Anglers who approach Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle more like a river will fair better in the Bassmaster Legends, said Elite Series angler Kevin Short of Little Rock.
The final scheduled major was moved upstream from Little Rock last month by BASS, citing hazardous boating conditions on the Arkansas River. Lake Dardanelle is an impoundment of the same river about 90 miles northwest of Little Rock, and Short, who was has done well in competitions on Dardanelle, is frustrated he was two spots from qualifying for the 51-man field, but was big enough to give ESPNOutdoors.com a scouting report.
"The guys who fish the lake like a river are going to catch them," Short said. "They immediately think lake, but it is an impoundment of the Arkansas River. Those are river fish. It's not the same as a lake."
"It's even hard to say Dardanelle is a lake. It's just a huge wide spot in the river channel."
Wide indeed. Two miles at its widest, Dardanelle runs like a river 50 miles upstream, and its 40,000 acres have 315 miles of shoreline. While several of the backwater areas and feeder creeks can be productive, Short said the event most likely will be won around the main river channel.
Just last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lifted a small craft advisory on the river from Fort Smith to Pine Bluff. That's both good and bad for the Elites. Bad because a number of tournaments set for the river were moved to Lake Dardanelle this summer.
"They have been pulverizing the place," said Short, adding that one of the state's largest events, the Big Bass Bonanza, put hundreds of boats on the lake this past weekend. "The only negative that I can see, and the one thing the guys will have to keep in mind, is that place has been absolutely hammered this year."
The Elites can take some solace that the amateurs might not have covered the areas where Short believes the event will be decided.
"It's going to be those guys who fish along the main river channel," Short said, "because those fish have not been messed with this year. The river has been flowing so hard, those guys have been in the creeks, the big bays, where they can get just out of the main river channel."
And with the river flow decreasing, Short said fish will be out along that main river channel.
"The water is still going to be moving, and will be a little bit cooler. That's what those fish are going to be looking for, that's what the shad are going to be looking for," he said. "Those quality fish start moving toward the river channel."
Another factor will be the August heat in Arkansas. A front came through over the weekend, knocking the afternoon triple-digit figures to the mid-90s, but the state has suffered through two weeks of temperatures that topped out at 112 in Evening Shade last Wednesday.
Still, Short said anglers won't have to look deep on Dardanelle to find fish.
"On Lake Ouachita, you'd have to catch them 30-foot deep," he said. "Deep in Lake Dardanelle is 15 or 18 feet. Even in the dead heat of summer, it's predominately a shallow bite. The river is still flowing, so the water is constantly pushing through that lake."
"And you can catch them a bunch of different ways right now. Crankbaits. Topwater. Frogs. There's grass — milfoil, duckweed, coontail — and it's growing right out close the main river."
Short, who pulled up two bass on one crankbait while fishing jetties in the Legends last year, said there's plenty of structure to target.
"There wood that's down — rocks, jetties," he said. "The trick is going to be how to catch the threes and fours."
While Short said the fishing on Dardanelle won't be as good as it would have been in Little Rock, where last week a local six-hour event was won with 22 pounds, but he said he believes the Elites will put up good weights.
"Somebody is going to absolutely whack 'em," he said. "You're going to see some 20 pound sacks. I don't care if it's 120 degrees."
"I would look for the guys who would do best to look at the lake more like a river."