BULL SHOALS, Ark. — There were many disappointed Elite Series anglers at Bull Shoals Boat Dock Thursday morning, after the postponement of the Bull Shoals Ramada Quest was announced. But by moving the tournament back a day, what promised to be an interesting event became even more intriguing.
"It's going to be a tournament full of strategy," said Alton Jones.
Bull Shoals presents a completely different challenge than it did a year ago, when the lake was high and the bass were in post-spawn mode. Now the lake is just below it's normal level, the water is extremely clear and the fish are moving to shallow spawning beds.
"Some of them are bedding in 18 inches of water," said Mark Davis. "Last year we had colored water even on the lower end, and as you went up the lake it even got better. I haven't found that anywhere this year, and I've pretty much looked at all of it. You can see 30 feet deep now."
Complicating the conditions is the fact that a cold front is coming with today's stormy weather. At 9 a.m. Thursday, it was 43 degrees in Tulsa, Okla., 50 in Fayetteville, Ark., and 70 in Bull Shoals. Fayetteville is only 125 miles west of Bull Shoals. It's predicted to get down to 32 degrees tonight at Bull Shoals.
"The fish aren't going to bite (Friday)," said Davis, the long-time pro from Mt. Ida, Ark. "This will help those guys who are sight-fishing. Those aren't feeding fish anyway."
Alton Jones is one of those sight-fishermen. But he hasn't been encouraged by what he's found so far in practice.
"My problem all week is that I'm not seeing the big ones," Jones said. "Even though I'm seeing females, I saw one four-pounder during practice, and I didn't see her until yesterday. I've seen a couple of three-pounders, but most of them are two-pounders.
"It tells me the weights are going to be significantly lower than they were last year, or what I'm doing is just the wrong thing."
Some of the spawning bass will move back into deeper water with the cold front, but not all of them. These Ozark lakes aren't like Florida, where a cold snap will scatter spawners for several days.
"These deep clear lakes are different," Jones said. "Once they go, they go, regardless of the weather. I was seeing some fish paired-up. Once there are eggs on the bed, it doesn't matter if the lake ices over. The females may back out, but the males are still going to be there guarding the nest. So there are still going to be beds now, no matter what.
"But the weather will make them really difficult to catch."
And that's why it's going to be "a tournament full of strategy," as Jones predicted. Where and how will a winning weight be caught in a lake that proved it was full of three-pounders a year ago, when some Elite Series anglers were having 100-bass days?
Brandon Palaniuk won last year's event with a total of 78 pounds, 6 ounces over four days. Fourteen anglers had 27 pounds after two days, from Ott DeFoe's 27-14 to Kevin Short's 27-0, and that was right where the top 50 cut-line was: Andy Montgomery was the last man in with 27-2; Greg Hackney (27-1) and Short just missed it.
"It's really a shame (to miss fishing Thursday) because this would have been our best fishing day," said Davis, who finished 36th last year. "I know safety is a big concern. I understand that. But I sure was wanting to fish today because it's going to get really poor after today."
Ultimately, the postponement may allow the anglers to take advantage of a warming trend that will follow the cold front. The highs are predicted to be 58 degrees Friday, 68 Saturday, 69 Sunday and 72 Monday, with little chance of rain on those days.
No matter what the total weights are, somebody is still going to win this tournament. And there are plenty of bass in this 45,000-acre lake on the White River. But the intrigue has been increased as to how those fish are going to be caught.