Gig Fishing Bull Shoals After Dark


It was near the end of September last year, and the weather was abnormally hot—even for Branson, Missouri. Daytime temps were in the mid-to-upper 90s, and only after dark that there was any relief from the heat. It made perfect sense to schedule a nighttime fishing trip!

Fellow writer friends Kevin Paulson from Nebraska, Alan Clemons from Alabama and I were in town to attend an outdoor writers’ conference. We scheduled an after-dark gig fishing trip with Capt. Josh Isaacs, who owns and operates Branson’s Full Throttle Fishing Adventures. Capt. Josh explained that we would be trying to gig rough fish like carp, shad, suckers and gar, and that it would be an experience we wouldn’t soon forget. He was right!

We met shortly after dark at Beaver Creek Marina on the upper reaches of Bull Shoals Lake. It was still plenty warm, but it was already cooling off a little. We met Capt. Josh at the boat ramp, along with his son Riley, who would be coming along to help as first mate. As soon as the boat was in the water, we hopped aboard and headed for some backwater areas shallow and clear enough to do some gigging.

Before we got started, Riley showed us the long gigging poles that we would be using. They were about 10 feet long and made of fiberglass, with a barbed steel gigging fork at the business end. These poles reminded me of the frog gigging poles we used as kids years ago, but these were quite a bit bigger and heavier.

Capt. Josh’s boat was rigged with bright lights all along the bow railings, which provided plenty of light to illuminate the water in front of the boat and a few feet on either side of the bow. One drawback of the lights was the bugs. Literally thousands of flying bugs were drawn to the bright lights, and they swirled around us relentlessly! Luckily, none of them were biting insects, so after a while we learned to ignore them.

It didn’t take long for us to start seeing fish in the glow of the lights up front. As the boat glided along slowly and silently, more and more fish came into view and then quickly darted away. We saw hundreds or maybe even thousands of gizzard shad, ranging in size from just a few inches to almost a foot in length.

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I quickly found out that spearing these fish was easier said than done. The shad were extremely fast, and just as they came into the light and within range of my gigging pole, they would dash off and disappear. A big gar suddenly appeared just to the side of the boat, and I lunged at it. Its hard scales deflected my gigging fork, though, and then he was gone. I realized that you must hit them squarely with the gig. Glancing blows do not work.

After a while, we all started getting fish. Kevin and I simultaneously speared a gizzard shad and held them up for a photo. Riley showed us how it was done when his gig connected with two shad at once. Alan gigged the largest fish of the night—a very respectable, long-nosed gar that was nearly four feet long. It splashed and put up a good fight at the side of the boat, but Alan hoisted it up over the railing and flopped it onto the deck. Success!

All the fish we gigged went into “the fish box” at the edge of the gigging deck. I asked Capt. Josh what he was going to do with the fish since they weren’t species that most people eat, and he said that he gives all the rough fish to a local turtle farm as food for the turtles. I was glad they would not be wasted. Later in the season, most of the catch is native suckers, and those are good to eat. Capt. Josh said they often use a propane fryer to cook up the suckers they catch on one of the nearby sandbars when they are done fishing. A late-night fish fry sounds awesome!

We all had a great time gig fishing Bull Shoals after dark, and I would do it again in a minute. And as the weather gets colder later in the year, the bugs are no longer a problem!

Capt. Josh Isaacs fishes all the waters around Branson year-round. Our trip was in late-September last year, but the gig fishing actually gets better as the weather gets colder. December through the end of the gigging season in mid-February is prime time. Besides gigging trips, Capt. Josh is also an expert for everything from bluegills and crappies to trout and trophy-sized striped bass.

While you are in the Branson area, be sure to check out some of the other great things to do. Besides gig fishing on Bull Shoals, Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo are nearby and they are world famous for their tremendous bass and trout fishing. Don’t forget Branson’s live music shows, restaurants, outdoor adventures and countless other attractions. We also visited the History of Fishing Museum right downtown, and it was fantastic. Plan your own trip to Branson—you will be glad that you did.