On the line at Bull Shoals for all Elite pros is a first prize of $100,000 and an instant-in for the Bassmaster Classic of 2014. The entire field is out to earn points so they’ll have enough by the end of the season to qualify for the 2014 Classic.
According to both Brandons, current Bull Shoals conditions almost guarantee a different tournament than the 2012 event, although the Ramada Quest will happen almost exactly one year later. The lake’s been off limits to the pros since March 18, so the two anglers’ evaluations stem only from research of publicly available knowledge.
Card pointed to a crucial change in the fishery: The algal bloom that stained the water last year is gone.
“Last time, we had dingy water all over the lake, and everybody slammed them fishing shallow and throwing reaction baits,” he said. “I don’t expect that to be the case this year given that the water is a lot clearer.”
Finesse techniques just might be the key for the Ramada Quest, Card said.
Palaniuk won by locating deeper fish and taking them with a deep-diving crankbait. He said he’d try that again — there’s no denying it was successful. But he’s keeping an open mind and is ready to try different tactics and techniques until he hits on the right one for present conditions.
“The water hasn’t gotten high this year. Last year it was high, and then fell, and there was more [stained] water. I can see the crankbait bite not being as good. Last year you could throw a crankbait at the bank and catch a fish. I don’t think it will be like that again. I can honestly see it taking 16 pounds a day to win.”
That’s less than what Palaniuk had to pull from Bull Shoals for his trophy: 78 pounds, 6 ounces over four days, or an average of more than 19 1/2 pounds a day.
The weather over the next week could morph the game into a full-blown sight fishing event, said both Brandons. Right now the majority of the bass are in prespawn mode. A warming trend could draw the fish up onto spawning beds.
“Things could line up for that. It’s in limbo right now,” Palaniuk said. “We’re so close to the verge of the spawn there, and depending on the weather, the spawn could go in either direction.”
Proceed as the water warms, he meant, or stop dead if the weather puts a chill on the shallows and signals the fish to flee to deeper waters.
Fishing fans can track how the bass, the two Brandons and the other 98 Elite pros fare at the Ramada Quest. Bassmaster.com will provide extensive daily coverage, Thursday through Sunday, including blogs and videos from the water, the Lowrance War Room, live streaming video of the weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards. Fans are invited to Bull Shoals to watch in person. All Bassmaster events, including the Bassmaster Elite Series Expo, are free and open to the public.
The pros will begin each day of competition at 6:15 a.m. from Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock (GPS help: 140 Boat Dock Cove or 719 Shorecrest Drive, Bull Shoals AR 72619). The weigh-ins will begin each day at 3:15 p.m. at a different location: Bull Shoals White River State Park Pavilion No. 2 (GPS help: 153 Dam Overlook Lake, Bull Shoals, AR 72619).
The event’s local host organization is the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. The title sponsor is Ramada Worldwide, an official Supporting Sponsor of the Bassmaster Elite Series.