RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Mark Davis shines as an odds-on favorite in the May 15-18 Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake Dardanelle out of Russellville, Ark., the fifth of nine events of the 2014 season.
An Arkansas native, Davis lives in Mount Ida, less than a two-hour drive away from the 55-mile-long, 34,300-acre impoundment on the Arkansas River in northwestern Arkansas. A home-state angler is always a favorite to win.
But surprisingly, Davis has a short tournament history on Dardanelle. He doesn’t even fish it just for fun.
“With 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita in my backyard, I’ve never had much reason to go to Dardanelle,” he pointed out.
But with the season he’s having, will his scant Dardanelle history matter? Davis is on a fast train — not riding, but driving. He finished within the Top 5 in each of the first four Elite events this season. That outstanding performance has resulted in a 42-point lead in the season-long race to be the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
The 2014 title would be the fourth of Davis’ already notable pro career, which encompasses four tour-level wins and the 1995 Bassmaster Classic title.
But Davis is wary of Dardanelle. After all, he placed 53rd in a field of 100 there in March 2009, the only time the full Elite field has been to Dardanelle.
“If I can just make it past Dardanelle, then maybe I’ll have a chance at AOY,” Davis said moments after wrapping up a fourth-place finish May 4 on Toledo Bend Reservoir in Louisiana.
Make no mistake: He likes Dardanelle.
“It’s undoubtedly one of the best bass lakes in Arkansas right now,” Davis added. “It’s full of baitfish, and the bass are very healthy. It’s taken 20 to 25 pounds to win local (one-day) events there lately.” Dardanelle is ranked among Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes list for 2014.
A win at Dardanelle in the Elite Series is worth $100,000 and an entry in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Every pro in the 107-man field is looking to earn points toward a Classic entry; the 29 pros at the top of the points list at the end of the season will qualify.
Strides ahead in the points race, Davis doesn’t have Classic entry worries. But other Elite pros are looking to Dardanelle as the place where their season could turn around.
One is Fred Roumbanis, a California native now living in Bixby, Okla. He’s in 62nd place in points, but his history on Dardanelle gives him good reason to hope he can move up in the standings.
That history includes an 11th-place finish in the 2007 Bassmaster Legends, a showcase tournament of 50 Elite pros, and a Top 12 in 2009, finishing in eighth place.
Another pro eyeing a boost from Dardanelle is Boyd Duckett of Guntersville, Ala. At 101st place on the 2014 points list, Duckett needs a win-you’re-in entry into the next Classic. He’s done it before; his 2013 Classic appearance was through the win in the final event of 2012.
Like Roumbanis, Duckett has Dardanelle history going for him. He triumphed in the 2007 Legends event, the same year he won the Bassmaster Classic. At the 2009 Elite event (which was won by Elite pro Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky., currently on leave), Duckett finished in the money at 38th place.
Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., needs no points salvation in Arkansas: He’s 14th so far this season. But then again, he hasn’t won a Bassmaster event since the 2011 Classic (his fourth Classic title and 20th Bassmaster win). No wise odds-maker would ever assume the ever-competitive VanDam is ready to rest on his amazing laurels.
VanDam’s Dardanelle mojo could be the best of all. Third in the 2007 Legends tournament, VanDam was the runner-up to winner Menendez in 2009.
Everyone can watch the competition from Bassmaster.com or by downloading the new Bassmaster News app on their smartphone. Fans are invited to Dardanelle State Park in Russellville to see the takeoffs and weigh-ins in person. The pros will take off at 6:15 a.m. CT all four days and return to the park for the daily weigh-ins at 3:15 p.m. CT. The Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will be open Saturday and Sunday.
There’s no admission charge for any Bassmaster event.
The local host organization is Russellville Advertising and Promotion Commission.
The Bassmasters TV show on ESPN2 will feature the Dardanelle event on June 1 from 8 to 9 a.m. ET.