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Lake-lovers Coming Back to Twin Lakes
March 2002

Recent rains could support a super-spawn of largemouth bass in Bull Shoals Lake this year, and that could help the lake compete for the state's top spot as a tourist destination. 

After a year of declining tourist visits to Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes in 2000, new statistics from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers show lake-lovers returning to the Twin Lakes Area in 2001. 

The visitor count for the Bull Shoals Lake - the state's second-most visited tourist attraction - shows a lower rate of decline in 2001 (5.2 million) than in 2000, 5.32 million. In 1999, an estimated 5.55 million tourists visited Bull Shoals Lake. 

An estimated 1.9 million tourists visited Norfork Lake in 2001 and 1.66 million in 1999. In 2000, Norfork Lake ranked sixth among the state's top 33 tourists attractions, according to statistics from the Corp and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. 

Recent rains and High lake levels offer the best chance since 1990 for a super-spawn of largemouth bass in Bull Shoals, according to Ken Shirley, assistant district fisheries biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. 

"We're set up for a good spawn if we can keep the high water," said Shirley. "It's been several years since we had (a good spawn)."

Shirley said largemouth bass populations are down substantially in both lakes, particularly in Bull Shoals Lake. The lake and the trout-rich tailwaters of the White River below Bull Shoals Dam finished 1999 in a tie with Greers Ferry Lake in Cleburne County for the state's top tourism destination. With 6.02 million visits in 2001, Greers Ferry Lake, a lake less than half the size of the giant Bull Shoals, was easily the busiest tourist attraction in the state in 2001, according to the state Department of Parks and Tourism. 

Tracy Fancher, U.S. Corp of Engineers Park manager, said several variables probably affect lake-related visits to the Twin Lakes Area, some of the most obvious being gasoline prices and lake location. 

Greers Ferry Lake is closer to the Little Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area than any other Corp lake project in the Ozark Mountains, Fancher said. Beaver Lake, too, with a visitor increase of 18.3 between 1999 and 2000, likely benefited from high gasoline prices and a burgeoning economy and population in Northwest Arkansas. 

"All kinds of things play into these numbers, and I don't know of anyone who can pin down just why people move around," he said. 

Traffic in Corp-managed areas is monitored by roadside vehicle counters. Other variables like day boat launching and camping permits are figured into final numbers. 

Shirley said some of the decline in lake visits is possibly attributable to declining largemouth bass populations in the two lakes.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Missouri Department of Conservation have made substantial progress since 1990 in supporting growing walleye fisheries. The big walleye fishery has attracted new game fishers to the lakes, but that species does not attract anglers like the largemouth bass does, Shirley said. 

The recent rains and high waters are particularly promising for the spawn, said Shirley, because several years of low lake levels left large areas of lakes' shorelines above water. That gave vegetation the time needed to establish in those areas.

 That vegetation, now submersed, will decay and provide food for the spawn and shelter for the small fish to hide from larger predators.

High water that continues into June should give the spawn a chance to survive, Shirley said. 

The largemouth bass spawn will begin around May 1.

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