When I get finished writing this column I am heading to Bull Shoals Lake to go fishing for walleye. Actually while fishing for them I expect to catch crappie and bass and white bass, maybe a trout or two, and maybe even a nice catfish or two. If you envision me out there fishing through the day on some long point or back in a cove, you are wrong. I will catch them fishing straight down beneath my pontoon boat in the middle of the night, maybe having some coffee and relaxing with my feet up on the railing.
I don't lose any lures this way, although once I lost my rod and reel when something big pulled it in the lake when I dozed off a little. I will be fishing with little 3 or 4-inch long threadfin shad, which are found no farther north than the White River lakes here in the Ozarks. Night fishing like that can be very good in Stockton and Pomme de Terre and Truman too, but those lakes harbor no threadfin shad, and therefore if you fish the same way there, you have to take a healthy supply of nice minnows for bait.
On Bull Shoals, we will start about eight in the evening and use large minnows for two or three hours, but the lights suspended in the water below us a couple of feet deep will eventually attract swarming, circling schools of threadfin shad by the hundreds, and early in the morning they are usually there by the thousands. Game fish move in beneath them and usually around midnight or a little later, there are thousands of them. We catch them in bait nets that we lower into the water several feet down.
The darker the night, the better, and the fishing under lights is usually good until some time in mid June, when the threadfin shad spawn starts to end. Bright moonlight wrecks everything and so does a strong wind. And I must admit, there are nights when for some reason or another the fishing never seems to reach a boiling point. There have been evenings when gar drives us crazy. When you hook a big gar about ten or fifteen pounds and think for a few seconds you have a monster walleye, you are inclined to kick the minnow bucket and use bad language. But when things are right, you have a chance to catch giant crappie and walleye on Bull Shoals beneath those lights. It is one of the most relaxing ways to spend a night I have ever enjoyed. I secure my boat along a long rope tied between two stick-ups (dead flooded tree trunks) and I like to get over about 45 feet of water with no trees beneath me to get hung up on. Usually fish are caught between 20 and 35 feet of water beneath you.
I have a small cabinet and stove on my pontoon boat so I can eat supper and breakfast out there on the water if I choose. I have cots and sleeping bags so that I can sleep a little early in the evening when the fishing is slow, a good long handled dip net and a big cooler of ice to put the fish in. There have been evenings when two big coolers wouldn't hold all the fish.
I sit there in a comfy cushioned chair, looking down into that crystal clear water and catching the occasional shape of a big fish below me, listening to whippoorwills and barred owls, and I forget where I am.
Despite the clear water, I never use line lighter than 8 pounds on my spinning reels. On casting reels I go to 12 pounds. And I don't use light gear like I would use when casting jigs for crappie. For one thing, crappie found deep in the clear waters of Bull Shoals are big hefty crappie, normally better than 12 inches, commonly up to 15 inches, and sometimes up to 17 or 18 inches. White bass there are huge. One night on Bull Shoals we caught 50 or 60 and none were less than 15 inches long. That night one of the fishermen with me caught a 5 pound, 4 ounce white bass. And you are allowed 4 walleye, so don't keep little ones. I would say that over the years the walleye I have caught beneath the lights there would average better than 5 pounds. I have caught many walleye from my pontoon boat deck that would range from 6 to 8 pounds. One night years ago, a friend of mine hooked and landed a sixteen-pound walleye.
At daylight, the shad just disappear, and out around the boat you can catch largemouth and smallmouth by casting a weighted hook or jig with a dead shad on it. The fishing may be at its very best just after dawn until about 9 p.m. By then I am usually sound asleep in the back section of this custom-made pontoon boat of mine, which is covered like an on-the-water camper.
Still and all, you don't have to have a pontoon boat to try this specialized form of fishing. I often use my regular War-Eagle fishing boat when I fish Stockton in the spring or Truman later in the summer, and in both cases I catch crappie, walleye and whites. But in Truman, the murkier the water the less luck you will have. On those lakes I usually quit fishing in the middle of the morning because by that time you have all the fish you want. In Bull Shoals, there are fewer crappie than you'll catch in northern Ozark lakes, they are just much larger.
You can rent a pontoon boat on Bull Shoals, or Norfork and several fishermen together can fish from its spacious deck. Same thing on many other lakes, but those two are especially good for big walleye.
If you try this, remember to have some extra line on board, lot of hooks and sinkers, some big minnows to start with, some food and drinks, maybe coffee to keep you awake. And no matter how warm it is at 5 in the evening, it will be much cooler at 5 in the morning, so have enough clothes to fight off the chill. You'll need good submergible lights and small nets for baitfish. And a good net. You can't hoist a 6-pound walleye or a three-pound crappie over the side of a pontoon boat.