Bull Shoals straddles the Missouri-Arkansas border, but the vast majority is in Arkansas. At 45,000 surface acres, this remote reservoir offers plenty of space to spread out, which appeals to so many who are looking for places to fish or recreationally boat away from crowds.
The crystal clear, glass smooth waters of Bull Shoals Lake were foreign to us northern Indiana flatlanders. We could not believe the size of the reservoir and were drawn to the opportunity to have remote areas of the lake all to ourselves. It was so different from what we were used to. I guess that’s why summer after summer my Uncle Tom loaded up his bass boat and jet skis and drove my cousin and I 10 hours to the Ozarks.
Today, I live close enough to Bull Shoals to make multiple visits per year. I still get excited every time I cross the Arkansas border. Being fortunate to have opportunities to fish and hunt across the country, there are few places I would rather be than back at “The Bull.” The reasons are many, but they all relate to water.
The reservoir, created by damning the White River, is the centerpiece of the region. It was completed in 1951 and dedicated by President Harry Truman in 1952. Bull Shoals straddles the Missouri-Arkansas border, but the vast majority is in Arkansas. At 45,000 surface acres, this remote reservoir offers plenty of space to spread out, which appeals to so many who are looking for places to fish or recreationally boat away from crowds.
My favorite way to enjoy Bull Shoals is by houseboat. We have always rented from Bull Shoals Boat Dock and Marina. They have everything you need to enjoy the lake, including rental boats and wave runners. There’s just something so cool about loading your gear onto a floating camper and heading out to spend a few days away from the world. We usually move around from spot to spot, but when night falls, we find a nice spot and pull up on the shore. It’s a pretty amazing experience.
The lake is only one of the major attractions to the region. The rivers are equally as appealing. The White River is hands-down one of the greatest trout rivers in the country.
The section of the river below Bull Shoals Dam needs no introduction to trout fishermen. This legendary stretch of water from the dam down to Cotter is easily one of the most recognized fishing destinations in the country. It’s not the most astute. Not the typical tweed jacket trout river of the west. The White is where fly anglers enjoy a fried rainbow trout shore lunch with hushpuppies and blackberry cobbler.
The next most recognized river in the area is the Buffalo. This is one of the most scenic rivers in North America. A bold statement, but it’s hard to argue. It was designated as our country’s first national river after being adopted by the National Park System in 1972. Canoeing this river should be a bucket list item for everyone who enjoys scenic waterways.
The Norfork River is another gem. Although it’s only four and a half miles long, the Norfork (short for North Fork) is well known for producing monster trout. It’s a tailwater but fishes faster. This is real trout water. Many guides operate on the Norfork. It’s worth hiring one if you’re into 50 fish days.
Dry Run Creek is another special destination that flows into Norfork just below the dam next to the Norfork National Trout Hatchery. Fishing is only allowed for kids under 16 years old and individuals classified as 100 percent disabled. Adults can assist children with fishing, but must remain in the direct presence of the child.
Crooked Creek near the town of Yellville is a little gem regarded as one of the best kept secrets of smallmouth bass fishing in the Ozarks. Overshadowed by the Buffalo River and the White River, Crooked Creek is too often just driven past. Don’t make this mistake. The scenic beauty of Crooked Creek alone is worth a float.
If you enjoy being on the water, then there are so many reasons to visit the Bull Shoals region of northern Arkansas. Bull shoals Boat Dock and Marina has you covered for all aspects of enjoying the lake, and Gaston’s White River Resort can take care of the anglers looking for a cabin on the White River. Don’t miss the Sunday brunch at Gaston’s. This is one of the best restaurants in the Ozarks. It sits on a bluff overlooking the river, offering incredible scenery while dining on an incredible spread of everything from eggs to prime rib to chocolate covered strawberries.
See you down the trail…
Brandon Butler is the Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri