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Bull Shoals State Park Offers Trout Fishing Action In Peaceful, Scenic Setting
September 2000

By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

The sun had yet to melt the fog on the White River when Jim Griffin headed out with fishing pole in hand. He watched geese fly up the river, blue heron fly in search of a meal, and deer cross the river upstream. Then he cast into his favorite fishing hole and pulled out a 6-lb. brown trout.

"It doesn't get any better than that," says Griffin of the morning he showed a new employee the allure of Bull Shoals State Park. Griffin has been the park superintendent for 23 years.

In the Ozark Mountains, Bull Shoals State Park is part of one of the nation's finest fishing and boating combinations: the White River and Bull Shoals Lake. The two form a much-touted "fishing paradise." 

The White River, one of mid-America's premiere trout streams, is famous for record rainbow and brown trout. Bull Shoals Dam forms the 45,440-acre lake where anglers enjoy lunker bass, catfish, crappie and bream-filled waters. The lake's 1,000 miles of rugged shoreline stretch between southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

The 663-acre Bull Shoals State Park has both lakeshore and riverbank. The lakeshore section of the park is a day use area with tree-shaded picnic tables, a playground and a one-mile Lakeside Trail. 

The main section of the park is situated on the White River below Bull Shoals Dam. It features 105 campsites, 15 of which are reservable. Two Rent-a-Camp sites and one Rent-an-RV site are also available. Otherwise, sites are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Along the riverbank, visitors will find 85 sites with water and electrical hookups. There are 20 tent sites with no hookups. The two, moderately priced Rent-A-Camp packages include a tent, two cots, camp stove, cooler and lantern.

The Rent-an-RV is a 31-foot trailer, which accommodates a maximum of eight people. All renters need bring are food, towels and bedding. The trailer is furnished with a range, microwave, dishes, utensils, television, VCR, CD player and full bath. It also has a large deck with a picnic table and gas grill.  Next to the deck is a charcoal grill and fire pit.

Modern bathhouses and a sanitary trailer dump station are conveniently located for all park visitors. Park amenities include picnic areas, pavilion, playgrounds, trails, and gift shop. Big Bluff Trail offers an overlook of the river. 

A trout dock offers boat, motor and canoe rentals; supplies and equipment; and gifts. Beside the dock is a boat ramp. The dock is open all year with limited hours, or by request from November through January. However, no fishing is allowed at the state park from the jetty above the dock to Bull Shoals Dam from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31 due to spawning of brown trout. Fishing is allowed year-round in the park from the boat dock down river.

Annually, 1.6 million fish are stocked in the White River -- about 900,000 of them come from the nearby Norfork Fish Hatchery.

So, Griffin says visitors may not catch the big fish, but they'll always catch something. Photos on display at the trout dock show that some visitors certainly do catch the big ones. Daryl Greenwood has been trout dock manager for 12 years. His main tip for fishermen is to use a low visibility line. He advises people to check with local bait shops for tips as well.

Fishing conditions change throughout the day. When the horn sounds, signaling that the dam is starting to release water to generate electrical power, a shallow, calm river quickly becomes a deep torrent. There is no schedule for when the dam generates. It is based exclusively on demand for power. 

The park does not handle guided fishing trips; however, there are many independent guide services around the park. Park personnel do provide guided scenic trips and canoe trips throughout the year.          

While many visit the park for the sole purpose of fishing, others come to enjoy the scenery. "A lot of people just love to sit and watch the river, especially when the water is running," says Griffin. "It's a place to rest and relax, forget about the phones."

Griffin says the park's attraction is the beauty of the river throughout the seasons, the coolness the river provides even in the heat of summer, and its peaceful, serene setting. It's no wonder the park has the highest occupancy rate of any in the state park system.

It has many repeat customers. The Wright family from Harrison is one of the park's newest patrons. Terri Wright says that her family has been to the park three times. "We came last year. We came last week. We had so much fun we bought a RV and came back (this week)," explains Wright.

Her son Tommy, who is 7 and a half years old, says the park is fun because "you can meet lots of friends here" and "it's a good place to ride bikes." Tommy also enjoys the interpretive programs.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day programs are offered at least three times a day every day. After Labor Day, programs are only offered on weekends.

The weekly activities are supplemented with special events throughout the year. In the fall, October is deemed to be the peak for trout fishing. So, Carlton offers many demonstrations during that month on how to trout fish. Also, the Fall Frenzy will be Oct. 27 through 29. This event celebrates the beauty of the Ozarks with outdoor programs to view the scenery and peak fall colors.

During the winter, bald eagles use the area for nesting. Over the past few winters there has been on average about 200 bald eagles on the White River, including Bull Shoals Lake. Throughout January and February eagle watches are offered. A special Eagle Awareness Weekend will be Jan. 5 through 7.  Experts from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will help with the event.

For both the Fall Frenzy and eagle watches, Carlton offers guided hikes, jonboat tours on the river and pontoon boat cruises on the lake.

Other special events during the year include Troutfest, Ozark Birders Springtime Retreat and Wildflower Weekend. 

In the spring, several species of wildflowers can be found on the Hidden Hollow Wildflower Trail. In the park visitors will also find white-tailed deer, squirrels, and woodchucks (also known as ground hogs). "We're covered up with woodchucks," says Carlton. 

The park also has a self-guided Bluebird Trail. "We've got one of the longest bluebird trails in the state," he adds.

While there is plenty to do in the park, there are also numerous recreational activities around it.

Bull Shoals Lake provides all water sports: a free swimming beach, boating, skiing, and fishing.

Bull Shoals State Park began as an undeveloped piece of property leased from the Corps of Engineers in 1955. The state only constructed a couple of bathhouses. Then in 1975 Arkansas began expanding its park facilities. At Bull Shoals, a wastewater treatment plant, three new bathhouses, paved roads and camping sites were established. In 1998, the state paved the pads for the camping sites.

This spring, erosion stabilization for the riverbank was constructed. Tons of large stones now line the bank to combat erosion and ensure the park will survive for many generations to come. Funding for the erosion stabilization came from Amendment 75, also known as the Conservation Amendment. Arkansas voters, in 1996, authorized a one-eighth of one-cent sales tax to go to four state conservation agencies to help protect and manage Arkansas' conservation lands and historic resources.

For more information on park hours or fees contact: Bull Shoals State Park, 129 Bull Shoals Park, Lakeview, AR 72642 or call 870-431-5521. The number for the trout dock is 870-431-5557. E-mail the park at bullshoals@arkansas.com or check out the website www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

From U.S. 62 at Flippin, take AR 178 just 10 miles north to the park just below Bull Shoals Dam; or, travel 6 miles north of Mountain Home on Hwy. 5, then go 8 miles west on AR 178 to the park.

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