After the regional competition at the Potomac River I started getting ready for the national championship at Lake Dardanelle. For those who don’t know Lake Dardanelle is a man made lake on the Arkansas River system. It is located about 2 hours north west of Little Rock, Arkansas. This was going to be a first for me for a couple reasons. I have never fished a tournament in the south, west of the Mississippi River, or longer than 2 days.
Lake Dardanelle had been off limits to all anglers in the tournament from October 4th until the first official practice day, November 1st. My wife, Jessica, and I left from our house Friday around 8:00 pm and arrived at Lake Dardanelle State Park where we were going to camp Saturday afternoon. I have stayed at a lot of state park campground over the years, but I believe that this could very easily be the nicest state park I have ever seen. Once we got camp set up we walk down to the water to take a look. To my dismay I say the darkest muddiest water that I have ever had to fish. Arkansas had recieved 8 inches of rain the week before the tournament started, and since it was a river system the water color would never settle down.
Sunday morning rolled around and I decided that it was time to start practicing. Not knowing a lot about the lake I had decided to practice in certain areas and really work them until I figured something out. The first day of practice I decided to stay with 10 miles of the launch site. I fished Illinois Bayou, Dardanelle State Park Bay, Delaware Bay, and a few other creeks. To my dismay, I was only about to catch 2 bass and only 1 was a keeper. The keeper was caught on a shaky head jig with a green pumpkin worm in about 22 feet of water. The dink was caught on a berkley chigger craw flipping shallow wood cover.
Monday was the day I was going to travel. I decide to make about a 20 mile run up to Shoal Bay and all the fingers it entails. The water was still chocolate milk colored and then some. I fished from the mouth of the main river all the way to the back creek with only catching 1 fish on a carolina rig in 8 feet of water. It was my 1st dink of the day. Once I got to the very back of Shoal Bay I found a creek that had 2 feet of water clearity and plenty of standing timber and stumps to fish. I didn’t make it very far into the creek and I caught 3 14″ dinks and had another 8 hits that I didn’t set the hook on. 30 minutes in the area and I decided that this would be my starting spot on wednesday. After a couple more hours fishing in Shoal Bay I decided to fun another 5 miles to Piney Bay. The water color there was slightly better than the main river. This excited me. It didn’t take me long to get the first keeper of the day. I nailed a 3 1/2 pound largemouth on a black and blue jig in 3 feet of water in viney weeds. I manage to get only 1 more dink in that bay before I called it a day.
Tuesday, I decided that I needed to run back to Shoal Bay to look over the clear water in Shoal Bay and some other spots near Dardanelle State Park. I went into the creek just looking and not sticking any fish. There were other boats in the area and it was the day before the tournament started. I went through a bunch of different lures, and I got hit on just about every lure that I threw in the creek. Feeling very confident, I check a couple more areas in Shoal Bay with no success. Then I ran down the lake towards Dardanelle State Park. That is when I realized that the river had became very rough from the wind. 2 to 3 foot waves had developed and there was a very short distance in between them. You add those waves with all the debree of a high muddy river system and you have dangerous conditions. It wasn’t until I reached my next spot that I realized I have broken my locking pine to my trolling motor. My practice was officially over because I only had 18 hours until the tournament started and I had to fix a trolling motor. I managed to make a couple make shift pins out of steel later in the day because no one had Motor Guide parts that I needed. Now it was off to the pretournament meeting and to bed.
Wednesday morning I was launching 10th in the first flight for the first day of the tournament. I had made my mind up that I was going to fish Shoal Bay in the clear water most of the first day. I got their and right away I started catching fish. Before long it was noon and I had caught 12 dinks and no keepers. I had lost the only good bite I had that morning. Around 1:00 I decided to run back towards Dardanelle State Park and work a couple spots that I had in deeper water. I had no luck for largemouth, but my rider and I caught about 30 white bass. Day 1 of the event was over and I was tied in 108th place with zero keepers. The only lure that worked for me was a swim senko and a paca craw.
Day 2 I was in the 2nd flight and decided to start the day in Piney Bay where I had caught 1 nice keeper in practice and 1 other dink. Wouldn’t you know it at 8:20 I managed to get a 3.10 pound largemouth on a black and blue jig flipping the viney weeds. It was the only fish that I would catch that day besides 1 other dink. Though I was disappointed to this point I still had a chance to make a check because that one fish put me in 87th place and they were paying 50 places.
The 3rd day I was in the third flight and new I needed at least 6+ pounds to get into the top 50 and collect a check. I had scrapped all of what I had learned in practice and decided that I was going to run and gun fishing as much water as I could during the day. I was also not going to run more than 5 miles in any direction from the launch. It took a little while but at 10:00 I caught my first keeper of the day. A nice 2.4lb largemouth. I caught it flipping shallow viney weeds once again. At this point I had decided that I was going to flip as much weeds as I could find the rest of the day. Hoping to get 2 more good bites. It wasn’t meant to be. I had caught an 8 pound drum, but that was my only other fish. That one fish was enough to move me up to 78th place overall.
After the tournament was over I think that I should have traveled farther up river to Spadra. I don’t know if that would have helped me because over 1/2 of the field was fishing up there. What I would have liked to do is stick to my guns more that flip the entire event. The only keepers I caught were doing that. I learned some important lessons down there. Never be satisfied with the water you find in practice. There are always better spots out there. Another lesson which I relearned was to keep listening to your gut. If it says flip then flip. If it says throw a chatterbait, then throw a chatterbait. Once again I cannot put enough emphasis on how well this circuit is run. Take off was smooth, weigh-in was smooth, and even though the fishing was tough it was still an enjoyable tournament. I look forward to fishing the circuit again next year. I would like to end by thanking the ABA staff who put so much time and energy into the event and made it such a pleasurable experience.