Fat, full of bass and as changeable as they come, the Arkansas River promises to set up one of the season’s most challenging competitions when the Bassmaster Elite Series hits Little Rock, Ark., June 9-12, for the Diamond Drive
Challenging and pivotal: As the seventh of eight events of the regular season, the tournament will gel or blast apart many a bid for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown, or for a 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth earned through the AOY points system. The final 2011 event, June 16-19 on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake, is where the season title will be settled.
Besides valuable points, the Diamond Drive will award $100,000 to the winner plus an instant entry into the 2012 Classic.
Elite Series pro Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., is the one who called the river “fat,” meaning filled bank-to-bank and far into the waterway’s cuts and oxbows. Short lives about 6 miles from the Arkansas River. He learned about bass fishing on river waters. But like everyone in the 99-angler field, he’s been watching conditions from afar (the river has been off-limits to Elite Series pros since May 9), especially the fast flow rate of the current.
“It is steadily coming down every day, every hour. By the first practice day (June 6), it’ll be very fishable,” Short said.
What will make the river a true test of Elite skills, he said, is its tendency of late to change quickly.
“I don’t look for any two days to be the same — or any two hours,” he said. “You could find an area loaded (with bass) one day, and go there on the next and it could be bone dry. Or it could be a case where a bar of sand appears between you and the backwater area, and you aren’t getting across.”
He said such conditions will make every bite critical. Finding those bites will be difficult, too, he said. The anglers will have to know how to eliminate nonproductive water and anticipate how and where bass will move with the ever-changing water clarity, depth and current.
“It’ll be like herding cats,” Short said. “And it’s going to be 180 degrees from what anybody saw even a week ago.”
Jeff Connella thinks so, too. That’s why the Elite Series pro has hired a pilot to fly him over the river (not against Elite Series rules) on Sunday, the day before the official June 6-8 practice, a tactic he planned before fellow Elite Series pro Alton Jones did the same thing last week, Connella said.
“Flying over the day before practice starts is, I think, the wisest thing,” he said. “That timing is critical to seeing where the water is highest, where I can and can’t get into, where the clear and muddy water is, and where it’s mixing.”
Although he isn’t experienced on the Arkansas, Connella can interpret what he will see from the air. Living in central Louisiana near the Red River, Connella knows how to read a big river. The Red is like the Arkansas in several ways, he said, which gives him clues as to how he’ll attack the Arkansas.
“I’m used to figuring out not only where the fish are today, but also where they’ll go as the conditions change,” he said.
Locking up or down the river — the field will launch into Pool 6 in Little Rock, and Pool 4 through Pool 8 are fair game — will likely be on almost every Elite Series pro’s game plan. The average locking time normally runs about 25 minutes one way, Short said. But next week, anglers could be bumped from locks or have to wait longer because a down-river lock was closed recently, then reopened, and barges are backed up; commercial traffic has locking priority.
Spending time on a locking strategy could turn out to be a risky, but perhaps necessary, tactic.
“The problem is going to be, there’s not enough water in any one pool for four days,” Short said. “I don’t know that you could win staying in one pool.”
Connella noted that with the Arkansas’ fast and high conditions over the past several weeks, recreational anglers have not been on the water, so bass have not been pressured. That could work in the Elite Series field’s favor, he said, and the weight to win could be higher than some might anticipate — although Connella didn’t hazard a guess.
Short attempted a four-day poundage estimate: mid-50s to 60s to win. “I think there’s that quality of fish out there,” he said.
• First prize: The winner’s prize is $100,000 and a 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth.
• Also at stake: Besides a piece of the Top-50 payout, anglers will compete for points that count toward winning the 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and qualifying for the postseason — each $100,000 competitions within themselves. Also, the Top 28 in points at the end of the season will qualify for the 2012 Classic.
• When: June 9-12. Anglers will be allowed three days of official practice, June 6-8, before the four-day competition begins on Thursday.
• Where: Arkansas River out of Little Rock, Ark.
• Launch: 6:30 a.m. CT, North River Landing, 100 Riverfront Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72114
• Weigh-ins: 3 p.m. CT, Riverfest Amphitheatre, 400 President Clinton Ave., #217, Little Rock, AR 72201
• The cut: The 99-angler field will compete the first two days, then be cut to 50 for the third day. The fourth and final day — Sunday, June 12— will be a contest between the 12 pros who make the final cut.
• Fan festival on site: Open at 1 p.m. (CT) Saturday and Sunday. For a full list of the fun, check out Attend the Diamond Drive at Bassmaster.com.
• No cost to attend: Launches, weigh-ins and the festival are free.
• All-out online coverage: The Diamond Drive will be covered wire-to-wire by Bassmaster.com. Tournament coverage will include live, streaming video of the weigh-ins; a real-time weigh-in leaderboard; BASSTrakk catch reports; daylong live blogging; from-the-water BASSCam video reports, the live Toyota Trucks Hooked Up! show with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona; live hourly updates hosted by Dave Mercer from the Toyota Trucks Hooked Up! stage; daily photo galleries; in-depth analysis; and daily results and standings.
• Host organization: Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Lowrance, Luck “E” Strike, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ramada