Both Bull Shoals and Norfork
harbor the Ozarks biggest crappie,
but they are harder to find during
the day in the summer because of
the deep clear water. This crappie
is 17 inches long. They get evenbigger.
A fish from northern waters, the yellow perch has somehow been introduced to Bull Shoals lake and is growing in numbers.
Norfork Lake is a heckuva fishing lake. It is where my good friend and fellow outdoor writer Jim Spencer catches big catfish on a rod and reel. A year or so ago I made another friend at Norfork, a fellow who left his home in Joplin with his family to take over a resort there known as Three Oaks. It is situated on the Arkansas side of the lake near Gamaliel, not far from the Missouri Line.
It was quite a change for Don Lawellin and his wife Margaret, but they are happy they made it. Their resort sits on a ridge overlooking the lake and Don isn’t one of those resort owners who works so much he doesn’t get to fish. He catches all the fish he wants and doesn’t even get in a boat to do it.
“I got a 22-inch walleye just the other night” he said. “I ate him for dinner today.”
Lawellin caught the walleye, as so many do, fishing from his dock. It sits over very deep water, and below it on the bottom are the remains of an old dock from long ago. He added submerged cedars to create more cover for fish and put lights pointing down into the water from the edge of his dock. When visitors want to fish there in the summer in the cool of the evening, he turns on the lights, which draw threadfin shad, and all kinds of game fish, more crappie and walleye than anything. And Norfork’s crappie are big ones, like the ones in neighboring Bull Shoals. But right now Bull Shoals, to the west, is tremendously high and Norfork is only up 8 feet or so.
When you fish off Lawellin’s dock, it doesn’t matter how high or low the lake is. “Most of our summertime guests don’t even bring a boat,” he says. “We have a good guide working this area who they can hire to take them out, and they can swim most of the day and fish off my dock at night.”
I also visited another old friend over at Buffalo Point Park on the Buffalo River. When I first saw the Buffalo as a Naturalist for the Arkansas State Park System, Buffalo Point was an old state park, and a lady by the name of Nelda Davenport was in charge of the restaurant on the bluff overlooking the river. Today that restaurant is managed by her son, Larry, who was only eleven or twelve then. Larry Davenport fishes Bull Shoals a great deal and I don’t know if you could find many who can tell you more about bass and walleye in that lake. He says he is amazed that Bull Shoals is absolutely packed with zebra mussels and Norfork has none.
“I don’t know what they will do to the fishing,” he says, “but they clear the water in the most turbid lakes, and in Bull Shoals now you can sometimes see the bottom in thirty feet of water.”
That of course, makes daytime fishing tough, and this extremely high water makes it tougher. “But I’ll guarantee you that we can go out early in the morning or late in the evening and catch bass around the flooded brush on topwater lures,” he said.
I think nighttime fishing with a large spinnerbait, letting it fall down over the bluff ledges, would also be good. Larry says that is a good way to catch big smallmouth, but he is also a fan of spoon fishing in deep summer water for bass that seek out 40 or 50 feet of water in the heat of the day.
Both Norfork and Bull Shoals have yielded seven-pound smallmouth in the past, which is akin to catching an 11 or 12 pound largemouth. Davenport told me that once, while spoon-fishing deep beneath his boat, a friend and he caught 5-9 and a 6-2 pound brownies from the depths beneath them. They released both fish, after acclimating them to shallow water in the live well.
“We learned a long time ago how to use a syringe to puncture the air bladder in bass so they can survive being brought up from the real deep water,” he said. “You can attach a weight to the bottom fin to help them stay upright in the live well, and every one will live when you release them later. If you fish tournaments, you have to do that so that fish can be released after the weigh-in and survive.”
We talked awhile about those zebra mussels, and neither of us, nor anyone else I have talked to, have the slightest idea what they will do to the lakes of the Ozarks. All will have them in a few years. Obviously they are going to clear up murky water, and where there are water intake valves, they will clog them up because of their ability to reproduce by the millions.
Davenport says it is evident that big blue and channel cat eat them, and some smaller fish may have difficulty passing them through their body. It’s pretty evident when you catch a big blue if he has been eating zebra mussels! You can imagine why!
But there is another foreigner apparently increasing slowly in parts of Bull Shoals; the yellow perch, a small fish in the same family as the walleye, found by the thousands in Canadian waters and often looked upon there as a trash fish.
“I’ve only caught ‘em in two creek tributaries, in deep water,” Davenport says. “They’re a pretty fish and the filets off them are every bit as good as a walleye, maybe even a little better.”
Of course those of us who fish in Canada know all about them, and no one can imagine how they got in Bull Shoals, but they seem to be reproducing and I can’t see anyway they would be anything but a good addition to the lake. Only time will tell.
Davenport says he catches a few that are getting up toward two pounds, which is really big for a yellow perch. Most are around 12 or 13 inches and may weigh about a pound. They are all very good to eat!
In a week or so I am going fishing with Larry Davenport in Bull Shoals and Don Lewallen and Jim Spencer in Norfork. Should be a good story or two come from that trip to North Arkansas.
I think you might be interested in a story on muskie fishing in our summer issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal. You can get sample copies of it and our other magazine, The Journal of the Ozarks, here and there on newsstands. Or you can contact Ms. Wiggins, my executive secretary, by phone, 417 777 5227. The line is often busy when she is talking to her illegal Mexican boyfriend who has only been deported once since Mr. Obama took office. She is a democrat because of that and she says I can be sued for firing her for being a democrat! I guess I will keep her. She can work cheap because the two of them draw so many government checks. Myself, I never was a member of a political party but I am thinking about joining whatever party Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were!
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar Mo 65613 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org