Back in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, we would fish in the Long Bottom area of Bull Shoals all night long, under submerged lights. At that time we would catch all species of fish, and a number of big rainbow trout, some up to 5 or 6 pounds. Many of them had gashes across the body, and at that time it puzzled me. It doesn’t anymore.
The lake had big stripers in it and I can tell you with no doubt that stripers are death on trout; their favorite food, even above shad. It finally came together one night when I was on a KMOX- St. Louis radio station outdoor program. There was a fellow on with me by the name of Tony Albright who owned a resort with guide service on the Missouri arm of the lake south of Theodosia. He was touting his fishing service for great striper fishing on Bull Shoals where he and his clients were catching huge stripers. Of course the stripers came from fish stocked long ago in both states, they do not spawn there.
Down the lake from that long bottom area about a mile, the Arkansas Fisheries department had several giant net pens that were full of trout, kept there and fed all winter, then released in April as the water began to warm. In the deeper parts of the lake, there was water that stayed cold all year long… a perfect situation to grow big trout, with the lake full of their favorite food, gammarus (fresh water shrimp) and small threadfin shad.
In time the big stripers declined thanks to Allbright’s very good job of promoting ways to catch them. As a result, the fisheries department in Arkansas began to contact boat docks in the Arkansas side of the Bull Shoals, which is about 75 percent of the lake, and giving them smaller winter net pens to attach to their dock, filled with 7- or 8-inch trout. Dock owners would feed them the food the game and fish department would supply and in the spring, after several months of feeding, the trout would average twelve or thirteen inches in length. When released, thousands of them swarmed out into the lake and fishermen bought trout tags and caught good numbers of them. I guess the Arkansas fisheries people and the Missouri fisheries people got along fairly well back then. That isn’t the case now. There’s some grumbling going on.
Missouri has effectively caused the trout program in Arkansas to be worthless, with plans to release up to a half million stripers in their side of the lake, to be continued each year. They have made these plans without consulting with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission or taking into account Arkansas’ trout program. I have been told that Missouri’s fisheries people think the stripers will quickly grow to giant sizes because of the trout still living in the lake giving them such a fine food source.
On Bull Shoals during the month of December, I came across two young University of Missouri students, who were trying to find transmitter-fitted stripers that had been released in that Missouri side of the lake. Apparently the fish had gone into Arkansas because the two fisheries students were not finding them.
Last week some animosity on the Arkansas side of Bull Shoals was beginning to show. The Missouri Department of Conservation had contact an Arkansas resort on Norfork to reserve rooms and cabins for two months, so a crew of Missouri University students could fish all spring with Arkansas guides to catch stripers out of Norfork. In Norfork they do actually have successful spawn during some high-water spring rains. The resort owner said ‘no’ to the proposal and some guides are saying the same thing. A local resort owner who is a good friend of mine says the whole thing shows a lot of gall from the MDC. “The Missouri fisheries people want to take our Norfork stripers and take them to Bull Shoals where they can destroy the Arkansas trout stocking program. Folks down here don’t like it.”
He went on to say that the striper fishing in Norfork still is good, but there are few fish caught that exceed ten pounds now. “It seems that bigger stripers are rare,” he told me. “And for the last few years, thousands of stripers have died in the lower part of the lake.”
I will write more about that striped bass die off in a future column, and tell you how all of a sudden, you can catch Norfork Lake stripers way up in a Missouri tributary from a canoe or kayak or from the bank. Now what a story that has become!
In the meantime, I suggest that the MDC send some folks down to the AGF to discuss a way to make fishing better on both sides of each lake. Obviously the MDC sees a way to make a lot of money from stripers in Bull Shoals or they wouldn’t be doing this. Possibly they have some special striper tag in mind that would raise another million dollars. But if they cooperated with the fisheries people in Arkansas and both sides decided to have big stripers in Norfork and add trout pens on the Missouri side of Bull Shoals, you could add to the coffers in the Missouri side by selling a special Bull Shoals trout tag, and a special striper tag on the Missouri side of Norfork. But first the MDC should listen to Arkansas fisheries biologist. That seems to be a reasonable and polite thing to do with a neighbor.
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