RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — The Elite Series heads to Lake Dardanelle, May 15-18. This marks the third stop for the Elite Series at Lake Dardanelle and the first since 2009. It’s time to look at previous tournament data from Dardanelle as we set our Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing teams.
Mark Menendez worked a smaller aluminum boat through a culvert to win the event back in 2009. (Side note: I wish Mark was able to defend his Lake Dardanelle title this year, but I am also glad to see all the support from Skeet Reese, Dave Mercer and all the other Elite anglers helping support Mark and his family after his wife died earlier this year.)
Anglers will not be able to reach that area this year because they have to use the same boat they started the season with. The bigger fiberglass boats will not fit through that same culvert. There are still several big areas that anglers can focus on at Lake Dardanelle that could be the winning areas. The main river can be a place to catch a big sack in the summer, but with the cold winter, the bass have not moved out that far yet. Illinois Bayou by the launch site and Spadra Creek at the north end of Lake Dardanelle should be the two biggest players in the tournament.
Remember the percentages listed here are likely to change before the tournament starts. Keep that in mind when deciding on your Fantasy Fishing team.
Bucket A: Kevin VanDam
Kevin VanDam is having a “slow” season sitting 14th in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings. This sounds like a copy from any event, but this lake blends well into the way VanDam likes to fish. With four major B.A.S.S. events on Lake Dardanelle, VanDam has finished no worse than 10th (eighth in 2004, 10th in 2005, third in 2007, and second in 2009). VanDam was the runner-up to Mark Menendez in the 2009 event on Lake Dardanelle. KVD is the second-most owned Fantasy Fishing angler at 13.4 percent, but that is still pretty low considering his past history at this lake. I hope this is the event KVD wins and makes a strong charge up the AOY leaderboard.
Greg Hackney may be from Louisiana, but he has fished a lot of tournaments in Arkansas. Lake Dardanelle offers a lot of areas to fish the way Hackney likes to fish. Hackney has fished three B.A.S.S. events at Lake Dardanelle, making a check at each event, and he took home a Top 12 at two of those events. He is only owned by 1.4 percent of Fantasy Fishing players, so he really is a steal for the bucket.
There are very few anglers on the Elite Series that have as much experience on the Arkansas River as Scott Rook. Rook has more experience farther down the river around Little Rock or Pine Bluff, but do not be afraid to take Rook on your Fantasy Fishing team. He is having one of his best seasons in a while on the Elite Series, sitting in 10th in AOY. Rook is owned by 1.9 percent of players, so there is plenty to be gained over other players by taking him. Having a few of VanDam’s lucky cookies in his box does not hurt.
I left Mark Davis off not because I expect him to have his first bad tournament, but more for his 44.5 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership. With this being a postspawn event on a lake not far from his home, Lake Dardanelle could easily host Davis to his fifth Top 12 finish out of five events this season.
Bucket B: Brent Chapman
Brent Chapman is sitting right around the cut line for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic, currently at 27th in AOY. Interestingly enough, 27th is Chapman’s worst finish in four B.A.S.S. events on Lake Dardanelle. Chapman is the fifth-most-owned angler for the bucket at 5.0 percent. I am hopeful Chapman is the highest points earner for the bucket, but I expect him to at least beat several of the other anglers who have higher ownership percentages.
Classic champ Randy Howell is a camping buddy of Brent Chapman’s. These two have a chance to be battling each other Sunday on Lake Dardanelle. Howell has made a check in three B.A.S.S. events on Lake Dardanelle, including a win in 2004. The one event Howell did not make a check at Lake Dardanelle was 2007, when only the Top 25 earned a check, and Howell finished 28th. Howell is the favorite for the bucket at 24.8 percent, so if you need a safe pick, Howell should be your choice.
Matt Herren has only fished one B.A.S.S. event on Lake Dardanelle, but he made the Top 12 cut in that event. He is having a solid season with three Top 50 finishes in the four events so far. At 1.8 percent ownership, he is a real steal. Look for Herren to be right in the hunt for his first Top 12 finish of the season.
Bucket C: Davy Hite
Davy Hite mentioned on First Look at Toledo Bend that he did not make the cut there but that he will make the Top 12 at Lake Dardanelle. It did not look like he was saying it to blow smoke, either. Hite won an event on Lake Dardanelle in 2005 at the same time of year. He also finished 18th at the Lake Dardanelle event in 2009. Only 4.6 percent of Fantasy Fishing players are taking Hite right now, so if he has a strong finish, his players have a lot to gain over other players.
Fred Roumbanis had a bit of an off-tournament at Toledo Bend, but Lake Dardanelle could be just what he needs to forget about that. He has fished two B.A.S.S. events at Lake Dardanelle and took home Top 12 finishes in each event. I have a feeling it could be Hite and Roumbanis fighting for the best finisher of this bucket. Roumbanis is owned by 7.8 percent of players, so there is still plenty of opportunity to gain an advantage.
Stephen Browning, who’s from Hot Springs, Ark., may have as much experience on Lake Dardanelle as Scott Rook. Browning already has a Classic spot with his win at the last Central Open on the Red River. The combination of Browning having experience here and a Classic spot wrapped up should let Browning fish a little more aggressively. Watch for Browning to be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday. The only reason to avoid Browning is his 26.1 percent ownership. If you want a safe pick for this bucket, Browning would be the angler to take. If you want to try and pass other fantasy players, I would look for a lower owned angler.
Bucket D: Kevin Short
No one will have a bigger cheering section or fans pulling an angler to have a great tournament than Kevin Short will. What his family has been through in the last two weeks — with the tornado destruction in his hometown of Mayflower, Ark. — is something no one would want to go through. However, Short is not just a sentimental pick, but a smart pick. He has fished Lake Dardanelle since he was a boy. He has seen the lake through its ups and downs over time. Short may have a lot going on in his hometown, about an hour from Lake Dardanelle, but he will be able to find what he needs to excel at this event. Short is the most-owned angler at 23.4 percent for the bucket, but that does not really matter to me this week. He is a stick on Lake Dardanelle, and a solid tournament can be the right therapy for him at this point.
Tommy Biffle is the third-most-owned angler in the bucket at 14.8 percent, but he has made a check in all four events he has fished on Lake Dardanelle. He won an event not far up the Arkansas River at Fort Gibson. This has not been the best season for Biffle, so he needs to do what it takes to shoot for a win and the automatic Classic berth that comes with it.
Billy McCaghren lives in Mayflower as well, but he was spared from the tornado. Like Short, McCaghren has fished Lake Dardanelle most than almost any other lake. He took home a 14th-place finish in his one B.A.S.S. event on Lake Dardanelle. Watch for him to be right there again battling for a Top 12 finish. McCaghren is owned by 9.3 percent of players, which seems pretty low considering he lives so close to Lake Dardanelle.
Bucket E: Greg Vinson
Greg Vinson has fished one B.A.S.S. event at Lake Dardanelle, taking home an 11th-place finish in 2009. Lake Dardanelle is the type of fishery that fits right into the way Vinson likes to fish. He is the second-most-owned angler at 20.8 percent, but that is because he could be the safest pick for the event. If Vinson is the highest finisher for the bucket, he can still beat four out of five Fantasy Fishing players for you.
Boyd Duckett is the angler I wanted to take for Lake Dardanelle this week, but he has not had a solid finish yet this year, which has hurt my Fantasy Fishing team a couple times already. Duckett won the Bassmaster Major event at Lake Dardanelle in 2007 and made a check at the 2009 event. He is a nice value pick at 8.9 percent ownership, but his strategy of fishing for Sunday is a high-risk/high-reward strategy. Get Duckett on your team if you think he gets his first Top 12 finish of the season at Lake Dardanelle.
Pete Ponds may not be the first name to jump out at you in Bucket E, but do not let him surprise you. Ponds was the last angler to make a check at the 2009 event on Lake Dardanelle. His last Top 12 finish came at West Point Lake in 2013 fishing a secret little runoff flowing into the lake. Lake Dardanelle offers places that could set up just like this if Ponds can find them. A 2.1 percent ownership does not hurt, either.
Remember to get your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team locked in before the event starts May 15. The person who chooses the best team for Dardanelle wins $2,500 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards.