Dardanelle dropping for collegians

 DARDANELLE, Ark. – When the 36 teams fishing the 2011 Mercury College B.A.S.S. West Super Regional launch on Dardanelle Thursday, the first priority will be checking the water level.

After heavy rains inundated the central Arkansas region for the past month, flood-like conditions persisted along the Arkansas River. Now, the water is being pushed through to the gulf, creating a challenging playing field for the 22 schools, according to local contender Spencer Grace from Arkansas Tech University.

“Right now, up the river is kind of trashed because they have been running the river so much,” Grace said. “For me, it’s tough right now. The lake is muddy and slowly starting to clear up. Plus, there are shad everywhere -- they have so much to eat.”

Dardanelle offers two distinct options for anglers: either running up to the river-like upper end or staying down south, where it fishes more like a lake. Grace favored the south end this week, expecting many competitors to be sharing water near the take-off at Lake Dardanelle State Park.

“I kind of feel the lower end of the lake is going to be where most people are,” Grace said. “That’s where it will be won for sure. It should fish relatively small this week, since the upper end is so tough.”

The influx of water over the last month combined with the colder-than-normal winter has bass a few weeks behind their normal summer patterns. Fresh off a third-place finish in the most recent Thursday night tournament on Dardanelle, Grace insisted the local advantage was not completely in play.

“The only way the local advantage will help is that I won’t run out of stuff to fish,” Grace said. “But it’s going to be won on the bank. Two to three weeks from now, maybe I would have an advantage, when the bass move out deep, but not the way it’s been lately.”

Grace predicted 15 pounds a day would be enough to win, but consistency will be the hardest part of the two-day event. The full field will fish both days, with the heaviest combined weight taking the top prize. The biggest prize for the qualifying teams will be a berth in the 2011 Mercury College B.A.S.S. National Championship in July, where a spot in the Bassmaster Classic will be on the line.

Local pro Zach King was on hand at the briefing Wednesday and offered similar analysis as Grace. He agreed that 15 pounds a day will put a team on top, but expects a fall off from one day to the next. A tough day on the water won’t necessarily put a team out of contention.

“I expect the dominant pattern will be swimming a jig in the grass – a lot of people will be doing that,” King said. “There is a crankbait bite as well if the wind gets up. The first day, you will see a few bigger bags, but it will fall off the second day. If there is no wind, it will be really tough.”

King seconded the notion that the event will be won on the lower end. The flooding and inconsistent water levels have hurt the bite up north.

“Up the river it has been high and the water is falling,” King said. “Places where these kids found them, it is going to be out of the water because it is still dropping. It will probably be won down here with an early bite in the grass and then something offshore.”

Teams take off Thursday at 7 a.m. ET from the Lake Dardanelle State Park, with the weigh-in starting 3:45 p.m. ET streaming live on Bassmaster.com.