LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With high temperatures, limited cloud cover and still waters on the Arkansas River, the overwhelming number of Elite anglers competing in the Bassmaster Legends presented by Goodyear figured that fishing would be tough to open the final Major of the 2006 season.
But the pros couldn't have guessed it would be this difficult.
Of the 55 Elite anglers in the tournament, only two caught five-fish limits — Brian Snowden and Scott Rook, who not surprisingly are atop the leaderboard after Thursday's action. The cut, which will trim the field to 12 anglers after Friday's fishing, currently sits at 7 pounds, 6 ounces. And a remarkable 11 anglers didn't catch a keeper on Thursday (including current angler of the year points leader Michael Iaconelli, Davy Hite and Morizo Shimizu who both have won Elite Series events earlier this year.)
What to say?
"In a word, it was awful," said Lee Bailey, who caught one fish that weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces.
But Snowden found conditions to be agreeable in the backwater area he was fishing southeast of downtown Little Rock. He caught most of his keepers between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. using a Yum black neon tube lure and boated five fish that totaled 15 pounds, 8 ounces.
Snowden said finding just the slightest bit of current was key to his success.
"It was a new area that I didn't practice in, I just looked in there," he said. "There were a lot of fish there. It had the right ingredients. It had some deep water and it had some shallow water with lots of cover. I just made a pass through there with a little water movement."
Snowden, who hails from Reeds Spring, Missouri, said he's largely unfamiliar with this area of the Arkansas River. But his knowledge of another of the state's famous fisheries — Lake Dardanelle — helped him Thursday, he said.
"(My spot) reminds me of Dardanelle quite a bit," Snowden said. "I've never fished this far south on the backwater. But it made me feel comfortable to fish in there. Hopefully they'll bite again tomorrow, but it's been really tough."
Rook, who lives in Little Rock, is in second place with a five-fish total of 12 pounds, 13 ounces. He's throwing a variety of jigs, crankbaits, worms and spinners in backwater areas north of the launch. He said he caught three of his keepers in grass beds that are relatively new to the river system he's so familiar with.
"It's not hydrilla and it's not milfoil," Rook said. "But my keepers were coming out of that."
Rook said what is plaguing many anglers in this tournament is the number of undersized fish (below 15 inches) that are being caught rather than lunkers that can pad a limit's weight.
"It's probably the toughest I've ever seen the river this time of year," he said. "I spent one day, the last day of practice, in perfect conditions. It was overcast. I caught probably 25 or 30 fish out there that day, but I didn't catch a keeper."
Rook was pleased with his bag on Thursday and would like to keep producing quality catches in front of his hometown fans.
"You can know too much and that's always been the hometown jinx," he said. "You tend to fish holes you've done well in before instead of finding patterns. But man, it's hard to find a pattern right now."
Rick Clunn, who won the 1984 Bassmaster Classic on the Arkansas River, is in third place with 10 pounds, 15 ounces coming from a three-fish sack. He said he's targeting bigger fish to avoid the hassle of landing dozens of throwbacks.
"I wanted quality bites," Clunn said. "I understand where the big fish live this time of year and that's what I'm looking for. There are more numbers in other areas, but I'm not fishing those."
Clunn said he's heading south on the river but declined to say how far and what he's throwing.
Gerald Swindle, a noted "junk fisherman," is in fourth place with 10 pounds, 13 ounces. Brent Chapman is the only other angler in the field that cracked double digits. He caught four fish for a total weight of 10 pounds, 3 ounces.