LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As an Arkansas resident who has had success on the Arkansas River in the past, Mike Wurm of Hot Springs is considered one of the favorites in the CITGO Bassmaster Legends tournament presented by Goodyear. Wurm won his first boat in a tournament on this river in the mid-1980s. But he certainly doesn't feel like a frontrunner going into Thursday's first day of this event that pays $250,000 to the winner.
"I've probably won more money on this river than I did on Lake Ouachita (Wurm's home lake)," he said. "But those days are gone.
"It just fishes different than I remember it. The water color is so much clearer and so much better than it was. It was always murky then. The fish are positioning themselves differently. There are a lot of places that I used to fish that had a lot of cover on them. It's all gone now. It's just totally different.
"The only home field advantage I see right now is I won't get lost. I know where all the places are, and I know how to get there and get back."
Wurm hasn't fished a tournament on the Arkansas River in at least six years. He admits to feeling "20,000 pounds of pressure on my shoulders" because the event is in his home state.
"I'll feel a lot better when I get that first one in the boat," Wurm said.
But he's not even counting on that. The Arkansas River has a 15-inch minimum length limit now. Wurm predicts that only six or eight Bassmaster pros will weigh-in a five-bass limit Thursday.
"I think you'll see a lot of guys with one to three (bass)," Wurm said. "And I think six to eight guys will zero. I'm just hoping I'm not one of them.
"That 15-inch limit is going to be a huge factor. I've never fished this river with that limit on it. All the other tournaments I've fished here had a 12-inch limit. In the past you could catch those good 14-inch fish that weigh two pounds. And there's still some of those in here.
"But we've got to go after those three-pound class fish. That's a bass that's got a pair of shoulders on him. He's going to hang around in a different area than those two-pounders."
The rule of thumb on the Arkansas River has always been that when there's current, you fish the jetties and pilings on the main river and when there's not, you fish the backwaters. Despite some heavy rains in Oklahoma and western Arkansas earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects maximum flows of only 12,000 cubic feet per second this week. Local anglers report that the best flows reach 60,000 cubic feet per second or more. The heavy rains fell on extremely dry ground.
So with no current, Wurm expects to go to some of the backwater areas that have been productive in the past here. That's where he does have somewhat of a home field advantage.
"That's where I'm going to go (Thursday)," Wurm said. "I'm going to go to one of those places, and I'm just going to sit there. I'm going to fish that area all day long.
"I've caught larger fish there, and it has historically produced larger fish. I'm after larger fish. We'll see what happens."
The weigh-in begins at the Little Rock Convention Center at 3 p.m. Thursday. Admission is free.