Heavy rains, swift current, muddy water and predictions for more of the same have the Elite Series anglers shaking their heads. "It hasn't been good all year, and this has made it worse," says Terry Butcher, currently sitting in sixth place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and an Oklahoma resident with years of local experience on the Arkansas River.
"During the day today (Monday) the river rose 2 feet while we were fishing, and that doesn't count the 2 or 3 inches of rain we got about dark this evening. Add to that predictions for heavy rains overnight along with more tomorrow and you can see what we're up against. It's a mess." A big part of that mess is the situation with the backwaters.
The Arkansas is basically a shallow water fishery. Most of the fish are found off the main river most of the time. As conditions on the main river deteriorate, so do those in the backwater areas.
"The water's about as bad as I've ever seen it. There are trees and logs floating down the river. Some of them are washing into the shallow water off the main river, but it's so muddy that bites are hard to come by. I'd say this is really going to affect the weights."
Given those conditions, Butcher predicts it'll only take 10 or 11 pounds a day to make the first cut. And he thinks 13 pounds will be enough to make the final 12 and fish on Sunday. He predicts the winning weight will be in the 60-pound range. "I know those weights sound low, but I'm here to tell you that this is tough. True enough, someone will catch a 20-pound sack. They always do. That'll be the exception rather than the rule, however."
Bill Lowen, currently holding down the 11th slot in the AOY race and an experienced Ohio River angler, agrees with everything Butcher says and then adds that the situation will be complicated by shrinking fishable water as the week wears along.
"In many rivers the creeks are short, narrow and they have a lot of rock and other stuff that breaks and filters the water. Those creeks will blow out quickly after a heavy rain, but then start running clear in 24 to 36 hours. So, even when the main river looks like chili, the backwaters are in good shape.
"Here the creeks are big and long with a lot of sediment in them. I'm thinking they stay muddy and nasty for a long time. That's going to reduce the amount of water we can fish. By the time it's over, we'll be on top of each other."
Regardless of all that, however, both anglers see flipping and pitching plastics and jigs, spinnerbaits and square-billed crankbaits as the primary weapons for this one. In their opinion there'll be no other choice. "We'll look for the clearest water we can find and then try to catch them. Nobody said this business was easy," says Lowen.