Uncovering Bull Shoals’ potential

Bull Shoals, something of a sleeper lake for several years, will be getting a wake-up call April 19-22 in the TroKar Quest, the first time the Bassmaster Elite Series has stopped at the Arkansas-Missouri border fishery.

“The last lake in the White River chain, Bull Shoals is, in my opinion, the best lake in the chain, and it’s received the least amount of pressure,” said Kevin Short, one of the 99 Bassmaster Elite Series pros in the event.

One reason for such an unpressured bass fishery, Short said, can be traced to consecutive years of high water. Bass were able to wiggle deep into flooded shoreline trees, some submerged in an extra 30 feet of water. Fishing that “flooded forest” was so frustrating, many an angler quickly gave up wrestling with the lure-eating tree limbs.

The spawns proceeded, and year classes of bass — largemouth, smallmouth and spotted — flourished.

The 2012 Elite field should see levels as close to normal as they’ve been for some time, Short said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates the lake, has been steadily drawing water through the system in anticipation of heavy spring rainfall toward the end of the month.

“People pull up to the shoreline, see the old waterline, and think the lake’s low. It’s not. It’s actually going to be at normal pool level, or maybe a little bit above, when we get there,” he said.

From Mayflower, Ark., Short knows White River impoundments. The most recent proof of that is his 2011 win in a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Table Rock Lake. But success on a Bull Shoals’ sister lake doesn’t make him a shoo-in for the TroKar Quest, Short said. While the lakes are similar — rock-clay-gravel bottom unshaded by vegetation — subtle differences change the game. And his victory was in October.

This time out, Short expects spawning bass to play a role. But unlike in past Aprils, the spawn cycle is on the downhill side because of the warm winter, he noted.

The sheer size of Bull Shoals will tend to spread the field out. The lake is about 45,500 surface acres, has close to 1,000 miles of shoreline (at higher water levels), and scores of seemingly untouched coves. The lake is uncharted competition water for many in the field: it’s been almost 21 years since B.A.S.S. last brought an Elite-caliber tournament to Bull Shoals.

That was in 1991. Now-Elite pro Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., was there, and finished fifth. Although he hasn’t competed on Bull Shoals since, he has visited the lake often “just for fun,” he said.

“The lake went through a period of time when the fishing wasn’t very good, but in recent years has come back,” Davis said. “Now there’s a good population of all three species — largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. We’ll have mixed bags.”

The lake has successfully fought off a bout of largemouth bass virus that affected the fish about 10 years ago, he noted, and the bass are now healthy and numerous.

“We’ll see a lot of 2-, 2 1/2-pound fish,” he said. “To win, you’ll need 3 1/2-pound bass on average, and a 2 1/2-pound average to get a check. Anything less isn’t going to win you any money. That’s about normal for a mountain lake.”

In an Elite event, each pro can bring in five fish a day, so Davis’ winning-weight estimate shakes out to about 60 to 70 pounds over the event’s four days.

Davis said he’s looking forward to competing on such a huge fishery.

“There’s not a creek, not a pocket, that does not contain fish. It will be a real pleasure to fish,” he said.

First prize in the TroKar Quest is $100,000 and a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. The third of eight regular-season Elite events, the tournament gives pros another opportunity to earn points that count toward post-season and Classic qualifications. Pros also amass points that count in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.

Daily weigh-ins at 3:15 p.m. CT will be at Bull Shoals White River State Park (on the east side of the dam), 153 Dam Overlook Lane, Bull Shoals, AR 72619. Fans are invited to arrive early and enjoy the TroKar Quest Family Fest at the park. All Bassmaster activities are free and open to the public.

For fans watching online, Bassmaster.com will provide extensive coverage. When the anglers are on the water, fans can follow along via BASSCam video and BASSTrakk reports from the water, blogs, and the new War Room feature. During the weigh-ins, live video and real-time leaderboards will relay the action. Photo galleries, stories and standings will be posted daily.

The Bassmasters on ESPN2 will feature the TroKar Quest on April 29 at 8 a.m. ET.

Hosting the event are Mountain Home, Ark., and the State of Arkansas.