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Phil Lilley
Phil Lilley

Bull Shoals White Bass

Bull Shoals has produced millions and millions of white bass over the years and is considered one of the top Midwest white bass fishery.  It's nothing to go out about any time of year and catch a limit, either trolling or jerking spoons, throwing topwater baits or working a jig or swimming minnow.  True, some years are better than others, but Bull is consistently outproducing most Ozark lakes.

First- Bull Shoals. It's not too hard figuring out white bass on Bull Shoals. In Missouri, there are 2 major waterways white bass run up for spawning- Swan and Beaver Creeks. There are other areas whites run on the main lake and other creeks- Mincy being another creek but Swan and Beaver is where you'll find the largest numbers of fish.

Conditions to watch- rainfall and water temperatures. Water temp and water flows trigger white bass more than anything, it seems. Sunlight and length of days of course is another but when the time comes, they're looking for that right feeling- 55 degree water. They like dingy water- it gives them more cover and a feeling of being hidden. From what? You and I probably.

I've found the best times to find whites up in the creeks consistently is a day or two after a good rain. Creeks come up and get real dirty/trashy. Fish are moving- and feeding. See the night crawlers all over the sidewalks and roads after a rain? You can imagine a ton of worms washing into the ditches, down to the draws and into the creeks. The fish are having a field day. After the rainwater recedes and the creeks settle down a bit, it's time to move in and fish. You're still looking for "colored" water but not "chocolate milk".

Did you know--sunlight warms colored water much faster than clear water. Why? Because the pigment in the water catches and absorbs heat, warming the water.

Gosh- in both creeks, there's so many conditions to consider. Beaver usually comes on first, before Swan Creek. Whites will move in and out of the creek from the lake early, driving us mad. But early mornings, evenings and late at night are the best times to look. Later they start staying in the creek, staying schooled together, staging, waiting for the right conditions to move upstream to spawn.

As Bull Shoals rises with spring rains, it's always a challenge to keep up with where the lake meets the creek. It makes a difference- this line divides moving water from still water. It also dictates where you can run a boat- and not to run a boat. When the lake gets real high, it dictates where you can- and cannot launch your boat.

OK- once you've found the ideal conditions, it's time to catch fish.

In the creeks, I'm a firm believer most fish like a little current- not a lot of current- a little. Use current to your advantage. Swing a jig, a spinner, a crank bait, a minnow through an eddy or over a drop-off to holding fish. I've seen boats anchor in key spots above holes or eddies as well as people wading where their baits flow down to whites.

In still water, it's good to fish close to the bottom. Slow moving soft plastic baits- swimming minnows and grubs, jigs or spoons. I like jigs myself but that's just me. Colors- that's so hard to say. Depends on light, water color and the fish's mood. (I throw the mood thing in just so you won't take my guessing to serious.) Good colors I like- jigs: White, pink, chartreuse, gray, gray with a little red, black at night. Soft plastics: purple, smoke, motor oil, blue flake clear, chartreuse and glitter/clear. At night: Black or purple twin tailed grub worked s-l-o-w on the bottom is a killer when nothing else is working.

When the water is clear, try a small Sluggo or 2.5 inch blue floating Rebel Minnow and jerk the heck out of it, pausing for the strike. If you're using a Sluggo, light line is a must. I use 4 lb line- but I use 4 lb with almost every application I've mentioned in this article. Worked the Sluggo in a place where you can see the bait. Most times you will not feel the strike- you have to see it to set the hook. The Rebel you will feel the strike.

Helpful hints:

  • Line size is important, as I have mentioned.
  • A good smooth reel and sensitive lets you feel and slightest bump on slow
    days and nights.
  • And I think the most important thing to keep in mind on slow days or nights-
    work the bait close to the bottom and s-l-o-w. I've seen more frustrated anglers,
    in and out of by boat, jeer at me because I'm catching and they're not...
    why? They aren't letting the bait go to the bottom or they're reeling to fast.
    If you're jig-head is dragging the bottom- put on a lighter jig-head and reel
    s-l-o-w. It'll work if they're there.
  • Change colors/sizes often.
  • Change retrieves often.

Boat Launches on Bull Shoals-

  • River Run at highway 76 and 160 outside of Forsyth- Corp.
  • Shadow Rock Park off 160 near 76 junction- public.
  • Beaver Creek Park off 160 on V south of Kissee Mills- Corp.
  • Beaver Creek at highway 160, small camp ground- public.
  • K-Dock at the end of K highway off 76 between Branson and Forsyth- Corp.

Bait Shops-

  • Tri-Lakes Bait- on 160 in Forsyth  417-546-3928
    Beaver Creek Marina 417-546-5121

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