Table Rock and Bull Shoals Lakes Habitat Improvement Projects and Evaluation
- Andy Turner
In 2007, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), in cooperation with Bass Pro Shops, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Table Rock Lake Water Quality Inc. and many other partners began the National Fish Habitat Initiative (NFHI) project to sustain and improve the degrading physical habitat within Table Rock Lake. The project began in October 2007 and continued through December 2013 with funding totaling four million dollars. During this timeframe, a total of 2,024 fish habitat structures were installed in Table Rock Lake. In addition to Table Rock Lake, from 2016-2018, 193 brush piles were installed in Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork Lake utilizing NFHI funding.
In 2022, MDC received a grant from Bass Pro Shops to replenish 645 brushpiles on Table Rock Lake and 35 brushpiles on Bull Shoals Lake to ensure they remain viable as fish attractors for anglers as well as serve as nursery habitats for sportfish recruitment in aging reservoirs where littoral habitat is degrading. This project began in November 2022 and will continue through December 2023. As of May 2023, 371 brushpiles have been rebuilt and 19 new brushpiles have been built in Table Rock Lake and 27 brushpiles have been rebuilt and 6 new brushpiles have been built in Bull Shoals Lake. The GPS locations of these brushpiles can be found on the MDC website at: https://mdc.mo.gov/fishing/where-fish.
In 2021, MDC began evaluating the longevity of brushpiles installed in Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake. Structures were given a ranking of 1-4 based on the amount of deterioration and this ranking system will be used to determine at what age a structure needs to be rebuilt. Preliminary results indicate that both cedar and hardwood structures should be replaced at least every 10 years. Based on the number of structures in each lake, approximately 5% of habitat structures should be rebuilt each year. Fish use evaluation of habitat structures using Garmin Livescope began in 2022 to further evaluate fish use of structures based on their condition. Structures from one to 14 years old are currently being evaluated in Table Rock Lake and seasonal use of brushpiles is being evaluated in Bull Shoals Lake.
This project builds upon a long-standing public/private partnership in southwest Missouri to improve and restore fish habitat and provides an excellent opportunity to proactively maintain and enhance fish habitat in two of the Midwest's most popular sport fisheries. The work that has been and continues to be conducted on these projects has served as a national example of sustaining and improving reservoir sport fish populations through large-scale habitat improvements.