RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Saturday, after holding on to the lead in the May 15-18 Bassmaster Elite at Lake Dardanelle by 13 ounces, Greg Hackney said he might be left with too many choices for Sunday’s final round.
“I honestly couldn’t even say what I’m going to do tomorrow,” he said after weighing 16 pounds, 10 ounces for a three-day total of 56-8 and the tournament lead for two days running.
“I know too many places,” said the Arkansas native now living in Gonzales, La. “Should I go here, should I go there? You’re liable to pull up and catch them anywhere, with the good conditions we have right now — if you’re doing the right thing. The lake is full of fish.”
Born in Star City, Ark., Hackney cut his fishing teeth on the Arkansas River, including its Lake Dardanelle impoundment. That ingrained knowledge of the river fishery has helped him immensely at this Elite event.
Every bass angler knows the name of the angler behind Hackney by 13 ounces -- Rick Clunn. From Ava, Mo., Clunn is a 32-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and holder of 14 Bassmaster titles, including four prestigious Classic crowns.
In the Dardanelle event — the 401st Bassmaster competition of his storied career — Clunn moved up from fifth place after posting 19 pounds, 8 ounces Saturday for a three-day weight of 55-11, enough to launch a serious bid for the win. It would be his first Bassmaster victory since 2002.
Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas, bettered his position Saturday by one tick, inching up into third place. He brought 17-11 to the scales for a three-day tally of 54-3.
In fourth place was Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., who has moved steadily up the leaderboard each day. He was in 26th place after Day 1, and in 10th place after Day 2 before nailing fourth place at 53-1.
Keeping a remarkable recovery going, Cliff Crochet ended the third round in fifth place at 52-5. The pro from Pierre Part, La., produced 19-plus-pounds two days running to pull out of his 70th place standing on the first day.
Those five pros lead the 12 who qualified for the championship round on Sunday. First prize is $100,000 and an instant-in to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Hackney will start the final day with just 13 ounces on Clunn and 2-5 on Combs. The spread between first and 12th place is 7-15. Making all the right choices from the many options in his mind could prove to be his biggest challenge.
There’s one thing Hackney feels sure about as he heads to the final round and a possible second Elite victory of his career: He won’t go home with the girl he brought to the dance.
“I feel like I worked my two areas over pretty good, and I’d be surprised if I’d be able to go back in there and get a bunch of bites,” Hackney said. “I fished really slow and thorough for two days there. But I probably won’t go too far.”
And he isn’t likely to beat the riprap along Dardanelle’s many bridges, a strategy of many pros in the Dardanelle event.
Hackney was cryptic about what he has been doing; Elite pros know they can’t give up any information that might help their competitors. But he did say that so far, he hasn’t burnt much gas to get to his productive areas.
His Saturday bag of five largemouth bass weighing 16-10 contained all “litter mates,” he said. Those were the best of about the 20 keepers he landed.
He said everything is going according to his master plan formulated in the event’s three days of practice.
“I had a good practice, and that’s an advantage. I’m just running my practice. By being here before, once I got ‘bit’ I knew what to look for elsewhere,” he said.
Clunn has been in the game since the first hour, moving from 11th place to fifth before taking second place.
“You can’t be consistent if you don’t understand what’s going on every day. The fish haven’t changed on me. I’ve been staying with what’s been working every day,” he said.
Clunn said he’s had seven to 10 keeper bites a day. That’s his strategy.
“You can’t fish for 20, 30 or 40 bites a day,” he said. “Those are the wrong fish. You’ve got to give up bites to get the good ones. Seven to 10 bites is absolutely the correct thing to be doing.”
Clunn’s largest was a 5-2. The other four hovered in the 3 1/2 to 4 pound class, he said.
The bass are all doing the same thing consistently, Clunn added, but didn’t elaborate.
Combs, who has been cranking, said he tried flipping Saturday with mixed results. Zebra mussels continually abraded, cut or fouled his line.
“I didn’t even know zebra mussels were here,” he said. “I broke off a good bass in there.”
But he got one good one out of the mussel area that helped.
“So I need to tie on some braid,” he said.
The largest bass of the day, a 5-15, was caught by David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn. One more like it would have been of great help to him Saturday. He was the first man out of the Top 12 cut, missing by 4 ounces. Paul Elias of Laurel, Miss., was the 12th qualifier at 48-9.
For his 6-10 on Day 2, Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, remained the leader in the event’s Carhartt Big Bass competition, which is worth up to $1,500. For his Day 2 bag of 25-5, Rowland held on through Day 3 as the top contender for the Berkley Heavyweight bonus of $500.
The Dardanelle event is changing up the points standings in the race for the 2014 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. Coming into the event in his home state, Mark Davis of Mount Ida led by 42 points. But when Davis didn’t make Saturday’s Top 50 cut, he left himself open, and Hackney and others are moving in. The points standings after three of four days have Hackney one point ahead of Davis.
Points are important to every one of the 107 pros in the Dardanelle event. The Top 50 in points will move on to the Bassmaster Elite Series AOY Championship in September on Bays de Noc in Michigan. There the AOY will be crowned, and the 29 pros with the most points will qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.