You can catch your limit on relaxation in the Bull Shoals area of northern Arkansas
By Kathie Sutin

Sometimes the best destinations are in your own backyard. Take Bull Shoals in Arkansas.

If you’re looking for a place to kick back and relax, or you want to do some canoeing, kayaking, hiking and swimming, you won’t find a better place than Bull Shoals, a small town located about 75 miles southeast of Branson, Mo.

The White River is known for its great trout fishing opportunities.
And then there’s the fishing. Bull Shoals is as close to fishing paradise as it gets. People come from all over the world to fish the White River and Bull Shoals Lake.

Phil and Benicia Friese own a tackle shop and fishing guide service in Bull Shoals. The trout fishing, in fact, is so good on the river that his fishing guide customers are guaranteed they will catch fish or the trip is free.

“I’ve never had to refund anyone’s money,” he said.

The area is a sportsman’s dream, said Kelley Linck of the Ozark Mountain Region Tourism Association. “A person could literally stay in one place and fish three different bodies of water for three different species of fish,” Linck said. Anglers look for brown, brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout in the river; bass, crappie, walleye and catfish in the lake; and stripers in Norfork Lake near Mountain Home.

Trout are not native to the White River but thrive there because of the dam.

“There was an artificially cold environment created below Bull Shoals Dam that was perfect for the trout we have today,” Jennifer Bassett, interpreter at Bull Shoals-White River State Park, said.

Scuba divers love Bull Shoals Lake’s crystal-clear water and its depth, more than 200 feet in places.

“It’s probably the second-clearest lake in the Midwest,” said Don Peterson, owner of Aquasports Scuba Center in Springfield. Another plus for lake divers and fishermen: Bull Shoals has more fish. “Divers who dive Bull Shoals are really big into spear fishing.”

The lake has something else that visitors love–lots of open space.

“The lake is huge; 81 miles across with more than 740 miles of shoreline,” Linck said. “It’s hard to imagine, for some people, the opportunity to fish in a cove and be the only boat there and in a cove over is the water skier that would normally be bothering you. It’s also hard to imagine skiing up and down a cove virtually by yourself and not disturbing someone or having them disturbing you.”

Also, dozens of resorts on and near the lake and river offer lodging, boat rentals and guide services.

Bull Shoals-White River State Park

Campers can spend an entire vacation at Bull Shoals-White River State Park, where river and lake meet the dam. The park has 103 campsites, some available year-round.

For folks who want to try camping but don’t have camping equipment, there are two “rent-a-camp” sites. The park provides a platform tent complete with cots, camp stove, lantern and cooler. “You just need to bring your food and linens,” Bassett said.

Not ready for tent life? Opt for one of two rent-an-RV units with all of the comforts of home, including a bathroom, microwave and satellite television. You can rent a boat, canoe or kayak year-round or a bicycle from April to October at the park’s marina. Hike the park’s five miles of trails anytime.

The James A. Gaston Visitor Center offers exhibits, a video entitled “White River Stories,” a two-story observation tower and two aquariums.

History of the town

Bull Shoals traces its history to the 1940s and construction of the dam to control White River flooding. President Harry S. Truman dedicated the dam on July 2,1952.

Although Congress authorized construction of the dam in 1941, World War II delayed its start. This gave land developer C. S. Woods Sr. time to buy land that would eventually be surrounded on three sides by water. Woods managed to sell three quarters of the lots in his new town before a single street was opened.

Today visitors often come for the fishing but are surprised by what else they find in Bull Shoals, said Anne Mahoney of Bull Shoals Lake-White River Chamber of Commerce. The Ozark Mountain scenery, which is spectacular, overwhelms many visitors. And the town has several restaurants and gift stores with everything from trinkets to upscale items.

The Historical Society Museum, open from April to October, has displays on the dam construction, an arrowhead collection and a Civil War exhibit.

At the Bull Shoals Theater of The Arts, local and national artists perform in the coziness of the 460-seat theatre. Step back in time at Mountain Village 1890 with 11 historic structures brought there from sites in the Ozark Mountains or at Bull Shoals Caverns, a limestone cave formed 350 million years ago. Ask about AAA discounts at Mountain Village and the caverns.

Travel up the Top O’ the Ozarks 20-story tower in a quiet elevator and take in the view of the lake, dam and state park. Or play 18 at the popular Rivercliff Golf Course.

A trip to Bull Shoals could be good for your blood pressure. People are friendly and the pace is slower. “There are no stoplights, no chain restaurants,” said Betty Morrow, a long-time resident and a board member of the Bull Shoals Historical Society. “There’s not but two stoplights in the whole county.”

“If you’re coming here to shop at malls, you’re in the wrong place,” Linck said. “If you’re coming here to get away from shopping at malls, you’re absolutely in the right place.”

And don’t be surprised if people wave to you as you drive down the street. That’s just something the locals do.

Kathie Sutin is a contributor from St. Louis.
Mar/Apr 2008 Issue

For more information, contact:

• Bull Shoals Lake-White River Chamber of Commerce, (800) 447-1290 or;

• Ozark Mountain Region Tourism Association, (800) 544-MTNS (800-544-6867), or;

• Bull Shoals-White River State Park, (870) 445-3629 or
bull shoalswhiteriver

• Phil Friese, Mar Mar Resort & Tackle, (870) 445-4444.

To visit Bull Shoals, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks®, CampBook® or TourBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices.

Order free information about Louisiana through the online Reader Service form at

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