Bull Shoals Lake is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoir built in the mid 1940’s. It was created by damming the White River for flood control and hydroelectric generation. The dam is located about a half mile outside of the city of Bull Shoals, Arkansas. Just below the dam is Bull Shoals State Park, which offers several RV hook-ups and camping sites. Free dam tours are available to the general public.
The normal surface area of Bull Shoals Lake is 45,400 acres with some 730 miles of shoreline. Normal pool elevation is 654 feet above mean sea level. Maximum water depth for this reservoir is 200 feet. In a year’s time the pool elevation typically rises and falls about 30 to 50 feet depending on rainfall and hydrogenation demands. Water quality is good with underwater visibility of 10 feet or clearer being normal. PLEASE NOTE: When fishing these Arkansas Ozarks clear water fisheries, you will need to use a line that is a light green in color and no larger than 6 to 8 pound test! The clear waters require the use of the right line color and size to avoid spooking the fish.
Thermocline forms in May and erodes by November and is usually 22 to 28 feet deep. Water pH in Bull Shoals Lake typically ranges from 7 to 7.5. Surface temperature rarely exceeds 85° F or falls below 40° F. Surface temperature reaches 60° F by mid April and 70° F by early May. Fall turnover usually occurs in mid to late November. There is no true spring turnover in the south.
Bull Shoals Lake is dendritic. It’s long, narrow shoreline is a maze of many creek arms, bays, and branches. Viewed from the air it looks like a long Chinese dragon. It is easy to get lost if you don’t pay attention to the point markers erected by the Corps of Engineers! The point markers are large black and white signs with large numbers painted on them. By keeping in reasonable distance of these signs it is easy to navigate without getting lost. Be sure to pick up a lake map from the State Park, Corps office, tackle shops, or your lodging facility before venturing out on the lake. The maps are free and are printed by the Corps.
The shoreline of Bull Shoals Lake is typically limestone shelfrock, rubble, ledges, gravel points, clay banks, and silty areas at the upper ends of the creek arms. There is very little sandy shoreline, and elevation varies from bluff to gentle slope.
Types of fish cover found on Bull Shoals Lake are a good combination of natural and man-made. Natural cover structure is deep water, rock formations, points, creek channel breaks and swings, submerged islands, occasional old timber, shoreline vegetation often flooded in the spring (greenbriar, button bush, deciduous holly, persimmon, water willow, smartweed). There is no aquatic vegetation.
Man-made fish cover in Bull Shoals Lake results from the largest freshwater fish cover project ever completed. In 1989, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission initiated a large-scale fish habitat enhancement project with the help of many local interests including area businesses, sportsman’s clubs, and individuals. The project involved the sinking of some 60,000 trees to create fish attractors at 400 sites on Bull Shoals Lake. The trees were cut from the shoreline, following Corps of Engineers guidelines, then sunk in bundles consisting of 1 to 5 trees (depending on tree size) with concrete anchors. The trees averaged 4 to 5 inches in diameter and ranged in size from 2 to 18 inches in diameter. Hardwoods were preferred but many cedars were also used. The bundles were dropped at a depth of 20 to 25 feet deep (630 to 635 feet above mean sea level) along a contour line roughly parallel to the shoreline. A reflective blue and white sign was attached to a tree on the shoreline to mark the location of a bundle of trees about in the center of the attractor (see photo of sign). Anglers or SCUBA divers can use these signs and sonar to locate the line of bundles.
The development stage of the Bull Shoals Lake fish cover project was completed in 1992. Since that time, new cover has been added to the sites on a rotational basis to maintain their attractiveness to fish. The project has improved angler catch rates on Bull Shoals Lake. Underwater observations have shown that the cover effectively attracts fish, especially black bass, crappie, bluegill, walleye, and catfish.
Major sportfish in Bull Shoals Lake are largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass, walleye, blue, channel, and flathead catfish, rainbow trout, and white bass. Striped and hybrid striped bass and brown trout are occasionally caught. Major panfish species are black and white crappie and bluegill. Major rough fish are longnose gar, freshwater drum, redhorse suckers (4 species), carpsuckers, hogsuckers, and common garp. Major forage fish species are threadfin shad, longear sunfish, bluntnose minnow, and brook silversides.
Some fishing regulations are different in Missouri and Arkansas portions of Bull Shoals Lake. If you are fishing near the Arkansas/Missouri border, make sure you have a fishing license from both states, and that you are aware of each state’s regulations. Each state publishes its regulations in booklets available free of charge at tackle stores, marinas, resorts, etc. For Arkansas regulations look for the booklet shown here in local stores, resorts, tackle shops, and marinas. The booklets are available where ever fishing licenses are sold.
Arkansas daily limits are defined as the number of fish of one species allowed to be taken in 24 hours, from midnight to midnight. For black bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass) you may take 10 in aggregate but only 4 can be smallmouth. For walleye 6 fish, for catfish 10 fish, for trout 6 fish, for white bass 25 fish, for stripers and hybrids 3 fish, for black and white crappie 15 fish, for redhorse and hogsuckers 20 fish in aggregate. There are no limits on gar and drum.
Minimum length limits are 15 inches for largemouth, 12 inches for spotted bass, 12 inches for smallmouth, and 10 inches for white and black crappie. There are no closed fishing seasons in the Arkansas Ozarks. For complete Arkansas Game and Fish Regulations please be sure to get a copy of the regulations booklet when you purchase your license.
Arkansas Game and Fish and the Missouri Department of Conservation stock several hundred thousand fish a year into Bull Shoals Lake. These stockings consist primarily of rainbow trout, blue and channel catfish, walleye, and crappie. Each year’s stockings are reported in the Bull Shoals Annual Report.
All around Bull Shoals Lake is a large Corps Of Engineer buffer strip commonly referred to as “The Strip”. The strip is owned and managed by the Corps and is public property. You can beach your boat, get out and walk on it, fish from it, hunt on it, and otherwise enjoy the shoreline strip without fear of trespassing on private property. However, it is illegal to use any type of motorized vehicle on the strip. Strip boundaries are clearly marked by a series of white painted bands around trees, white metal stakes, and survey monuments. The boundary is more a function of elevation instead of a certain distance from the shoreline. Cutting trees, even small ones, is strictly prohibited, and there can be stiff fines for tree cutting.
Because of the Corps strip you will not see very many buildings near the water’s edge. In fact the shoreline appears mostly natural from the water. Marina operators lease their facilities from the Corps, but do not own any real estate around the lake. All docks, public and private, on Bull Shoals Lake are allowed only after passing a Corps inspection and receiving a permit of operation.