RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — It would be generous to say Lake Dardanelle looked like the California Delta on Thursday, but a glance at the leaderboard and it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch.
Fred Roumbanis, a recent transplant from Calfornia to Oklahoma, took the lead in the Bassmaster Legends presented by Ramada Worldwide with a 20-pound, 5-ounce bag on Day One, and he has a few of his old neighbors following close behind. Ish Monroe, of Hughson, Calif., sits in third with 18-5 and the winner of the Elite Series tournament on the California Delta earlier this season, Aaron Martens, is in sixth with 16-0.
"I was just going back to my roots from fishing Clear Lake and the Delta," Roumbanis said. "I had no idea what to expect, but when I got here, I saw the grass and I felt right at home. There's current, it's a river, and I'm basically just finding areas that have a distinct river ledge or drop off in a creek."
Roumbanis said he didn't even know Dardanelle was a part of the Arkansas River before he pulled into town and started looking at some maps. Three days later, he had it figured out better than every angler in the 50-man field, including four guys who currently call Arkansas home — Scott Rook, Mike McClelland, Stephen Browning and Mike Wurm.
"I really grinded it out in practice," Roumbanis said. "I never pre-fished with my trolling motor on less than 100. I covered a ton of water."
Monroe also referenced the California Delta when talking about how he was able to cull through the piles of smaller bass to get a bag of five over the 15-inch slot limit of Dardanelle.
"It reminds me of a summertime Delta pattern — you get the current and weeds, pull out a Sweet Beaver and a flippin' stick and it's a lot of fun," Monroe said. "Us West Coast fishermen are well-rounded and that's why we thrive on tour."
Known as a man who has a knack for finding the bigger fish and with a no-entry fee, high-payout format, Monroe didn't shy away from going big.
"I called myself two-rod Todd today — I had two rods on the deck and I stuck with it," he said as he came off the weigh-in stage. He said he plans on doing the same thing Friday even though he might not need but 10 pounds to get inside the top 12.
The Californians were certainly thriving, but the locals didn't go completely unrepresented. Greg Hackney, who grew up on the lower end of the Arkansas River (Dardanelle is on the upper end), managed 18-10 and sits in second place.
"I didn't know how I was going to fish today, but I did know the areas I was going to fish," said Hackney, who now lives in Gonzales, La. "I really dialed in pretty quick this morning, and once that happened, it was exactly the way you wanted it to be."
The field will be cut to 12 after fishing on Friday and the weights will be zeroed for Saturday and Sunday as the tournament moves to a six-hole course inside the Illinois Bayou, which is a part of Lake Dardanelle.
Jason Quinn sits on the cut line with 13-6 and most of the anglers agreed that it was going to take double that to be fishing the weekend. There are 31 anglers that finished with double-digit weights and Lake Dardanelle has been known to turn on one angler and give to another overnight, which means the top of the leaderboard could see a significant change on Day Two. The anglers will takeoff at 10 p.m. ET and the weigh-in begins at 7 p.m.
One angler who probably won't need to worry about Friday is Roumbanis, but he said that won't slow him down.
"I am just going to try and catch five, but there is no point in pulling off," he said. "We're fishing new water on the weekend, so I might as well try and catch as much as possible."