Arkansas Ozarks Fishing-White River-Norfork Lake-Bull Shoals-Buffalo-North Fork
The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission stocks about 100,000 to 125,000 Striper fingerlings into Lake Norfork every year. These fingerlings are produced at state hatcheries, usually from broodstock collected from an Arkansas Lake. Striped bass are an anadramous ocean fish that travels into fresh water to spawn. In the 1950s a landlocked population was discovered in a South Carolina reservoir (Santee-Cooper). By the early 1960s, Stripers produced from Santee-Cooper broodstock had been introduced in reservoirs all over America (including Lake Norfork) to fill the huge open water niches that native fish did not utilize. These stockings were very successful. Striped bass introductions have always been controversial because any fear that such a large fish must forage heavily on other sportfish species. In Arkansas, this has not been the case. Stripers feed almost exclusively on gizzard and threadfin shad, which are open water schooling species in the herring family. In lakes where shad are not available, Stripers will become gaunt then starve without switching to another type of prey.
Stripers were stocked in Bull Shoals during the early 1970s but stocking was discontinued in 1975 in deference to a developing rainbow trout fishery. Because of the small numbers stocked, plentiful forage, and good water quality, Stripers were very successful in Bull Shoals which eventually produced the current Arkansas state record of 53 pounds. That was a 14 year old fish. The maximum lifespan of a Striper in Arkansas is about 20 years. Few of the Stripers stocked in Bull Shoals now remain.
Lake Norfork contains one of the best Striped bass fisheries in America. As mentioned, the Lake Norfork is stocked annually and has been since the mid 1960s. Stripers over 40 pounds are commonly taken. Many in the 30 pound class are caught every year. There is an abundant population of young Stripers that will keep Lake Norfork dynamic and productive for years to come. Shad are plentiful in Lake Norfork so Stripers average 2.5 to 3 pounds of growth per year. A 10 year old Striper in Lake Norfork weighs about 25 pounds.
To spawn successfully in the wild, Stripers need a long river. Their eggs are semi-buoyant and require a gentle current to keep them off the bottom for several days. If the eggs stay on bottom they suffocate. After hatching, the fry must also be carried by the current for several days before they can swim on their own. Those conditions dont occur on Bull Shoals or Lake Norfork so stocking is required to maintain the species. They do make spawning runs in Lake Norfork, primarily up the North Fork River into Missouri. They produce eggs and may actually spawn, but only in vain.
Stripers prefer water temperatures between 65 and 70° F. During winter and spring, they can be found anywhere in the lake where there are shad concentrations. After the thermocline forms in May, they are gradually pushed downlake where they eventually concentrate along the dam. The reason for this is that the oxygen below the thermocline gets used up by biological activity and is not replaced until winter. This process begins in the upper lake and in the upper ends of the creek arms and progresses downlake. In order to stay in the preferred temperature that also has high enough oxygen levels the Stripers must also move. By September most of the Striped bass in the lake will be within five miles of the dam.