Dave Mercer talks Swindle and junk fishing.
Dave Mercer talks Swindle and junk fishing.
Jason Christie and Mike Iaconelli both decided to make a move. We followed Christie to his next stop. He is way back, and I mean way way back, in another creek.
It's way too early to share specifics, but there are things the two areas Christie has fished have in common. Most noticeable is the shad activity. In both areas, shad have been skittering across the top of the water. In any direction you look, you'll see the small fish splashing and dancing.
Next, the water is shallow and comparatively clear. We slowly moved into this creek as the water averaged 2 feet deep and there were plenty of stumps. The picture shows the dirt our anchors kicked up to give you an idea of how clear these areas are. While the water is still far from crystal clear, the two spots we've seen so far are clean compared to the 'chocolate milk' that many Elites talked about during practice.
If you looked at the photo gallery from yesterday, when the anglers predicted the winning weight for this tournament, you noticed the guesses were considerably less than Jason Christie's winning weight of 72 pounds, 3 ounces in 2014. A rough average of those estimates for this year's event would be 60 pounds, in other words a 15-pound average over four days.
"Dirty water, flowing, crowded fishing, a little bit stingier fishing - those are my general observations," said Mike Iaconelli in explaining the difference between Lake Dardanelle then and now.
With a 109-angler field, it will be cut to the top 51 after two days. That's another number these guys often have in their heads - what will the "cut weight" be? In 2014 it was 26-2. Casey Ashley and Jared Miller tied with an average of 13-1 per day. And a host of other anglers were an ounce or two above and below them.
"I've been off the last five events, so I'm probably off here, but I'd guess 12 to 12 1/2 pounds will probably make a check," said Mike Iaconelli.
Alton Jones thinks it might take considerably less, guessing 10 pounds a day.
It’s very early in the game but do any of the leaders surprise you? How about the weights?
Rick Clunn. Now that’s a nice surprise. This tournament is setting up to be ideal for the master of zen bass fishing. The tougher the better. That is when Clunn performs at his very best.
Randy Howell. Fair to say a certain topwater, or two, carrying his name are getting the early morning bites. Recent history says so. Howell did well on Toledo Bend with his jerkbait during the early morning shad spawn. That is presumed to be going on here. He also duplicated the good fortune by exploiting the same combination, shad spawn and topwater, at other spring events. What else might come into play is whether or not Howell can carry the momentum after the shad spawn bite subsides later this morning. If he does that makes him a top contender.
Scott Rook and Mike McClelland. No surprise there with the two Arkansans ranked among the most skilled river anglers on the tour.
Can’t leave out KVD. No explanation needed there.
Jason Christie is there, too. Yesterday he told me that getting away from the crowds was his goal, knowing that will be difficult to do here.
“I don’t like that because guys like me like getting off alone to themselves,” he said.
Whether or not Christie has found that secret spot is unknown. Today will be the day for doing just that. As the tournament progresses the best areas become community holes for the week. If one angler finds the magic area it usually attracts a crowd, and especially so when a lake is fishing “small” like Lake Dardanelle is now.
Fishing rivers, and shallow, is a Christie strength. And he’s bringing in lots of it after a strong finish just a couple weeks ago at Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefitting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. His top lure and pattern? A frog fished over shallow vegetation.
We anchored down to watch Jason Christie thoroughly work an area thick with vegetation. After a solid 20 minutes of quiet fishing, we were rewarded with two fish catches at the same time.
First, Christie floated near us in an open area and hooked up with a decent bass.
As we focused in on Christie, Mike Iaconelli had floated up quietly behind us. Ike was fishing along the edge of nearby vegetation. As soon as Christie had his catch in the boat, Ike hooked up behind us.
Christie's catch was bigger, and he was able to cull a smaller fish from his livewell. The pair are now fishing down the middle of their shared area.
Luckily, Steve Bowman's cat-like reflexes allowed him to get pictures of both catches for Bassmaster.com.
Oklahoma pro James Elam has two fish in the livewell, and is fishing an area he believes to hold some big fish. The water is high in this creek, but it's not nearly as muddy as many other areas of Dardanelle.
He said the high water and the clouds have the fish spread out. More sun would position them in more predictable locations, and it's beginning to burn through the clouds.
The bite should pick up for him soon.
He's fishing near the bank, but the water goes all the way into the woods, which provides ample unreachable cover. It certainly presents a unique challenge, but he's precisely picking apart what he can reach.
Lane said he's been here twice hasn't weighed a limit in two consecutive days, and to start the first day with five bass before 9 is a good thing.
"I don't know what it is about this place, but I've struggled here," he said. "Dardanelle sets up well for my style of fishing, but it hasn't gone my way in years past. I'm very happy to have a limit right now."
He doesn't have any big ones yet, but with five in the box, he can work on finding a big one.
It took some work, but we found Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year leader Jason Christie far back in a creek. Micah Frazier was fishing nearby as well.
Christie was Steve Bowman's first photo gallery target for Day 1 because of his AOY lead, his 2014 win on Lake Dardanelle and his skill in fishing muddy water.
Could this be another big week for Christie? Bowman notes that Arkansas and Oklahoma fish a lot alike...and further points out that most of the mud currently in the Arkansas River came from Tulsa anyway.
There are many differences in Lake Dardanelle from the last time the Elite Series was here in May 2014. Most of them aren't conducive to bass fishing success, like the high, muddy water. But there's one important inch of change that could have a big impact: the minimum length limit for largemouth bass is now 14 inches instead of 15 inches.
There seemed to be a constant chorus of groans three years ago from anglers catching bass measuring from 14 1/2 to 14 7/8ths inches.
"That's going to help a lot," said Mike Iaconelli, who finished sixth here in 2014. "A lot of fish here are 14 1/2 to 14 3/4. I weighed some in practice that are honest to goodness two-pounders."
Jordon puts fish number 4 in the boat after breaking off on a giant gar! Kelly seems to be targeting shallow fish around matted up vegitation. He mentioned that the fish bit his bait in the top few inches of the water column, which isn't surprising as there's only 12" of water under his boat.