MDC and AGFC investigating fish die-off at Bull Shoals

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SPRINGFIELD Mo -- Even though it’s been several months since heavy rains inundated parts of south-central Missouri and northern Arkansas, it appears that flooding is still having an impact on fish populations in some local waters.

Since Sept. 5, dead walleye, striped bass, yellow perch, suckers, drum and longear sunfish have been found on the portion of Bull Shoals Lake between Lead Hill Marina and Oakland Marina in Arkansas. Due to the winding nature of the lake, a portion of this section of Bull Shoals is in Missouri.

Biologists from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) are investigating the issue. The reservoir’s fish populations are jointly managed by both agencies. It is still unclear how significant the losses are.

While the impact of this event on Bull Shoals’ fish populations is still being determined, biologists are fairly certain about the cause. Some species of fish such as walleye, striped bass, yellow perch and drum prefer cooler water. At present, these species cannot inhabit the cooler water found below a depth of 30 feet at Bull Shoals due to unusually low oxygen levels. The lower-than-normal oxygen levels at these lower depths are the result of the decomposition of organic material and surrounding vegetation that was covered up or washed into the lake during spring flooding. This forced move into warmer water at a different depth in order to find the needed oxygen level can stress fish to the point of death. In typical years at Bull Shoals, and other reservoirs, oxygen levels in the lower-water levels remain high enough for fish to survive for short periods of time and, thus, fish can move from one water depth to another in a healthy fashion.

MDC biologists say the cooler air temperatures that moved into the area last week, if they continue, will help to improve water conditions.

A similar situation at Bull Shoals in 2004 led to die-offs of walleye, drum, and blue catfish.

Currently, there has not been any indication the low oxygen levels are negatively impacting other popular game fish at Bull Shoals. However, similar circumstances to this have led to a small-scale striped bass die-off at Beaver Lake in Arkansas and a larger striped bass die-off on the Arkansas portion of Norfork Lake.

Information about this event or other fishing matters at Bulls Shoals Lake can be directed to the MDC’s Ozark Regional Office in West Plains by calling 417-256-0429. Fishing information can also be found at