Fishing on Bull Shoals Lake

By Steven Thompson

Bull Shoals Lake, a 45,000 acre reservoir in the Ozark Mountains, is an interesting place to go fishing. Anglers who visit this lake face unique challenges. Bull Shoals is a highland reservoir with very clear water, which makes it a challenging lake to fish.

The fish on Bull Shoals follow seasonal patterns; that is, they follow the same basic routine every year. In February and March, during the late winter, the fish will be moving up from the main lake into the creeks. They will often be found near deep water. As spring approaches, the fish move into the backs of the creeks to spawn. After the spawn, fish migrate back down the creeks and back out to the main lake, where they stay through the summer, fall, and winter.

In February and March, the water is cold, and the baitfish are dying. They wobble around and can't swim very well. As a result, they look like an easy meal. Bass are not very active in cold water and do not want to chase things. A suspending jerkbait perfectly imitates the dying baitfish. The best color combinations to use are red/gold/silver and blue/silver/white, because these colors closely match the color of the baitfish.

During April and May, heavy rains cause Bull Shoals to rise above pool stage. The rising water floods many bushes that are normally on dry land. The fish will move up into the flooded brush as the water rises. Even though the water is very clear, the fish will feel secure on the bushes in shallow water. A wide variety of lures will catch fish that are holding on flooded brush. Jigs, plastic worms, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are a few of these. The key to catching fish near flooded brush is to get the bait into the fish's strike zone. Bass are territorial and will attack anything that comes near their area.

In the summer, Bull Shoals is a very tough lake to fish. The hot weather causes the fish to move into very deep water. Early morning and at night are the best times to fish because the sun is not shining on the water and the temperature is cooler. Lures must be worked slowly, not because the fish are inactive but because they are very deep. A slow retrieve is the only way to get the bait down to the fish. Also, anglers should always be careful to not let their boats drift over the depth where the fish are holding. (For example, if the fish are thirty feet deep, an angler should keep his or her boat over at least fifty feet.) This tactic ensures that the lure will reach the depth of the fish.

During the fall months of October and November, the fish in Bull Shoals are very active. With winter approaching, the fish must eat a lot of food. They will generally be found in the mouths of the creeks, where the water is deeper. Topwater lures, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits are the best lures to use, because the fish are primarily feeding on baitfish.

Weather is an important factor to consider when fishing Bull Shoals. Clouds and wind are the two things that help the fishing the most. Clouds keep the sun off the water, which makes the fish feel secure. Wind dirties the water, and when this happens, bass are attracted to the area like a magnet. They will hold on the edge of the stained area and ambush passing prey.

On Bull Shoals, there is a certain group of lure colors that work best. Crawfish and shad imitators are good, because these two things are the primary forage. Bright colors like chartreuse are not effective, because the water is clear and the fish can tell that the lure is not real.

Bull Shoals is a fun lake to fish. It is challenging to catch fish there, since the water is very clear, but with patience, it can be done. Many big fish live in Bull Shoals, and anglers can catch the big fish.