LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Consider Greg Hackney surprised.
“I’d be surprised if we don’t see a big bag come across the stage today,” Hackney said after weighing in as a part of the early flight on Thursday. “There’s a potential for a guy to pull up on a spot and catch 17 pounds in 20 minutes out here.”
Denny Brauer leads Day One of the Diamond Drive on the Arkansas River with 14 pounds, 10 ounces. Hackney, who lives in Louisiana now but grew up on the Arkansas River, said he spent most of the day worried someone else would find “that spot.” He weighed in a limit that went 8 pounds, 6 ounces.
“I tried a little bit of everything today, trying to key in on the right thing,” Hackney said. “I had 15 rods on my deck today and used most of them. I know the fish are bunching up in places; I just need to find the right spot at the right time.”
Part of the confusion on what to do, said Arkansas native Kevin Short, was because of how the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water. With all the recent flooding, the Corps has had to get creative in releasing water to keep the river levels where they want them. That means the flow, or current, changes every day, along with the water level.
“It has the fish confused and it has us confused,” said Short, who weighed four fish that went 6-14. “I think what I am doing is what’s going to win it, but the fish are so spread out, it’s hard to find them.”
Coming in slightly behind Short was local favorite Scott Rook with only three fish for 6-7. He sang pretty much the same tune as Short: There’s too much change going on to get keyed in.
“All the change in the water levels is keeping them messed up,” Rook said. “I ran all the good stuff I know today. I probably hit 100 spots where I have caught them before and didn’t have much luck.”
Hackney said he also tried to recapture some old river magic in a few familiar spots, but to no avail.
“I just kept doing what I know I should be doing in the places they’re supposed to be,” Hackney said. “I almost wish they’d cut off the flow completely. At least then the fish would be more predictable.”
Billy McCaghren, who lives 20 minutes from downtown Little Rock in Mayflower, Ark., had the best day of the locals, weighing in 13-3 for fourth place. He said part of his success came from ignoring what he knows about the river.
“I actually went south, not north toward where I live, believe it or not,” McCaghren said. “I’ve never won a tournament on the river so I thought I’d try something different.”
The other Arkansas River pro to do well on Saturday was Stephen Browning. Browning weighed in 10 pounds even, keeping him on track for his goal of catching double-digit weights every day.
Browning was a little more secretive than the other pros about what he was doing and where, mainly because he was shocked to have the area to himself. It’s a spot his son had success on under similar conditions in a junior tournament on the river last summer.
“I thought I was going to see a lot of boats and there were none,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on it, but now I think I’m going to head back there tomorrow. If I am the only one pressuring it, I think it will hold up.
“As long as nothing changes.”