Arkansas Ozarks Fishing-Bull Shoals-White River-Norfork Lake-Buffalo-North Fork

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Bream (Panfish)

Bream (pronounced "brim") is the collective name for a variety of panfish species. Generally included are Bluegill, Redear sunfish, Warmouth, Green sunfish, and Rockbass (three species in this area). Of these, the most important in our area are the Bluegill, Redear sunfish, and Rockbass. Bluegill are indigenous to the Arkansas Ozarks streams but are not as well adapted to the clear, relatively infertile conditions in them as are certain other sunfish. Longear and Green sunfish, more aggressively omnivorous, are better suited. Bluegill are generally relegated to the largest, most sluggish and silty pools of these streams. Of course, the premier panfish of the Arkansas Ozarks streams is the Ozark Bass, and of the Ozark foothills, its close cousin, the Shadow Bass.

Ozark & Shadow Bass

The current state record Ozark Bass was caught in Lake Norfork and weighed 1 pound four ounces. Norfork has good populations in the Shoal and Panther Creek areas. The current state record Shadow Bass of 1 pound 3 ounces was caught in the Spring River.

The Ozark and Shadow Bass utilize much the same habitat as Smallmouth Bass: submerged boulders, woody debris, crevices, overhangs, and rock ledges. They feed on crayfish, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and fish. Most perennial streams in the Ozarks contain populations of Ozark Bass. Larger streams such as Piney Creek, Sylamore Creek, and Rocky Bayou, Big and Bear Creeks , Crooked Creek, and the Buffalo River produce Ozark Bass in excess of one pound and many in the half-pound range. Shadow Bass are found in the Spring River and its tributaries including Myatt Creek and the South Fork of the Spring River, and the Strawberry River in the eastern foothills of the Ozarks. They may reach a pound in size but are typically smaller than the Ozark Bass

Bluegill

Bluegill do well in isolated locations on both Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork. The population has been expanding since 1990. Bluegill require a lot of natural cover for protection from predators and abundant aquatic macroinvertebrates for food. Neither one of those is in great supply in our lakes. However, the advent of the large-scale fish cover project in the late 1980’s and the generally high lake levels that were prevalent from 1990 to 1995 have benefited the species. Routine fish population sampling has shown a steady increase of Bluegill biomass as a percentage of the total fish population in both reservoirs.

Bluegill spawn as the water temperature approaches 70 F. The male builds and maintains the nest. One female may deposit over 30,000 eggs in a nest. The male will defend the eggs until they hatch in about 3 to 4 days, and the young unit they begin to swim around, then he’ll abandon them. In clear water with limited cover, predation by young Largemouth bass is severe at this point. Largemouth and Bluegill evolved together in the sloughs, backwaters, and ox-bows of larger rivers and often form a self-sustaining predator/prey balance. Largemouth generally have the upper hand in our clear, cover-limited lakes. Bluegill stick close to cover in Bull Shoals and Norfork and can be found around boat docks and artificial cover such as the Arkansas Game & Fish attractors and private brushpiles. They feed during the day and are best caught on live bait like worms and crickets around the attractors.

Redear Sunfish

Large numbers (occasionally over one million a year) of Redear have been stocked into Lake Norfork to take advantage of a dense aquatic snail and Asiatic clam population which are their primary diet. Redear, also known as "shellcrackers", have always been present in Lake Norfork but only in small numbers. The ones we collected were usually large adults. For several years following the initiation of the project, the Redear population grew and young fish became more numerous in our samples. Unfortunately, that trend failed to continue and the species began to decline, though it is still more numerous than before. Spawning habitat (absence of aquatic vegetation), predation by abundant Largemouth bass, and inadequate stockings in recent years, may be limiting the success of this effort to establish this panfish. However, Redear are fairly numerous in some areas of the lake, particularly Pigeon Creek and the Howard Cove area. They are more of a colonial spawner than the Bluegill and nests may almost touch each other. They spawn when the water temperature reaches 75 F and may select fairly silty areas that also have gravel or sand. Their nests will be inside coves, often in protected inlets. During the spawn period, fishing the beds with worms or shrimp is very productive. After spawning, Redear disperse and are usually associated with cover and the bottom.