BULL SHOALS, Ark. — Name it, it’s different. In fact, the Thursday-Sunday Ramada Quest on Bull Shoals Lake might as well be on a different lake than was the Quest when the Bassmaster Elite Series pros were here last April.
There’s one big change everyone can see: the water clarity has transformed from so-so to aquarium-grade.
“Yesterday at the dam I could see down about 25 feet,” said pro Stephen Browning, who like the other 99 Elite pros has been practicing on the lake for the past three days to prep for Thursday’s start. “Last year, just anyplace, about 6 to 8 feet was the maximum visibility.”
“You can’t sneak up on them anymore,” he said. “They’re spooky.”
“We haven’t had any water coming down the White River,” explained Browning, who lives hours south in Hot Springs, Ark. “We’ve had a real dry fall, a real dry winter and an early spring. We didn’t see a big flush of water come down the river like we did last year. That had a lot of the baitfish pushed up into pockets, and that’s where the bass were.”
Now, he said, the bass are spread out all over the big impoundment of the White River.
Pro Matt Herren also named water clarity as a big year-to-year change.
“I’m pretty sure my drinking water’s got more color in it,” Herren quipped.
And he’s not seeing the post-spawners that drove the catch rate upward last year.
“The water was warmer, and the fish were biting,” Herren said. “This year, we’ve got not only clear water, we’ve got fish that are pre-spawn. They’re in transition. It’s hard — it has been on me in practice, anyway.”
Herren said he’s seen fish on the bank, “trying to spawn,” as he put it, but the females have not committed to dropping their eggs.
A forecast for a cold front, thunderstorms and gusty winds could make Day One a unique challenge, Herren said.
“Who knows, with this cold front coming, the best thing to do is be non-committal (like the female bass) and take what the day gives me tomorrow,” said Herren, who finished third in last year’s Quest. “We’ll just have to adjust to the day.”
Kevin VanDam placed 45th last year at the Bull Shoals Elite event, almost smack between how Herren at third and Browning at 94th finished. Like Herren, VanDam shook his head when asked how the changes could alter the game of 2012, which Brandon Palaniuk won with 78 pounds and 6 ounces by targeting a treasure hole of bass with a deep-diving crankbait.
“There’s a huge difference in the lake,” VanDam said. “Last year, the fish were post-spawn, the water was dirty — there was an algal bloom — and that had a lot of the fish shallow. They were biting really well. This year, it’s a lot colder — but we just had a couple warm days, so some fish are moving up — and it’s really, really, really clear. Even up the lake where it was ‘dirty, dirty’ last year, you can now see 10 feet down.”
“With the front we have coming, that’s going to change things too,” said VanDam.
VanDam noted that the catch rate is still high — 50 to 75 a day — but few 15-inch keepers are among the largemouth he’s been finding. A kicker bass or two will be the key to the win this time around.
Browning is happy that Bull Shoals is not April 2012’s fishery.
“I’m excited about the changes,” said Browning, who after not faring well at the 2012 Quest, is embracing the present conditions.
“I’m going back to doing some of the things I did at Table Rock years ago,” he said. “Water clarity there was similar to what Bull Shoals has now.”