2014 Bassmaster Elite Series
25th Place / 15 fish, 44-13
The last time I fished Dardanelle was about four or five years ago in an FLW Series tournament. Mostly what I remember that it was hot and tough and as a result I wasn’t really looking forward to this event as much as some of the others on the 2014 schedule. I knew that the lake had gotten better over the past several years, but what little history I had was not very good.
It was mid-May and while I figured that there still might be the potential for some spawning fish the majority were likely to be done and making their way out to offshore structure. On any of the Arkansas River pools it’s all about current and water color. It can get and stay very muddy, but the Dardanelle pool tends to be a little bit clearer because it has the most grass and the most zebra mussels.
My plan was to target post-spawn fish moving out to either channel banks or drop-offs. They weren’t necessarily deep for other lakes, but they were for Dardanelle. I also wanted to fish some shallow grass and flip some wood. On the first day of practice I started on a brushpile in about 6 or 7 feet of water and caught a 5-pounder on my second cast. After that I marked a few more similar spots and caught a 3 ½ pounder on a crankbait and then another keeper. I thought I was onto something, but throughout the rest of the practice period I kept bouncing around trying different things. I managed to catch a fair number in the shallow grass and I also spent a lot of time with my side-imaging units idling around, marking brush.
When the tournament started I elected to begin on one flat that had three or four isolated stumps and laydowns. I’d caught five or six fish there during practice and it didn’t disappoint me on the first day of the tournament. On the first log I caught a 2 ¾ pounder, then I caught a 2 pounder, then I threw my squarebill past the stump and a big one grabbed it before it got there. She pulled hard, got me hung up and got off, which hurt but I still had a lot of time to work. I headed back to where I started and caught a 3-pounder. Then I returned to where I lost the big one and once again got bit by a great big bass, only to have it get off again. Now I had three in the livewell, but I’d lost the two big ones I needed.
I ran down the lake to some other brush piles and fished them with a new VMC Swinging Rugby head paired with a Berkley Chigger Craw. At about 9:15, I pulled that combo through a brushpile, up over a limb and had a good one pull me down and break off my line. Then it jumped and it was at least 3 pounds. Now I’d lost three. I should’ve been done with 17 pounds and instead I had three fish for 7 or 8, and that put a damper on the rest of the day. I eventually finished out my limit, but with only 12-05 I was in 82nd place, staring a second consecutive 80-something place finish in the face.
We started Day Two with a long fog delay, so I began on the same flat as the day before, on the same log where I’d gone 2-for-2. This time, though, I didn’t catch one. Fortunately, I caught another one soon after. I saw my waypoint for a stump on my Humminbird 360 and made a cast that was at least 50 or 60 feet too long, but after just two cranks I hooked and landed a 4-pounder, so I put my Talons down to work the spot over. There was nothing I could see over there on my sonar, but in a couple more casts I caught a 2 ½ pounder. In three or four more casts I had one between 2 and 3 pounds try to grab it at the boat, then landed a 3-pounder. My first five weighed 16 or 17 pounds, but I stayed a while and managed to cull up to over 18. I still don’t know why they were there. I was sitting in 2.8 feet of water and casting up toward the bank with a Storm Arashi 3 squarebill and I guess they were ganged up on a group of zebra mussel shells.
I thought I’d need 16 pounds to make the cut and with 18 plus in the livewell I figured I was good to go, so I left to fish some other stuff, but after that it was pretty slow. I managed to cull one time on a chatterbait, and I missed a few more, but it was the “magic spot” that allowed me to get up to my final weight of 18-04, vaulting me 65 spots up to 17th – well inside the cut.
There was no doubt I’d spend a lot of time on that little patch of shells again on Day Three, but once again I started on my favorite log, which produced nothing for the second straight day. After a short stop I headed straight to the shellbed and quickly caught a 3 ½ pounder. After a short lull I switched to a spinnerbait and caught one, then missed one. Then I switched to a chatterbait and caught one on my first cast. After that I cycled through various baits and caught nothing more. I think that the strong east wind either shut the fish down or repositioned them and I couldn’t figure them out. It was a very subtle deal.
After 90 minutes I had 3 solid keepers for 8 or 9 pounds, but then it was over, so I headed up the river where I’d had some bites in practice. The cold rains we’d had each evening had muddied up a lot of water and dropped the temperatures, but I felt that I could at least catch a few keepers in the pads. They’d been easy in practice. I got a few bites, but they all got off, which was exceptionally frustrating. I came down the lake on my way back in and stopped in a pocket close to my good flat. There was a lot going on there – docks, pads, coontail – and I caught a few shorts and a keeper pretty quickly. Then I caught my fifth fish, a 4-pounder, with 15 minutes to go, and even managed to cull once more before it was time to go in. I’d caught three fish in the first hour, three in the last hour, and nothing in between. My third day total of 14-04 dropped me down eight spots to 25th, but I had to feel fortunate that I’d had that great day on Friday.
My first key bait was the Arashi 3 in chartreuse and black, a new color for this year. I fished it on a 7’2” medium-action Fenwick HMG and a Pflueger Supreme XT (6.4:1) with 15 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. The big key with that bait was to wind it fast, but not quite as fast as humanly possible, and to make it do all sorts of erratic things.
I also used a 3/8 ounce bladed swim jig in green pumpkin with a green pumpkin Havoc Rocket Craw on the back. I fished that on a 7’ medium-heavy Fenwick Aetos paired with the new Pflueger Patriarch XT (7.1:1) spooled with 20 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
The third most important bait was a 3/8 ounce Swinging Rugby Head (brown) with a Berkley Crazy Legs Chigger Craw (green pumpkin blue flake) on the back. I fished that lure on a 7’ Fenwick Elite Tech Bass medium-heavy rod, a 7.9:1 Pflueger Patriarch and 15 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
Of course my Talons played a key role, especially on the main shellbed. I could ease up to an area, put them down, and make the exact cast I needed to make every time. If I was 10 feet to the left or right I never caught one. My Humminbird 360 also helped me to find those isolated pieces of cover in the open water. Once they were marked, it was no problem to get lined up. “Magic” spots only come along once in a great while so without good equipment no pro can rely on them.
Dardanelle was the second of five straight weeks on the road – two Elites, the TTBC, an Open and BASSFest, so I was glad to be back on track and motivated to keep the momentum going.