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

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Channel & Blue Catfish

Arkansas Game & Fish stocks tens of thousands catchable size ( 1/2 to 1.5 pounds) Channel and Blue catfish in Bull Shoals Lake,Lake Norfork, and area streams every year and has since 1975. Channel cats exceeding 20 pounds and Blues exceeding 60 pounds are occasionally caught. In 1996 Diane Lacefield of Mountain Home speargunned a 68 pound Blue. A 60 pound Blue catfish caught on 8-pound test line was a world record for that line class for many years. Although natural reproduction of Channel catfish does occur in Bull Shoals and Norfork, it is severely limited by predation of bass on young catfish. The male catfish makes a nest in a crevice, small cave, hollow log, etc., and entices a female in, spawns with her, then runs her off. He guards the eggs and fry ferociously (he’ll gladly attack a human intruder) but leaves before the brood has dispersed. Catfish fry swim in a tight ball, which reforms quickly after a predator takes a mouthful until, in clear water, few survive. We have only rarely seen evidence of Blue catfish reproduction in the lakes.

Channel catfish are omnivorous generally feeding along the bottom. They will eat crayfish, fish, amphibians, terrestrial insects, and decaying matter. We once noticed several which were full of persimmons. Blue catfish are a more aggressive fish predator that generally inhabits the open water. They mainly eat shad. In Lake Norfork, especially, they also eat a lot of the introduced Asiatic clam, the undigested shells of which they will eventually (painfully?) pass. One of our biologists has observed zebra mussels in the stomachs of Blue catfish on the Arkansas River.

Both Channel and Blue are found everywhere in the lakes. Channels are native to the Arkansas Ozarks streams. Historically they reproduced in the larger rivers (which are now dominated by the cold tailwaters of several large Corps dams) and the young would periodically repopulate the smaller tributaries where conditions are unsuitable to Channel catfish reproduction. In streams Channels inhabit the deeper pools. It is now necessary to stock Channel catfish in streams to maintain their populations.

The most effective means of fishing for Channel and Blue catfish in the lakes are trotlines and floating fishing devices. PLEASE DO NOT ABANDON TROTLINES OR JUGS!! They can be deadly as well as unsightly. Spearfishing is also a very popular method of catfish fishing. Catfish fishing is good year around, even in the dead of winter. Trotlines and set poles are effective in streams.

Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish are native to most of the Arkansas Ozarks waters, including lakes and streams. They are a pure carnivore, eating almost nothing that is not alive. Flatheads and Largemouth bass have the greatest gape (open mouth size) to body size ratio of any freshwater fish in America. For table quality they are generally considered the best of the catfish. Size does not make a perceptible difference in the flavor of their meat as it does with other catfish that acquire a stronger flavor as they age.

Flatheads inhabit pools in streams and are found throughout the lakes. As with the Channel and Blue catfishes, the males prepare the nest, constantly fan the eggs, and defend the young aggressively. Because of their aggressiveness, they are successful even in the clear, bass-heavy waters of the Arkansas Ozarks. This is fortunate since we have a difficult time perfecting culture methods for this species and supplemental stocking has not yet become a reliable options for fisheries managers.

Flathead spawning later in the year than it does for Channels and Blues, peaking when the water temperature reaches about 80 F, generally in late June or early July. That’s the reason the speargunning season on Flatheads does not open until July 15, so they’ll have a chance to spawn and get through the brooding period when they won’t abandon their nests and the fry are most vulnerable. It also gives their brood the normal period of protection given by the male. SCUBA divers often find Flatheads perched in the crotches of sunken trees or lying immobile on rock ledges. They are strongly associated with the fish attractors installed by Game and Fish and countless fisherman. Flatheads can be taken on live bait and lures of all types, especially jig-and-frogs, grubs, and crankbaits. In streams, trotlines baited with small sunfish or large minnows are effective.