RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Clark Reehm was the second-to-last angler to weigh in, and it was just as well most of the weigh-in crowd had dispersed. The local pro, fishing on his home water, brought only one fish across the stage — a 1 pound, 1 ounce smallmouth bass, the first he'd ever caught out of Lake Dardanelle.
"That fish is kind of special," he said afterwards. "It came to the surface and I thought it was a trash fish. I thought it was a drum."
Were it not for that lil' lunker, caught on a jerkbait at 4 p.m., Reehm might have zeroed. It was just another twist for him, Scott Rook and Mark Menendez — the only anglers, along with Rick Clunn, who opted to fish out of aluminum boats on Day One of the Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive.
"I'm hurting — I ain't gonna lie," Reehm said. "It was rough."
Menendez was the only one of that quartet who enjoyed something like a successful day on the water. While he briefly pulled into a pocket where Reehm and Scott Rook (also a local, from down the road in Little Rock, Ark.) weren't getting bit but were getting cussed at by recreational lake-goers (more on that in a bit), Menendez found his limit in a different backwater.
"It was a lot of work to get back in there," Menendez said. He worked for a while to perfect his bait and presentation, he said, but once he did, the fishing turned on for him like it did for virtually no one else on Day One. He sacked 17-12 on the day, briefly taking the overall lead, and settling into second place.
At 6 pounds even, his kicker fish was the biggest of the day. "A gift," he called it.
Meanwhile Reehm sat in 98th place with his 1-1; Rook had two fish weigh 3-3, good for 83rd; and Clunn had two for 3-10. So it's not as though the lightweight aluminum boat was any sort of guarantee.
The calculus goes something like this. The aluminum rig drafts less water, offering anglers the ability to creep through creeks that might otherwise beach a heavier bass boat — and, in this tournament, a rare chance to fish alone.
But the light weight makes big waves harder to navigate and the boats top out at about half the speed of the regular rides — the price of running a 50- to 90-hp motor vs. a 250 hp engine.
No wonder Clunn's the only one who regularly runs the aluminum boat this season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, and even in a river tournament such as this, only three other anglers used one.
"I started out the tournament 6-feet tall and now I'm about 4-11 after fishing out of the aluminum," Menendez said of smashing against the waves on Dardanelle. "I just don't go very far very fast."
For his part, Rook wouldn't have taken out the small boat if he'd known that the fog delay at the dock in the morning would shave three hours of fishing off his day. It would have taken him an hour to swap boats, he figured, and it definitely crossed his mind at 9 a.m.
"When we had that fog delay, I was wishing I had my big boat," Rook said. "There are no options in a 16-foot boat with a 50-horsepower motor."
Instead, when he blasted off around 10:30, he was committed to fish a pond that he, Reehm and Menendez all had on their checklist. Only problem was, a spot that had generated 14 bites a day earlier in practice had gone totally cold.
"The water's up a little," Rook said. "I don't know what happened, but they just didn't bite."
Reehm concurred that the bite was simply off. But there simply wasn't a way, with so little time and in so slow a boat, to "run and gun" the way Reehm prefers to on Dardanelle.
"I ended up overthinking this deal," Reehm said. "When you're on your home pond, you've got to go for the win. The fog killed us as far as being able to scramble."
It also didn't help Reehm or Rook that they arrived after a family had begun swimming and canoeing in the hole, which Reehm estimates at about two acres. Reehm said the family swam around the water, chasing foam noodles, generally enjoying themselves.
For the anglers, this is an unavoidable pitfall of fishing public water, and it's one they're accustomed to. But what happened next surprised Reehm. Teenagers brought their canoe alongside Rook, who asked them — politely, Reehm said — to let him fish through. Instead the canoeists cut him off and gave him an earful. "They cussed him out," Reehm said.
The father figure got wind of this, and confronted Rook, who explained that it was the youngsters, not he, who instigated the matter and reverted to vulgarities. The matter calmed, but Rook and Reehm sit effectively out of contention on their home water after the tournament's first day, perhaps partly as a result of the activity in the water.
Neither Rook, Reehm nor Menendez committed to using their aluminum rigs on Day Two. Thunderstorms forecast overnight and in the afternoon might make a bigger boat a necessity.
"I don't have a clue what I'm gonna do," Menendez said backstage after weighing in. As he talked backstage, Brent Chapman weighed in his 19-7 bag, taking the lead from Menendez.
"Good. Chapman's in the lead," Menendez said. "People won't pay as much attention to me."