Due to the large 2015 and 2017 year classes, bass anglers should experience good catch rates of largemouth bass greater than 15 inches and spotted bass greater than 12 inches in 2021. High water levels throughout 2019 and 2020 also produced substantial year classes of largemouth bass and spotted bass, but anglers will have to wait a few more years before these fish reach 15 inches and 12 inches in length, respectively. These successful recruitment years will provide good fishing opportunities now and in future years. Because of the lake's history of inconsistent spawning success, anglers catching smallmouth and largemouth bass are encouraged to practice catch-and-release in order to help maintain the bass population. Anglers wanting fish to eat are encouraged to harvest spotted bass greater than 12 inches. This species doesn't have the growth potential of the other black bass and fish over 15 inches are rare. Anglers can identify largemouth and spotted bass by using differences in the jaw bone length, cheek scale size, connectivity of the spinous and soft dorsal fin, and absence/presence of a tongue patch. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, and plastic worms catch the majority of the black bass species. During the spring, fall, and early winter months, bass can be found relatively shallow along rocky points, banks, and channel swing areas. As a general rule of thumb; poor weather conditions (i.e. rain, clouds, and wind) result in better fishing success. Other times of the year, fish will move into water 30 to 40 feet deep.
Walleye numbers are good and anglers should see a high percentage of legal-size fish in the 18-20 inch range in 2021. Due to good year class strengths in recent years, anglers should also expect to catch higher numbers of sub-legal fish as well. Rogues, live bait, and jigs catch the majority of fish during the early spring months. In the late spring, summer, and fall, minnows and nightcrawlers rigged on bottom-bouncers, and crankbaits slowly trolled along flats and points at or just above the depth of the thermocline catch good numbers of fish. The white bass population has experienced below average spawning success so anglers may notice a decline in the white bass numbers, especially smaller sizes. Also, the spring-time white bass spawning runs can be difficult to pattern if the lake level fluctuates and river flows change frequently. Missouri residents 16 years of age and older who fish the Arkansas portion of Bull Shoals Lake should take advantage of the $10 White River Border Lakes Permit. This permit allows these anglers to fish the Arkansas portion of this lake without purchasing an Arkansas nonresident fishing permit.
Crappie fishing has been good using jigs and minnows in the spring and fall with anglers utilizing the 171 new fish habitat structures installed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and paid for with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Anglers wanting locations of the lake's brush structures can visit the MO Fishing App for smartphones or download coordinates to your sonar unit from MDC's MO Fishing Interactive Map on the website. Remember to help STOP the spread of aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels by cleaning, draining, and drying out your boat and equipment before traveling to another lake or river.