A big fish nobody wants was just discovered in Bull Shoals Lake
Bull Shoals Lake is renowned for its monster striped bass, largemouth bass and delicious walleye. Straddling the Missouri and Arkansas border, it’s a great lake to whet a youngster’s appetite for a day or night of family fishing.
But a recent catch by two bowfishermen is sending some shock waves through fisheries biologists. The 45-pound fish they’re examining is known for devouring huge swaths of lake zooplankton — tiny creatures that are the cornerstones of the game fish food chain in Bull Shoals Lake.
This invasive fish gets so big it has few natural predators and could potentially disrupt the plankton food chain that supplies anglers with trophy game fish.
We’re talking about the 45-pound invasive bighead carp that John Pate and son Jamie shot while bowfishing the upper end of the lake on the Missouri side Sunday night.
“As soon as my son shot it, it rolled, and I knew it was something different,” John Pate recalled. “I had a suspicion it was a bighead carp. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen there and the first one I’ve shot at.”
It took arrows from both bowfishermen to get the fish aboard. They weighed it on scales at Forsyth and then contacted the Missouri Department of Conservation to see if they would be interested in taking a look at the giant fish.
MDC fisheries biologist Nathan Recktenwald took one look and identified it as a bighead carp — and a full-grown one, too. A native of Asia, bigheads weighing more than 100 pounds have been taken in the United States.
The biggest bighead taken in Missouri so far was a 106-pounder caught in 2011 at Lake of the Ozarks while the fisherman was snagging for paddlefish.
MDC: ‘This type of
invasive species is
one we don’t want’
The fish has tasty, white flesh, though its meat has many small bones.
“This type of invasive species is one that we don’t want,” Recktenwald said. “They basically compete with other larval fish that eat zooplankton.”
Bighead carp aren’t the ones that notoriously jump into the air when boats pass by. Those are invasive silver carp.
But Recktenwald said it would not be good for bighead carp to become established in Bull Shoals Lake because they could disrupt the food chain that supports valuable game fish and other native species.
He said that as far as he knows, the Pates’ bighead is the first one confirmed to have been taken at Bull Shoals. He and other MDC employees do electroshock fish sampling twice a year at Bull Shoals (and other area lakes), and he said they’ve never shocked up a bighead carp.
Recktenwald said he’s examining the bighead’s bones to determine its age. Its organs were too deteriorated to determine whether it was male or female.
How did the fish get into Bull Shoals Lake?
Bigheads are common in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, but so far are not known to be in the upper White River, which feeds Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, Lake Taneycomo and Bull Shoals Lake. However, these fish are most likely in the lower stretches of the White River.
He doesn’t know how it got into the lake.
One theory: An angler who bought bait minnows from an area where bighead carp are plentiful might have accidentally transported a few in his or her bait bucket to Bull Shoals. If the baby bigheads were dumped into the lake, they could gain a foothold.
He encouraged anglers to buy their minnows from local bait shops close to the lake where they’ll fish and don’t dump unused minnows into the lake. Also, anglers who catch what they think is a bighead carp should call or email their local MDC office to report it.
Slow-moving water may help deter their spread.
Recktenwald said the slow-moving water in the big U.S. Army Corps lakes may help slow the spread of bigheads.
“To spawn successfully, they have to have flowing water to keep their eggs suspended in the water,” he said. “The eggs could suffocate if they fall to the bottom.”
Still, it remains a mystery how such a large bighead managed to find a home in Bull Shoals Lake.
Could a breeding population already be swimming there?
“We also wanted to reiterate that since this bighead carp weighed approximately 45 pounds, it likely has been in the lake for multiple years,” Recktenwald said. “Evidence suggests this is likely an isolated incident in Bull Shoals Lake, and no evidence of a spawning population exists at this time.” He hopes to keep it that way.
“We want to get the word out that we don’t want this fish in our reservoirs,” Recktenwald said.