Goodness gracious snakes alive!

Scott Rook took the big snake award on Day 1 at Lake Dardanelle. It carries no prize, only surprise.

"I flipped a clump of grass," Rook said. "My bait fell down in there, and the line jumped. So I just set the hook and the snake came flying out of the grass all the way into the boat. It scared the hell out of me, and my marshal is from Canada, so it sure enough scared him."

It was a water snake (non-poisonous) species Rook estimated at 30 inches long. He said he probably saw 200 of them Friday, but catching one like that was a first.

"I've had them where they've bit my bait before, but I've never set the hook on one," Rook said. "I had him snagged, but he bit my bait."

Rook, who is from Little Rock, knows Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River better than any other angler in this field. He finished Day 1 in 39th place with 12-11, but had opportunities to have 15 pounds. Rook still believes a 15-pound average over four days will have you in contention for the title.

"It's going to fall off some," he said. "Everybody is fishing shallow. Those fish aren't replenishing real good. The upper end is blown out, and that's where I'd like to be fishing. But I'll take lemons and try to make lemonade. The (main) river is getting better every day."

Consistency hard to find

Consistency. That single word describes the greatest challenge facing the anglers this week on Lake Dardanelle.

“Being in the right place at the right time is everything here because of the current.”

Kevin VanDam provided that answer to me yesterday when asked what influenced consistency the most.

“It will be very difficult to duplicate what I did on Day 1 because there are so many variables going on here,” he added.

That prediction is coming true for VanDam and others.

Only three anglers from the Day 1 leaderboard remain in the Top 12 according to BASSTrakk. Those three anglers are Shane Linebarger, David Mullins and Skeet Reese. VanDam, the Day 1 leader, is in 19th place.

That leaves the door open for lots of opportunity. Catch a single 5-pounder, like Ott DeFoe did yesterday, and find yourself right back in the hunt. Or in the hunt.

Arkansas River level stabilizing?

As you can see above from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website, Lake Dardanelle's water level stabilized overnight after dropping steadily yesterday.

Unlike an impoundment formed by a big hydropower dam, Dardanelle is part of the Arkansas River navigation system, a series of locks-and-dams that stretches from the Mississippi River through Arkansas and into Oklahoma. In this type of system, those changes of 1/100th of an inch are significant. For instance, during tournament hours yesterday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., the lake level dropped from 337.48 feet above sea level to 337.35. That's a mere .13, but it's a trend that has a major impact on the fish, drawing them toward the main river channel.

The water level has been relatively unchanged since late last night. It will be interesting to note how that affects the way these anglers caught bass on Day 1 and how they'll catch them today.

AOY update

The sixth event on the Bassmaster Elite series means the Toyota Angler of the Year race becoming more of a priority. But not for everyone.

“I’m thinking about it as very little as possible because it accomplishes nothing.”

In fact, the only time Ott DeFoe thinks of the AOY race is when questioned by the media. Yesterday he responded to my question with that answer.

Considering the competition that’s not a bad idea.

After Day 1 here are the AOY standings with points for each angler.

1. Ott DeFoe (540)
2. Jacob Wheeler (509)
3. Jason Christie (509)
4. Casey Ashley (505)
5. Brandon Palaniuk (498)
6. Kevin VanDam (496)

Dynamics of current

Water clarity has gotten lots of attention this week at Lake Dardanelle. The color has been compared to chocolate milk, and the main river channel has been deemed “unfishable" by many of the anglers.

In reality water color is not at all the primary variable in the environmental conditions. Lake Dardanelle’s bass population is very much accustomed to muddy water. They are river bass.

The primary factors are related. Those are water level and current.

Here, there are three types of current that are influencing the bite. Those are wind driven current, water release and barge traffic.

Wind driven current is a given. When it blows across the surface the direction of the water changes.

The biggie is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water release schedule at the locks and dams located at opposite ends of the 50-mile lake. That release schedule has been influenced by a round of heavy rain and runoff from Oklahoma. The dynamics of that release schedule are very unique to this river system.

At the upper end of Dardanelle the water level is 4- to 6-feet over normal pool. Fifty miles the opposite direction the water is nearly 2 feet lower. That, of course, creates a completely different fishery depending on your location.

And the barge traffic? Strange as it may seem large barges push a lot of water. They create wide, powerful wakes. That also creates current that can trigger bites. Case in point is the 1983 Bassmaster Classic won by Larry Nixon on the Ohio River. Nixon fished immediately above and below a lock and dam. The current created by the barges coming into and out of the locks helped stimulate the bite.

The point to all of the above is simple. Bass are current-oriented fish and there is a lot of moving water this week on Lake Dardanelle.

BassCam: The highs and lows of the river level

Gary Klein explains the dynamics of the widely fluctuating water level on the river.

Lineberger with a start

Shane Lineberger has a Bassmaster LIVE cameraman in his boat for the first time, and it's a hard-earned honor that he recognizes.

He nailed a solid 2-pounder within minutes of coming off of plane. Since then, he's been fishing slowly and methodically working each attractive-looking structural element.

We noticed how quickly the anglers were fishing yesterday--covering water fast and looking for active bass is a common ploy when fishing in muddy water.

But Lineberger is dialed in and knows the fish he needs to catch today are here. When they will be willing to eat is the $100,000 question. We will see if his plan holds together today.

Burger and a (Jitter)Bug

Bob Feltner passed some 15 years ago, but his memory lives on in both his famous restaurant in Russellville and his affinity for fishing tackle.

For many traveling Arkansans, a stop at Feltner's Whatta-Burger is a must. While many order ice cream specialties through the window, go inside to see a slice of fishing history. Feltner, who began business in 1967, has the walls filled with fish, reels and lures.

Feltner gave out cards "Wanted Old Fishing Lures" and had a sign saying the same in his restaurant.

A steely blue-eye man - that's him in the corner of the picture -- said he'd been coming to Feltner's for 40 years, starting at the old location. He said Feltner had a much larger collection and donated much of it to be displayed at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center in Little Rock.

Go by 1410 N. Arkansas Ave. in Russellville and get a cheeseburger - beware the fry orders are huge -- and soak up some fishing history.

Day 1: Tough, but productive

No one said it was easy, not even leader Kevin VanDam, who finished Day 1 with 19 pounds, 3 ounces. But Lake Dardanelle was surprisingly productive in spite of the high, muddy Arkansas River flowing through this 30,000-acre lake.

The results tell that story:
– 80 of 109 anglers weighed 5-bass limits;
– 487 bass were weighed, averaging 2.49 lbs.;
– David Mullins' 6 1/2-pounder took big bass honors.

If the water level continues to drop and clarity improves, Lake Dardanelle will show why it's considered the best bass fishing lake in Arkansas. The rapidly changing water conditions were mentioned again and again at Friday's weigh-in. These guys know they're going to see a different lake every day here. And that's why no one sounded confident about repeating a successful Day 1.

Finally, there's this: Making the Day 2 cut to the top 51 that will fish on Sunday will almost certainly be decided by a tiebreaker (biggest bag) or a single ounce. Based on Day 1, a 12-pound average will make the cut, but anything below that is dicey. Twelve anglers are separated by 8 ounces – from 47th-place Kelley Jaye with 11-15 to 57th place Keith Poche and Gerald Spohrer, both with 11-7.

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