RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — “Steady” was the first word John Crews came up with when asked about his first day of competition in the May 15-18 Bassmaster Elite at Lake Dardanelle.
“One good one here, one good one there, and at the end of the day, it was looking really nice,” Crews said.
“Rock steady” is a more accurate description of Crews’ Thursday performance. The pro from Salem, Va., weighed a five-bass limit of 22 pounds, 9 ounces, for a lead of 12 ounces over Greg Hackney.
An Arkansas native who now lives in Gonzales, La., Hackney took second place with 21-13.
Grant Goldbeck of Boerne, Texas, trailed Crews by 2-8. His 20-1 weight earned third place. Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas, fresh off his third victory in the annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic, weighed 19-14 to tie at fourth place with Jason Williamson of Aiken, S.C.
Crews said he weighed three cookie-cutter bass bookended by a 5-3 anchor and his smallest, a 3 3/4-pounder. He worked a string of about a dozen areas along what he described as a “big stretch” of the lake.
“I’m just bouncing around,” he said. At many of his stops, he had the water to himself, a situation he hopes will continue for three more days.
“I don’t think the fishing pressure is going to be too terribly bad,” Crews said.
Crews said he has competed on Dardanelle just twice before, in the 2007 and 2009 Elite events. The results were 1) “so-so” and 2) “terrible,” he said. This time around he figured something out within the first hour of competition.
“I’d been fishing one way most of the morning. Then I changed baits and caught a 4 1/2 or 5, and I saw what it was on (cover), so that clued me in a little bit into what I should be doing,” he said.
He credited some of his success not to lessons learned, but to the lake itself.
“It’s gotten to be much better since 2009,” he said. “There’s more shoreline grass. Anytime you get that, it’s going to be good for the fishery.”
Hackney suffered through a few lean hours before his bite turned on.
“I really thought this morning that I must be rotating behind somebody, because the fish had been biting really good (in practice). Those first couple of hours, I was a little tense,” he said.
But a 4-pounder at about 9:30 eased his mind. By 11:30 he had a limit. One small clue helped him.
“They were relating just a hair differently to the cover than they had been,” he said. “I fished slow and steady and it came together. It got better as the day progressed, but not as wide open as far as numbers as it was in practice.”
The stakes are high at Dardanelle, the fifth of eight events in the 2014 Elite season featuring the full field. A win is worth $100,000 and an entry in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Besides going for the first prize, each of the 107 Elite pros competing at Dardanelle is trying to rack up points, valuable in two ways by season’s end: 1) The 29 pros with the most points will earn a Classic entry; and 2) the pro with the highest points total will be crowned Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
The largest bass of the day, a 6-5, was caught by South Carolina’s Andy Montgomery, who ended the day in seventh place. The 6-5 got the race started in the event’s Carhartt Big Bass competition, which is worth up to $1,500.
The full field of 107 will return to the water Friday. Then the field will be pared down to 50 for Saturday’s round. The Top 12 will compete Sunday.
Fans can track the competition by going to Bassmaster.com or by downloading the new Bassmaster News app on their smartphone. All are invited to Dardanelle State Park in Russellville to watch the takeoffs and weigh-ins. The pros will leave the docks 6:15 a.m. CT and return to the park for the weigh-ins at 3:15 p.m. CT.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Expo, which will be open Saturday and Sunday, will feature the Berkley Bass Tank and many other exhibits and products. Beginning on Friday at the takeoff site, fans can sign up for free demo rides provided by Nitro, Triton, Mercury, Skeeter and Yamaha.
There’s no charge for any Bassmaster event.
The local host organization is the 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.