BULL SHOALS, Ark. — There's one obvious question after seeing the Day One weigh-in of the Bassmaster Elite Series TroKar Quest: If Bull Shoals Lake is this good now, what will it be like three years from now?
Only four of the 99 Elite Series pros failed to catch a five-bass limit Thursday, and many of them sifted through 30, 40 and 50 bass in compiling their best five fish.
"This lake is phenomenal," said Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky., who is tied for fourth place with 18 pounds, 2 ounces. "It's on pace to have a better cut weight than (Lake) Okeechobee, and Okeechobee is one of the best lakes in the country. So what does that say about this lake?"
Roy was referring to the two-day Elite Series cut weight, when the field is trimmed from 99 anglers to the top 50. And he was accurate in his assessment. Fiftieth place on Day One at Lake Okeechobee on March 22 was 12 pounds, 1 ounce; 50th place at Bull Shoals Thursday was 13 pounds, 2 ounces.
However, there were seven 20-pound-plus bags at Okeechobee on Day One, headlined by Ish Monroe's 34-5. Bull Shoals produced only two 20-pound bags Thursday, led by Brandon Palaniuk's 21-9.
Bull Shoals is on the rise, spurred by a huge 2008 class of fish that spawned during a high-water year, but it doesn't yet have the numbers of big bass that a lake like Okeechobee does. That didn't keep the Elite Series pros from having a bunch of fun Thursday.
"We fish all over the world, and I don't know if I've ever caught this many fish in a day," said Mike Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., who has Bassmaster Classic and Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year titles to his credit. "My marshal did a good job. He kept score. He said I caught well over 50 and 40 of those were keepers. That's amazing."
A "keeper" bass on Bull Shoals Lake is a largemouth or a smallmouth over 15 inches and a spotted bass over 12 inches. Angler after angler talked about the number of 2- to 2 1/2-pounders that were caught Thursday.
"I probably caught 40 or 50 fish today," said Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., who is in 78th place with 11-15. "This is an awesome lake."
"I had a ball today, but I didn't have a three-pounder in there," said Terry Butcher of Talala, Okla., who is in 41st place with 13-10.
"It's a numbers game, just keep catching them," said James Niggemeyer of Van, Texas, who is 66th with 12-6.
"It's amazing how many fish you can catch here right now," said Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., who is 69th with 12-4.
"It's unbelievable how many 2- to 2 1/2-pound fish you can catch right now," said Derek Remitz of Grant, Ala., who is 25th with 15-1.
"This lake is awesome. I probably caught 35 keepers," said, Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Oka., who is in 88th with 11-7.
The big bass Thursday was a 5-11 caught by Palaniuk. There were several other five-pound-plus bass caught. And getting those five- and four-pounder was the key to separating yourself from the field. Twenty-five anglers – over 25 percent of the field – had totals ranging from 12-1 to 12-15.
This big White River reservoir also got points for its serenity. The 45,000-acre lake has no major cities nearby and little development surrounding it.
"It's big, you've got a lot of water, and you can catch them a lot of different ways," said Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., who is 59th with 12-13. "It's just a fun way to fish."
Rick Clunn, the four-time Bassmaster Classic champion from Ava, Mo., ranks Bull Shoals among his favorite lakes. He's had success here in the past, and he was successful again Thursday with 17-6, which put him in a tie for eighth place.
"I think it's a better lake now than when I've ever fished it before," Clunn said. "I haven't fished a place like this in a long time, where really you don't have to fish around someone else to have a shot. This lake has the least human development around it, and it's still pretty pristine. It's fast becoming one of my all-time favorite lakes."
With that strong 2008 class of bass, followed by another bumper crop from the 2011 floods, Bull Shoals will only get better and better over the next few years.