Arkansas Ozarks Fishing-White River-Norfork Lake-Bull Shoals-Buffalo-North Fork
Bull Shoals, and especially Lake Norfork, were once renowned for their exceptional Crappie fishing. Two pound slab Crappie, like the once seen left, were plentiful. Unfortunately, as the lakes began to age, time used up much of the nutrients from the lake beds, and the water became clearer, and they became less suitable for Crappie. However, Crappie fishing remains good on both lakes, and is showing signs of getting even better. To mitigate the aging process in both Bull Shoals and Norfork, Arkansas Game & Fish has employed a three-pronged approach: 1.) Installation of a lot of new habitat in the form of over 90,000 sunken trees; 2.) Stocking as many as 200,000 Crappie fingerlings a year in both lakes;
3.) Imposing a 10-inch minimum length limit / 15 fish daily possession limit on anglers. A Missouri study on Bull Shoals had indicated that anglers kept 95% of all Crappie they caught, regardless of size. By improving habitat, increasing stocks, and restricting anglers Arkansas Game & Fish hopes to slow further decline.
Preliminary reports from anglers indicate that some progress has been made. Game & Fish stocked Blacknose Crappie, a White River variant of the black Crappie that has a distinctive black line bisecting its nose, in Norfork and Bull Shoals as biological indicators of stocking success. This variant occurs naturally but rarely. Within two years the Blacknose made up as high as 50% of the crappie we collected in trapnets that had been set in heavily stocked areas of Norfork.
Both black and white crappie exist in Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork. Because of the clear water and presence of relatively abundant prey (shad, bluntnose minnows, and brook silversides) these sightfeeders grow well. In fact they exhibit some of the fastest growth rates for the species in the state, reaching 10 inches in length by age 4. They are found in isolated locations, almost always associated with fish attractors. Patient anglers catch a few from one attractor then move on to others.
As with other centrachids, crappie are nest builders and also defend their eggs and young. Some believe crappie to be highly cannibalistic on their own young, possibly as a result of population pressures. In our lakes spawning begins in early April when the water temperature reaches about 60° F and, depending on water clarity, may occur fairly deep, often over 10 feet if the water is very clear. Crappie usually spawn over a protracted period, possibly more than once. Crappie rarely expel all, or even most of their eggs and anglers may believe they have not yet spawned when they actually have. If shoreline cover is limited, young crappie may become pelagic to escape predation. One of the major factors limiting the population of crappie in Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork is our clear water. Young crappie are very vulnerable to predation. Murky water increases their chances of survival. Unfortunately for the young crappie, we rarely have murky enough water to help spawning success. During the pre-spawn staging period, crappie often congregate in large numbers in brush or other cover offshore of the spawning area. That is when crappie fishing is most productive in our lakes. Crappie are most abundant in the Lead Hill to Tucker Hollow portions of Bull Shoals Lake, and in the Pigeon Creek, Brushy Creek, and Big Creek areas of Lake Norfork.