18 June 2007
Spearfishing on Bull Shoals Lake Opening Weekend of Arkansas Spear Gun Hunting Season
I spent the weekend on Bull Shoals lake. Jeff and I went down Friday for opening day of the season. We picked up our air from Aquasports in Springfield and then decided to go down to Branson Scuba and pick up even more air. Jeff also bought a pretty good light which we ended up needing Friday night.
We headed for the 125 Marina in Peel Arkansas. In order to get there (from the Missouri side) you have to cross the lake via a Ferry. The Peel Ferry is operated by the Arkansas Department of Transportation. It was the first time Jeff or I had crossed a lake on a Ferry, so it was an interesting experience. You just drive your vehicle (in this case it was Jeff’s truck pulling his wakeboard boat) onto the Ferry and enjoy the ride across the lake. There is no charge, which is cool. However, you’d better not need to get back across after about 8pm, because it isn’t happening. The ferry doesn’t run at night.
We crossed the lake with our fingers crossed because we hadn’t reserved rooms anywhere. If we didn’t find a room quick, we might not be able to get back across the lake (and we would have ended up sleeping in the truck or in Jeff’s boat). We ended up finding a room at Coons Creek Resort. It was at the end of a dirt road about 5 miles from the 125 Marina. The room had 2 double beds, a full size refrigerator, a stove, a sink, a shower, and came with a slip to their private dock. All for the price of $55 per night. It wasn’t a bad place to sleep and we didn’t spend much time there anyway.
By the time we got launched (we used the resort’s private dirt launch) it was almost dark. We hit the water anyway and headed for one of the fish habitat markers (blue signs on the shore indicating brush piles). We did not do any good. Visibility was low and we didn’t get any fish. Although, I did see a couple - including a huge catfish that was a lot quicker than I was.
After burning through a tank of air I started snorkeling using Jeff’s super bright light. I shot a gar that was about 4′ long. It was fun because it was pitch black dark and I was in the water fighting a 4′ fish!
Jeff and I got to our room at about 1:00 am and grilled some burgers. We were both starving, since we hadn’t ate anything since lunch. Diving really wipes you out!
We met the rest of the guys at the 125 Marina in Peel at about 9:30 Saturday morning. We, as a group (and thanks to Wayne), had 2 pontoon boats reserved. Pontoons make great diving boats when there are several people going. Our boat consisted of Greg, Mike, Jeff, and I.
We headed down the lake towards Point #17 and back to the brush we dove the night before. I shot a nice 21″ walleye on the first dive, which is a great start to any morning. It would turn out to be my last fish of the day. We moved from brush pile to brush pile and ended up doing good, as a group, for the day.
Greg took a nice walleye, a couple inches bigger than mine, and Mike took 2 cats and Jeff took 3 catfish. The other boat faired about the same, with 2 nice walleye and 4 cats between them. All in all, it was a really great day! We did about 8 different dives and I had about 3 hours of dive time.
We all figured out pretty early that what fish we were seeing were above the thermocline. I spent less than 30 minutes total below the 25 foot mark. Most of the fish I saw were between the 12 and 18 foot range. I saw one really, really nice walleye lying on the bottom (like a catfish) in a brush pile (18′ deep). I missed it and still feel sick about it. I shot a big cat (a good 3 feet long) and watched in horror as my blunt tip spear pushed it about 2 feet without piercing it’s flesh. I should have figured out there was a reason that my gun was so easy to load. 120 pumps later and I could barely load the crazy thing.
During the day I saw a total of about a dozen shootable fish. I’m ashamed to have only taken 1, but that’s the way it goes sometimes and I wasn’t the only guy with ‘missed’ fish stories or with missed opportunities. The fish we saw weren’t really that deep. Visibility wasn’t that great either. The craziest thing is that most of the fish we found weren’t really in the brush piles. Most were on (above and below) rocky ledges.
I later figured out the probable reason for this. The lake was up enough that most of the brush piles were really deep. Often, when we found the brush piles they would start at about 20-25 feet deep and then drop off into really deep water. There just wasn’t much activity on them. The bait fish were all up shallow in the 15 feet range. I wish we’d have spent more time diving the ledges rather than the brush. I guess we need to start checking lake levels in order to better plan our dives.
The highlight of the day came while we were diving this narrow little cove that was super deap and surrounded by bluffs. I was already in the boat when Jeff surfaced and started yelling for me to bring the camera. I put my gear on and headed his way. I still can’t believe what he’d found!
Jeff had spotted an enormous turtle sitting on a rock ledge about 13 feet deep. This turtle was the biggest fresh water turtle I’ve ever seen. Head to tail he was as long as me (about 6′) and his shell was probably close to 4′ across. His head was 50% bigger than my head. That is a HUGE head! We watched it for a while and took some pictures. The visibility wasn’t that great so my pictures are just so-so. Unfortunately, none of the pictures really give you perspective on just how huge this thing was. I’d guess it weighed over 250lbs. Greg and Mike also came down to look at it, so at least we have 4 witnesses to just how enormous this crazy turtle was. How old would a turtle that big have to be, anyway?
There is a guy at the Marina who will fillet your fish for you. We paid him $25 to fillet ours. I would have rather done it myself, but I’d forgotten my fillet knife. We made the 2nd last to ferry back across the lake. Jeff and Billy were kind enough to drive me to Theodosia (which is also on Bull Shoals Lake) where my parents have a cabin. I met my family there Saturday night. My parents fed us and then Jeff and Billy split for home.
At about 11pm I departed with my brother-in-law Matt and his friend Chris to try some crappie fishing with a submersible crappie light. We took off for sunken forest, which is one of the only places on the Missouri side of Bull Shoals with standing timber. It took us about 30 minutes to reach it as the night was pitch black and we couldn’t go too fast.
After tying up to a tree in about 25 feet of water, we dropped the crappie light and fished with minnows until 4 am. We caught some perch early on, but then nothing. There were hundreds of fish below the boat (mostly small stuff) gathered around that crazy light. They just weren’t too hungry. At about 3 am, Chris hooked into a nice fish which he landed with his ultra light gear and 4 lb test line. It was a 19″ walleye. The excitement of catching it kept us going for another hour or so.
The ride back to the cabin was a bit harrowing. It is never fun to be ripping along and then see trees immediately (and about 20 yards) ahead of you. We made it back Ok and crashed at the cabin. After a breakfast of biscuits and gravy (my kids said it was almost as good as Thad’s), prepared by my dad of all people, we hit the lake in my dad’s fish and ski boat.
Caleb and Emma (my kids) had a blast being pulled around on a big inner tube. I got into the spirit of things and gave it a go, too. I wanted to try to ride it standing up and got pretty close a couple times!
We stopped at a bluff located just past Pontiac (and barely in Arkansas) to do some swimming. This spot is generally good for jumping, diving, and a bevy of other redneck sports. However, the lake was so high that the place we jump from was actually under water. I had some swimming goggles so I swam along the bluff looking for fish. I located a 24″ catfish, laying on a ledge about 10 feet deep, and cursed myself for not bringing my spear gun or hawaian sling. I hadn’t anticipated that my dad would end up cruising down to Arkansas.
All in all, it was great weekend at Bull Shoals Lake. I’ll be adding pictures soon, but apparently I’ve already exceeded the number that my site host will allow me to add to the site. I’ll try to fix this tomorrow and add some of the spearfishing photos and pictures of the GIANT turtle.
Here is a teaser photo of our turtle until I get my gallery fixed: