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Author Topic:   Lake of the Ozarks
jimh posted 10-21-2001 11:57 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
We extended our boating season by driving 730 miles south and west to Missouri from Michigan in order to go boating on the Lake of the Ozarks.

Often cited as one of the "Ten-Best" trailer boat destinations in the country, Lake of the Ozarks was created in 1931 by the damming of the Osage River by the local electrical generating company. The impounded water also flooded parts of the Grand Glaze, Gravois, and Niangua Rivers, creating a huge lake that contains over 1,500 miles of shoreline and stretches over 90 miles upstream to the next dam on the river.

The water of the lake is not quite the pristine clear blue we enjoy in the Great Lakes, yet it is much less muddy than say Kentucky Lake. The passage of a storm and very heavy rain immediately before our arrival turned the lake a bit more brown than it usually would be.

We found Lake of the Ozarks to be a nice place to go boating--in mid-October. Based on comments from the locals I would never go there in mid-summer. From May to September the lake appears to be hopelessly crowded, over run with high-speed "testosterone" boats, and churned by big wakes from plowing 40-footers cruising the lake.

One fellow told me, "They kill two or three people every year out there [in boating accidents]."

The lake--minus the summer hordes--was near the peak of fall foliage color. The mid-October weather was somewhat below temperature norms but still very boat-able. We put about 180 miles of water under the keel, cruising up and down the many arms and branches of the lake.

The lake is only about a half-mile wide at most points, and the shoreline is typically steep bluffs which tend to reflect the waves. This contributes to the rough water conditions experienced in the summer. The lake snakes back and forth, so you experience upwind and downwind legs no matter which direction you travel or where the wind blows from. The longest fetch might be 5 miles, so wind driven waves build only to very modest height.

We were debating which of our Whalers to haul down there, the 15 or the 20. We took the larger boat and we were very glad we did, for both the greater comfort and the better weather protection.

The lake is quite deep, often 80 feet or more, and carries deep water right to shore. The lake level varies, controlled by the outflow from the Bagnell Dam. Because of these factors, all docks and piers are floating. Practically every boat is stored on a floating lift, out of the water.

There does not seem to be any unusual navigational hazards in the lake. A few detached shoals were marked with large sign boards declaring "DANGER". In the shallower water of the upstream branches we saw a few snags or deadheads. There were no official navigation aids or systems of lateral buoyage that we encountered anywhere on the lake. There were, however, thousands of white "NO WAKE" buoys placed near shore to discourage boaters from making wakes when passing. Fishermen have also filled parts of the lake with their own system of floats and markers, the most popular buoy being made from an empty gallon plastic jug of off-brand 2-cycle outboard oil. These dot the water of the lake and appear to be placed by anyone and at anywhere. At night they would be hard to spot.

In all our cruising we sighted only two other Whalers. One, a post-Classic hull was tightly covered and on a floating hoist near the Bagnell Dam area, in the busiest and most congested portion of the lake.

The other Whaler, a 1988 Montauk-17, we discovered about 45 miles up the Osage arm of the lake. As we slowed to admire the boat and the beautiful and unique home associated with it, owner Bob Stewart stopped his chores and came down to his dock to admire our Whaler! We ended up coming ashore and spending a delightful hour yacking with Bob and his wife about boats and getting a tour of their very nautical home, built as a replica of a Chesapeake Lighthouse and decorated with antique and classic boat hardware. Bob was exactly the kind of guy you might expect would own the only Whaler on Lake of the Ozarks: an experienced boater and owner of a construction firm, he appreciates quality and aesthetics in his boat and his home.

Bob told me, "When I saw you go by with a Whaler with twin engines, I knew you weren't from this lake."

Judging from the boats we saw at the many dealerships surrounding the lake, the typical Lake of the Ozarks boat is:

--a 36-foot "cigarette" boat with twin 500-HP engines and no mufflers;

--a 18-foot bass boat with a 200-HP outboard;

--a 23-foot bowrider or deckboat;

--a 40-foot (or larger) SeaRay, Carver, or other 'cruiser'.

Out on the water, we actually saw very few other boats. The most common boats we encountered were welded aluminum working boats, hauling floating dock sections or boat lifts around the lake.

The launching ramps are all of the "Kentucky" style, that is, they are just ramps that go into the water and do not have a dock alongside them. Everyone launches and recovers by using the drive-off/drive-on style of getting the boat off/on the trailer.

Arriving on a Sunday, we found practically every marina facility closed and their gates locked. Launching the boat began to look like a problem. Because of the high bluffs that surround the lake there are some astonishingly steep roads that descend from these hilltops to reach the lake shore. We did manage to find an open marina and get down one of these roads to launch. Once at the bottom we had to pay a rather pricey $10 ramp-fee. The fee covered only the launch, and the marina operator expected another sawbuck when we recovered the boat to the trailer. Faced with this robbery and the 30-percent grade of the road up the hill, we decided to go elsewhere to reload the boat!

The State of Missouri has a wonderful facility for boaters on the Grand Glaze Arm of the lake. They have two huge ramp facilities ($3 fee), as well as a large marina with dockage available for transient boats. Overnight docking in a covered 30-foot slip was a ridiculously low $12/night (flat rate), although the marina operator cautioned that the price would be going up a dollar or two next season. (Compare to $54/night at Bay Harbor in Charlevoix!).

Gasoline on the highway down there was selling around $1.10/gallon, but we saw one marina operator who priced it at $2.86/gallon on the lake. The State Park gas dock was selling it at $1.88/gallon, a much more reasonable price.

A unique feature on the lake: self-service marina gasoline pumps. You tie up, swipe your credit card, gas up, and go!

We stayed near Marine Mile-27, a location which allowed us to avoid the over built and crowded section of the lake nearer the Dam, while at the same time putting us close to the Osage, Niangua, and Grand Glaze arms.

We did not do any fishing, but our LOWRANCE X-65 marked fish almost everywhere we went. Interviews with some fishermen revealed that the fishing was better "last weeK" or "yesterday", a trend which we have seen elsewhere.

The communities of Lake Ozark and Osage Beach have developed into artless strips of vacation-oriented establishments, offering tee-shirts, tanning oil, miniature golf, go-kart rides, bungy-jumps, and other enticements to lure money from visiting teenagers. Traffic along Rte-54, the central highway must be clogged to a standstill in summer.

Signage on the roads can be divided into three categories, listed here in the order of their frequency of occurance:

--hulls of 30-40 foot performance boats are poised 60-feet (or more) in the air atop giant steel poles from the front yards of marine dealerships;

--tall, narrow billboards featuring young women clad in skimpy bathing suits promote the benefits of drinking BUDWEISER BEER;

--a huge, golden statue of Jesus denotes a place of worship.

With the weather cold and rainy on Monday, the area had the eerie feeling of being deserted. There were no people anywhere, not in the grocery store, not in the shopping mall, not on the lake. Eventually, as the weather warmed and the weekend approached again, more people returned, but for several days we seemed to literally have the place to ourselves.

After a couple of disappointing meals, we eventually located some restaurants where the locals (not the tourists) prefer to dine. There are eateries available for any price range, tending toward a concentration on the high-price end of the spectrum.

Lake of the Ozarks is about three hours from either St. Louis or Kansas City, and just an hour from Jefferson City (the capital), and thus it has a huge population of vacation or second-home residents.

Some very large condominium complexes have been built, ten storey edifices of balconies that over look the lake and stand out from the natural shoreline in a very unpleasant way. Prime bluffs and hilltops are often crowned with homes of enormous size, owned we presume by moguls of the country-western music business or some other equally profitable enterprise.

In total, we enjoyed our visit to Lake of the Ozarks. Our timing was fortunate, as by visiting the lake in October we were able to avoid all the drawbacks associated with it, yet still enjoy the boating opportunities it offers.

One footnote: unlike our experience in Kentucky, where we found ourselves in a "dry" county and facing a 40-mile run to get a six-pack of beer, Lake of the Ozarks permits the sale of alcoholic beverages in the surrounding communities. However, if your taste in beer runs to anything other than BUDWEISER, I would suggest bringing your own stock along with you. Anheuser-Bush from nearby St. Louis has virtually an exclusive market in Lake of the Ozarks territory!

jimh posted 10-21-2001 01:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Another benefit to visiting Lake of the Ozarks in the off season: much lower prices for accommodations. We were able to rent a very nice waterfront 2-bedroom condo unit for about 50% of the in-season rate.

Since the owner had hauled his boat for the season, we also got to use his covered boat well, too, at no extra charge.

Dick posted 10-21-2001 04:22 PM ET (US)     Profile for Dick  Send Email to Dick     
In the mid to late 60s, when I was a sporting goods manager for Montgomery Wards, we held our annual meetings at Tantara Resort on Lake of the Ozarks. Absolutly beautiful area and great bass fishing. Of course this was before 200 HP bass boats and all the other obnoxious stuff you run into now. Would still love to go back with the Montauk some day.
jimh posted 10-21-2001 07:17 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
What a coincidence! The condo we rented was just a few hundred feet south and across the cove from Tan-Tara Resort!
David Pendleton posted 10-26-2001 08:20 PM ET (US)     Profile for David Pendleton  Send Email to David Pendleton     
Thanks for the great 'article'!

When I was a kid in the early 70's, we lived in Sedalia and vacationed on the lake. We used to rent these rather rustic cabins and I can remember going the entire two weeks without seeing anyone but my family.

I don't remember exactly where they were. I should ask my Mom. There's probably a strip mall there now...

I've considered taking my 23' Conquest down from MN, but never got around to it.

Thanks again!

David Pendleton

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