LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – With one day of practice in the books, the Diamond Drive on the Arkansas River is shaping up to be as tough as advertised. For Alton Jones, this tournament marks a key step toward reclaiming the lead in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year lead.
After the last event on Lake Murray, Jones dropped behind Terry Scroggins into second place and now the race is as tight as it has ever been. With less than 200 points separating the top 16 in the race, finishing at the top on a rapidly changing river system is critical.
“To be in it after this event, you are going to have to have a top 20, because at least two of the top five will be there,” Jones said. “I think it’s really up for grabs for four or five guys. Earlier in the year, you could say it’s about survival, just trying to get through a tough event. Here, you need to be at the top.”
Jones always shoots to be among the 12 fishing the final day of the Elite Series events, but he put in a little extra preparation on the Arkansas River. A few weeks back, Bassmaster.com documented his flight over Little Rock as he scouted the flooded conditions. The overtime paid off on Monday.
“The best place I found today is a place I found from the air,” Jones said. “I had three quality bites in one area, so at least I have somewhere to go on Day One. My goal all year on each practice day is to find enough fish for one day of the tournament. Overall, I thought the bite was tough though.”
Even with the additional planning, Jones knows a fishery like this one has every angler on the edge. Don’t be surprised, he said, to see one (or more) of the top names in the sport near the bottom of the standings at the end of the week.
“When fishing’s good, a good fisherman can put together a pattern and have a decent day,” Jones said. “Right now, it’s hard to put together a pattern that’s working. It’s all about finding the right spot, or an area to be in, where if you grind it out real hard, you might get five bites. Even a good fisherman doing the right things might draw a blank here. You will see some guys who are at the top of their games falter.”
As if the tournament wasn’t stressful enough, anglers have to contend with near-record heat in central Arkansas, with daily highs ranging close to 100 degrees.
To prepare, Alton Jones spent time down on famed Falcon Lake, with the permission of his wife, of course. Jones figured that no matter how hot it will get in Little Rock, it can’t compare to the scorching sun of Zapata. Check out the BASSCam page to hear Jones describing his time down in Texas.
All the planning from scouting to conditioning has been tested, even on his first day of practice. Even with one spot to rely on in the tournament, Jones’ work is far from over.
“Eliminating water is just as important as finding fish,” Jones said. “Unless you are a local like Scott Rook, there is a lot of water between gold mines. And you can’t cover water quite as effectively because if you go too fast, you might fish over the top of them. There just aren’t a lot of big fish here.”
That leaves two days of practice left to find enough fish not just to survive, but to reclaim the lead in the year-long race. His plan remains the same: fish a different pool each day of practice and then make the right decision on which pool to fish when Thursday rolls around.
“There was lots of stuff I saw from the plane I had high hopes for that I checked off my list today,” Jones said. “That’s to be expected. I just hope in all the stuff I check tomorrow, I find one area where I can get a few quality bites. Really, I think it’s going to be one of those tournaments that will shake things up.”