RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Saturday dawned with a thunderstorm rolling across Lake Dardanelle. It seemed like a godsend for the 12 anglers who qualified for the semifinal round of the Bassmaster Elite Series Legends tournament, presented by Ramada Worldwide.
"I'm loving it," Ish Monroe said. "Anytime you haven't had rain for a while, and then you get rain, the fish start getting active, and they want to bite."
Aaron Martens led the field after two days on Lake Dardanelle with 33 pounds. During Friday's weigh-in, Martens said, "If we can just get some clouds. Just a few clouds."
Martens got more clouds than he wanted Saturday morning, when the two-day totals were zeroed for the next two days of competition. The 7 a.m. downpour prevented him from re-rigging his rods, as he planned to when he arrived early for the 9 a.m. takeoff. But Martens, who celebrated his 35th birthday Friday, wasn't complaining.
"It allows you to move a lot faster," said the Leeds, Ala., resident. "You don't have to finesse them. You can go power fishing."
The top power-fisher in the world, three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam, enjoyed seeing the cloud cover as well.
"With the rain, I think the fish are going to be more aggressive in every hole on the course," VanDam said. "They'll bite a little bit better."
That was particularly good news because all the anglers who made the two-day cut from 50 to 12 had relied on the Arkansas River current running through Lake Dardanelle to catch their fish Thursday and Friday. None of them was real excited Friday afternoon about moving to the no-current, lake-like environment of the six-hole course laid out in Lake Dardanelle's Illinois Bayou.
That attitude changed considerably with Saturday morning's weather.
"A lot of times, when you get a little front this time of year, the fish will get more aggressive," said Greg Hackney, who finished second to Martens with 32-6 after the first two days.
"There will be a lot of trolling motors on high today," said Jason Quinn, who tied for 11th place (24-12) with Mark Tyler to qualify for the hole course today. "You've got some shallow vegetation that's going to come into play with the weather like it is. I think it's going to be a real good day."
The top six anglers after this afternoon's weigh-in at Lake Dardanelle State Park will qualify to fish the same six-hole course Sunday with a chance to win the $250,000 first-place check.
All 12 Saturday qualifiers had dozens of rods rigged for the various possibilities Saturday in Illinois Bayou, where they've had no opportunity to cast a lure all week. Motoring through the course without even standing on the deck was the only opportunity they had to form a game plan for today.
There will be two anglers in each of the six holes for 70 minutes, before they rotate to the next hole for the next 70 minutes. That's the routine for most of the day. Beginning at 4:10 p.m., there will be an 80-minute "happy hour," when the anglers may fish anywhere on the course.
"I love fishing lakes for the first time with a wide open mind, no preconceived ideas" said Fred Roumbanis, an Auburn, Calif., resident who until this week didn't even know the Arkansas River formed Lake Dardanelle.
Dean Rojas, on the other hand, has qualified among the 12 finalists on Lake Dardanelle twice, in 2004 and 2005, when Bassmaster Elite 50 events were decided in a hole course laid out in Illinois Bayou.
Saturday morning Rojas didn't perceive any advantage in his fishing experience here.
"This is my third time to make the finals at Russellville," Rojas said. "I know the course real well, but I haven't made the top six here yet."
If the third time is a charm for the Spro Frog-throwing specialist, that will be evident at today's 7 p.m. ET weigh-in.