List of Bull Shoals Lake Fish Species (Fishable & Non)


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List of Bull Shoals Lake Fish Species 2021 [Updated]

Aerial shot of the Bull Shoals Dam
The Bull Shoals Dam is an enormous structure in Northern Arkansas, with a length of 688 m (2,257 feet)! KTrimble at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Large concrete dams have become instrumental in creating valuable reservoirs all over the world. The Bull Shoals Dam, which is an enormous structure in Northern Arkansas, was built in 1947 – 1951 to produce hydroelectric power and prevent flooding. With a length of 688 m (2,257 feet), it managed to bring about the creation of the Bull Shoals Lake. Today, this lake supports a complex ecosystem surrounded by a sprawling community of water-dependent industries and diverse terrestrial wildlife.

Bull Shoals Lake has a surface area of 183 km2 (45,150 acres). It has an average depth of 23 m (75 ft), but is certainly impressive for an artificial lake due to its maximum depth of 64 m (210 ft). Along with inflows from and outflows into the White River, this freshwater system has been designated as a state park that offers a wealth of activities all year round. Of course, one of the most popular ones is sport fishing.

Bull Shoals Lake has an active fisheries sector that heavily relies on spawning success to drive fish population growth. For this reason, the conservation and enhancement of fish habitats are a top priority. As stakeholders, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), and the US Army Corps of Engineers coordinate and emphasize the need for projects that can help sustain game fish communities. Listed below are some of the most economically important fish species in the lake system.


List of Fish Species in Bull Shoals Lake

1) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

A small largemouth bass
Largemouth bass favors clear water & temperatures from 60 – 80˚F (15 – 27˚C). Pmau, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America and northern Mexico

This formidable fish is a primary species in Bull Shoals Lake. Anglers from all over the country eagerly seek out the largemouth bass in spring and fall, when communities tend to remain close to water’s surface in banks, rocky points, and clear channels. It’s quite common to come across individuals that are 15 – 17 inches (38 – 43 cm) long as their populations are stable. Fishers are able to effectively catch this game fish with spinnerbaits, plastic worms, crankbaits, and jigs.

As indicated by its common name, the largemouth bass is easy to identify due to its enormous mouth. It is large enough to accommodate creatures that are twice the bass’ size. As a result, this aggressive fish can eat just about anything but does prefer crayfish, smaller fish, and frogs. It favors clear waters and temperatures that range from 60 – 80˚F (15 – 27˚C). Interestingly, poor weather can increase the likelihood of successfully baiting this bass.


2) Brown trout (Salmo trutta)

A group of brown trout swimming together
In the spring, when temperatures are more consistent, brown trout tend to gather in the hundreds. Jean / CC BY 2.0

Native to Europe, North Asia, and North Africa

Brown trout is favored by many predators and parasitic fish in Bull Shoals Lake. The chestnut lamprey attaches itself to this species’ skin, like a leech. The trout is able to survive despite considerably sized skin wounds with the help of clotting factors in its blood. Anglers in Bull Shoals Lake often come across brown trout that are scarred yet able to function as normal.

This tough species favors the calm and cool conditions in deep pools around the lake. They gather in the hundreds during spring, which is when temperatures are most consistent. Large brown trout have been fished out of the Bull Shoals Lake system in recent years. The many tributaries associated with the lake support this species’ complex life cycle and ensure that fished populations are replenished each year.


3) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Adult rainbow trout in a person's hand
Anglers at Bull Shoals Lake are allowed to catch 5 trout a day (if they’re less than 14 inches in length). California Department of Fish and Wildlife / CC BY 2.0

Native to the Pacific coastline of North America

This stunning species is a frequent favorite due to its fantastic colors and nutritional composition. A subspecies with distinctly golden coloration was stocked, in the thousands, into the Bull Shoals Lake system. This effort was done as a means to increase trout dispersal and support fishing demands. Anglers in the lake are allowed to fish up to 5 trout per day. If they catch individuals that are above 14 inches (35 cm) in length, they are allowed to keep just one.

Rainbow trout is an anadromous species that must venture into the ocean to spawn in the final years of its life. Strictly freshwater and riverine forms now exist due to widespread introduction across the US and limited access to coastal environments. These sustain their populations by spawning in bedrock rivers or spring creeks. Those that are introduced into Bull Shoals Lake are bred in a hatchery or are river-raised.


4) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

A smallmouth bass caught on a hook
Smallmouth bass is a highly sought-after species and is best fished using topwater baits. Apple2000, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

Notably smaller than its largemouth cousin but just as aggressive, the smallmouth bass is one of the most highly sought-after species in Bull Shoals Lake. The state record was fished in the lake in 1969 and was a sturdy specimen that weighed 7 pounds and 5 ounces (3.3 kg). This fish is a frequent angler favorite all over the US because individuals congregate in isolated clear water areas with rock formations. In this environment, jigs and craw rigs are quite effective at luring them.

After the spawning season in spring, smallmouth bass tend to move into the lake’s main water column, where they remain suspended. These are best fished using topwater baits and when the weather is cool and cloudy. Warm summer weather can present more challenges to anglers as this tough species will venture into deeper, cooler pools that can reach depths of 50 feet (15 m) or more. They are able to tolerate much cooler temperatures and even go into a semi-hibernation state.


5) Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

Spotted bass caught in Coosa River
Spotted bass is very similar to smallmouth bass and was once considered its subspecies. I, Mike Cline, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

Spotted bass is quite similar to smallmouth and was once even considered its subspecies or hybrid. Now formally its own species, it is distinguished by lines of dark-colored spots, which appear as rows just underneath the lateral line on each side of the fish’s body. Unlike the smallmouth bass, the spotted one does not have vertical stripes along its sides. However, juveniles of both species can look remarkably similar. Moreover, the two species tend to hybridize, making species identification even more difficult.

Like its close cousins, it prefers cool streams and rocky pools, where it can creep up on potential prey. Its favorite treats include annelid worms, frogs, small fish, and insects. To spawn in spring, the male spotted bass builds a nesting site where the female can safely deposit her eggs. In reservoirs like Bull Shoals Lake, these sites also tend to be used by smallmouth bass. These are ideal fishing areas for bass as they tend to be shallower.


6) Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Walleye swimming underwater
The eyes of the walleye fish are seemingly opaque and allow it to see clearly in low-light conditions. Bobby McCabe / No copyright

Native to North America

Also known as yellow pickerel, the walleye is a popular species under the perch family (Percidae). Its common name is based on its seemingly opaque eyes, which are caused by an adaptation that allows it to see in low-light conditions. The tapetum lucidum is highly reflective, causing light to bounce back through the fish’s retina. This gives it an advantage as it can feed at night and on smaller fish that are unable to see as adeptly.

The walleye occurs in large numbers in Bull Shoals Lake, where even 18 – 20 inch (46 – 50 cm) specimens can be caught legally. Jigs and live bait are quite effective at luring this species. Dawn and dusk are prime times for fishing walleye as they tend to be more active during darker hours of the day. In turbid parts of the lake, walleyes may feed all day. Persistent winds can also increase chances of fishing success, and the rough waters associated with these are fondly referred to by anglers as “walleye chop”.  


7) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Bluegill swimming in shallow water
It’s easiest to fish bluegill in the spring, as they go to the shallows to spawn. schizoform / CC BY 2.0

Native to North America

Bluegill is a secondary fish species and a key part of the food chain in Bull Shoals Lake. Artificial fishing habitats have considerably increased their numbers in recent years. This is great news for the lake’s larger carnivores as they are less likely to have trouble coming across many viable food sources. Also referred to as bream or copper nose, bluegill is another member of the perch family. It is easily identified by its iridescent blue to purple coloration and dark-shaded bands.

Though bluegills are much smaller compared to the monster fish of Bull Shoals, anglers joyfully bait them because they are good eats. Spring is the best time to fish for this species because they move to the shallows to spawn. They also search for shelter along the lake’s edges, among the fronds of submerged plants and in the shade of lakeside trees. The rest of the year, larger bluegills tend to remain in deeper waters.


8) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

A black crappie in a fishing net with a jig going through its mouth
Black crappies can be caught with a variety of lures, including jigs. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / No copyright

Native to North America

Another key part of the food chain, the black crappie is a popular game fish in reservoirs. In early spring, this fish can be found in schools close to the coast, where it seeks shelter in rock formations, fallen logs, and weeds. The rest of the year, black crappies tend to school in open water and up to 40 feet (12 meters) below the surface. Fishing for them can be quite challenging, but they do tend to follow bait fish over a considerable distance.

Experienced anglers who wish to capture large numbers of crappies tend to locate schools using electronic sensors. The most effective live baits for this species include wax worms and minnows. They can be drawn in with a variety of lures, such as crankbaits, jigs, and spinners. Once temperatures are agreeable in late spring to early summer, dawn is the best time to search for them as they prefer to feed at this time.   


9) Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii)

A cutthroat trout swimming in a lake
Cutthroat trout favors cool, clean lakes and often spawns in shallow rivers. Yellowstone National Park / No copyright

Native to North America

O. clarkii is fairly easy to identify and remember due to its distinctive red markings. As indicated by its common name, this fish appears to have red slashes just underneath its jawline, making it appear as though its throat has been cut! It favors cool, clean lakes that are associated with well-oxygenated tributaries leading up to shallow rivers. It spawns in these rivers and often hybridizes with rainbow trout.

This nutritionally rich game fish has several subspecies across the US. A handful of them are state fish of several US states, including Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Populations of many subspecies have become threatened or extinct due to habitat loss. Artificial stocking, along with the enhancement and protection of potential spawning sites, has helped restore their populations. 


10) White bass (Morone chrysops)

White bass with a hook in its mouth
White bass is a popular sporting fish that grows to an average length of 12 – 15 inches. BenitoJuarez98, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

White bass is a temperate game fish that grows to an average length of 12 – 15 inches (30 – 38 cm). Due to its pale coloration, its other common names are silver bass or sand bass. Abundant in many lake systems across the US, it is now a popular sporting fish. It has also been introduced in several water systems as a means to control pest fish. Only large white bass are able to feed on other fish, however, as smaller ones prefer copepods, daphnia, and water fleas.

In recent years, white bass populations in Bull Shoals Lake have considerably decreased in number due to less successful spawning events. Fluctuations of river flows and lake water levels have also made it difficult to observe patterns in their spawning behavior. Even smaller-sized white bass are not as common in the lake as they used to be.


11) Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

A longear sunfish in a person's hand
Longear sunfish is a small fish species; most will fit in a single hand! Clinton & Charles Robertson / CC BY 2.0

Native to eastern North America

An attractive species of the sunfish family, the longear sunfish has visually appealing blue-green bars along the sides of its body. They appear to glow under the light, making them have ornamental appeal. On average, this sunfish can fit in a single hand. Its maximum recorded length is just under 10 inches (25 cm).

The longear sunfish is a diurnal feeder and is skilled at finding prey in moving bodies of water. They are generally more common in rivers and streams than in lakes. They play a central role in the food chain as they consume insects, leeches, crustaceans, fish eggs, and juvenile fish. In turn, they are favored by many large game fish and waterfowl. On average, this species lives for just 4 – 6 years in the wild.


12) American paddlefish (Polydon spathula)

American paddlefish in an aquarium
American paddlefish is a prehistoric fish and can weigh up to 60 pounds at maturity! Хомелка, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

Bull Shoals Lake is also home to this prehistoric fish! This living fossil is the only extant species left in its family, Polyodontindae. It is also known as the spoonbill or spoon-billed cat due to its paddle-shaped snout. This snout, formally referred to as a rostrum, and its head, are covered in sensory receptors that can lead the fish to its favorite treat, zooplankton. They feed on swarms of these in rivers, channels, lakes, and even in drainage basins.

This species is annually introduced into the Ozark Lake systems, with individuals entering into the Bull Shoals-White River State Park. Naturally occurring populations have been considerably reduced from their range, so they are protected by state and federal laws.

At maturity, a paddlefish can reach a length of 5 feet (152 cm) and weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kg)! This fascinating fish can live for as long as 30 years, making it one of the most long-lived freshwater species in North America. It was once found in lake systems that extended into Canada, but has not been detected there for the last 90 years.


13) Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)

Warmouth fish in a person's hand
A warmouth fish looks like a smaller version of its larger rock bass cousins, with a pronounced jaw and large eyes. Clinton & Charles Robertson / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to eastern United States

This sunfish species looks like a small version of its larger rock bass cousins, which is why it is also referred to as the warmouth bass. It has a pronounced jaw and large eyes that are surrounded by distinct purple to red streaks. Another name for the warmouth is strawberry perch as its body is mottled brown, with reddish gill flaps.

Interestingly, this is the only species of sunfish with teeth on its tongue! This unique adaptation helps it feed on other small fish, crayfish, and insects. It is an ambush predator that prefers to hide and wait in the shade of aquatic macrophytes as it monitors its surroundings for prey. Unlike other sunfish, this one is able to thrive in polluted, oxygen-poor waters. For this reason, it has the potential to become invasive.


14) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)

Large striped bass in an aquarium
Striped bass can grow to be extremely large, with some reaching weights of 70 pounds! Jarek Tuszyński, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

The striped bass is an elegantly streamlined fish distinguished by its horizontally-oriented lateral stripes. Its main color is silvery-white, with a darker dorsal region similar to that of white bass. These close cousins tend to hybridize into sturdy fish that are commonly known as wipers, whiterock bass, or Cherokee bass. This striped bass and its hybrids are regularly stocked in freshwater systems around the US as they are popular with sport fishers.

Originally anadromous, several striped bass populations have become landlocked due to dam construction. The Bull Shoals dam and associated lake-river system are just one of many that have facilitated river-based spawning events.

Landlocked striped bass can grow to be remarkably large. The world record holder was fished in Alabama a few years ago. It was a 44-inch (110 cm) fish that weighed 70 pounds (32 kg)!


15) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)

Flathead catfish swimming by rocks
Flathead catfish are large predators that feed on almost anything that moves. Abyssal, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

Also known as the mudcat or shovelhead cat, the flathead catfish is a widely introduced and often invasive species throughout the US and northern Mexico. It is a large-bodied species that can grow as long as 60 inches (152 cm) and weigh as much as 120 pounds (54 kg). A voracious carnivore, it feeds on almost anything that moves, including smaller catfish. Its sensitivity to vibrations makes it a skilled benthic predator.

Flathead catfish pulled out of river systems close to Bull Shoals Lake can easily exceed a weight of 50 pounds (22.7 kg). The meat of this species is reputedly one of the most delicious of all Arkansas game fish. Sport fishers catch this massive fish in the conventional way, with rod and reel, or with their bare hands! Large males are often found defending their nests, which are usually associated with fallen logs and debris.


16) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Channel catfish caught in a fishing net
In US waters, channel catfish is one of the most abundant catfish species. It is an invasive species in Asia, Europe, and South America. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / No copyright

Native to North America

This species is one of the most abundant of all catfish in US waters. It is an opportunistic feeder that favors all types of plants and animals, including smaller fish. Their capacity to metabolize many types of food and their tolerance for highly turbid waters make them extremely hardy. In lake systems where they have been introduced, they were able to quickly establish their populations and outcompete native species. It is now an invasive species in Asia, South America, and Europe.

Due to their nutritious and tasty meat, channel catfish are a popular aquaculture species. It is a source of good quality protein and is moderately fatty. Just 100 grams of its meat can contain 95 calories. Channel catfish is also rich in vitamins and minerals and has a fairly low concentration of methyl-mercury compared to other predatory freshwater fish.


17) White crappie (Pomoxis annularis)

Illustration of a white crappie
White crappies are similar to black crappies, except they have vertical stripes instead of spots across the length of their bodies. NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to North America

White crappies are similar to black crappies in terms of morphology. They are differentiated from one another based on their pigmentation. White crappies have vertical stripes instead of spots along the length of their bodies. They are also much lighter in color, with pale bellies. This small species rarely grows to more than 2 pounds (0.9 kg) and 10 inches (25 cm). The world record holder weighed just 5 pounds (2.3 kg) but was 21 inches (53 cm) long!

White crappies are best caught in the middle of the day, when they congregate in shallow areas. Closer to dusk and dawn, they prefer to stay in open water. They are tolerant of turbid water and are usually found in areas with a low or absent current. The best time to search for them is when water temperatures reach an average of 56˚F (13˚C) in spring. This is when they are most likely to spawn.

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