow to spawn and feed, and the fishing can be impressive. The bass are in transition now. Some are still spawning, but others have moved out to 12 to 20 feet of water just off spawning banks, according to guide Rick LaPoint.
--MORE INFORMATION: Call LaPoint at 800-869-2210 or go to his website, www.strikebass.com.