Start your day on the water by enjoying a beautiful sunrise, casting to a brush pile, and anticipating a big fish on the end of your line. It doesn’t get better than this. Jordan Isaacs on upper Bull Shoals Lake in Missouri. (Photo: Tim Huffman)
Destination: Bull Shoals Crappie & Branson, MO
by Tim Huffman
Does a 16.75-inch crappie sound good to you?
That’s what I had the opportunity to catch on a half-day trip to upper Bull Shoals Lake on the border of Missouri and Arkansas, with guide Jordan Isaacs, Freedom Fishing Guide Service.
“The upper end of the lake is rocky with a lot of flats,” says Isaacs. “In May we have high water and they are through spawning. It’s a great month here with most fish roaming and looking. A lot will be up shallow in the buck brush until the water starts falling. My favorite spots are at the edge of flats that come into channel. Depths are 12 to 20 feet. Post spawn fish get aggressive and start pounding a jig.”
Isaacs says the upper end is the size of a river with 90 precent natural cover, including shrub brush, rocks, willow trees and a lot of sand. The fish will move up in the sand that has any kind of brush on it.
“My equipment includes a Lew’s 6.5-foot medium-light action rod with a fast tip. It has backbone to get the fish out before they gets hung up, but it has a sensitive tip to feel the jig. I use 4-pound-test line because of the clear water. I use a Pflueger reel. Sometimes a fish will hit light and maybe just hang on to it. You must have a smooth reel to feel the light bites.
“I use plastics, but I also really like Wager Baits hand-tied jigs. I like natural-looking baits, so I use a lot of silver and silver flake. A 1/16-ounce jig works in most situations, but I will go to a 1/32 when crappie are sluggish. The lighter jig can be reeled slower.”
Isaacs uses his electronics to find a spot, uses Garmin LiveScope to see if fish are present and their depth. He seldom targets specific fish but prefers casting or long flips to a general group of fish on the cover. He stays away from the fish to avoid spooking them.
“I count the jig down to the right depth, bring my rod tip up very slowly so the fish have time to see the bait. Hits can be hard but today on our trip, the hits are very light and fish are holding tight to cover. We have a high-pressure front, so fish aren’t aggressive.
“I count the jig down to the right depth, bring my rod tip up very slowly so the fish have time to see the bait.” ~ Jordan Isaacs, Fishing Guide
“May is a good time here. Fishermen new to the lake should find fish on cover and be persistent working the fish. If they don’t hit, check on them throughout the day and they will eventually turn on, so stay with them. Use natural colors and keep baits moving slowly. This is basically a river up on the north end of the lake, so it isn’t difficult to figure out because it’s not a huge body of water like the main lake.”
“What are the factors that come into play in the Spring on Bull Shoals,” I asked Isaacs.
“Wind,” he exclaimed. “Shad are the crappie’s main food source, so wind pushing bait around can change fishing. Water levels come up in the spring. It can bring in dirty water that the fish aren’t used to. The good thing in high water is crappie go up into the shallow shrub brush making them easy to find and fun to catch until water starts to fall. We have a little fishing pressure in the spring but nothing like the main lake.”
Many people say Bull Shoals’ biggest claims to fame are walleye and bass. Isaacs disagrees.
“In my opinion, it’s one of the most overlooked crappie lakes in the country. Numbers may not match other lakes, but the sizes are good with a lot of 12- and 13-inch crappie. On an average trip, you’ll likely keep 20 fish that average 13 inches. Today on our trip, we caught a 16- and a 16.75-inch crappie in just a few hours of fishing, so the quality can be good.”
One of the most popular tourist destinations in the country – Branson, Missouri – is just a long cast away from Bull Shoals.
It’s difficult to determine what’s the most fun thing to do in Branson. There are live shows, theme parks, rides, history museum/attractions, places to shop and great places to eat.
Live shows featuring old country, new country, pop, and classic rock, with most including some religious, patriotic and comedy. Theme parks include Sheppard of the Hills and Silver Dollar City, both long-time attractions that provide fun for the whole family. The town has a huge Ferris wheel, helicopter rides and amusement spots. At the Titanic Museum each visitor is assigned the role of a passenger on that fateful voyage, making this lesson in history fun and quite interactive.
Isaacs says his family enjoys Top of the Rock for great food and to take an ATV ride to visit a cave and see a waterfall. Wonder Works is good for Kids. A short drive from Branson is the Flat Creek Restaurant.
As a writer, my wife and I have made several trips to Branson. She enjoys the Outlet Mall and we both like The Landing. The Landing includes Bass Pro Shops, retailers and restaurants, but also includes a walking path along Lake Tannycomo and has a large water fountain show. We like the Stampede live show and dinner, always providing great food and a cowboy-rodeo-singing style show. Our newest favorite place to eat is Mel’s Hard Luck Diner where the waiters/waitresses are singers who serve up fun, non-stop singing, and great food. Our final recommendation is the Sight and Sound Theater, a professional Broadway-style production featuring Biblical themes.
Whether you want a good fishing trip, family-fun getaway, or both, Branson is a great choice.
Tim Huffman is CrappieNow co-founder and senior writer. Check out his crappie fishing books and Top 50 Lakes list at www.monstercrappie.com