Greg Hackney is leaning on his decades-long knowledge of the Arkansas River. It’s what he did on Day 1 of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open when he took the lead in the 192-boat tournament.
Hackney has a different perspective on the river, unlike any other angler in the field. As a youngster in his hometown of Star City, Ark., Hackney learned to fish on the Arkansas River, several hundred miles downstream from the Three Forks Harbor takeoff site of this three-day tournament.
“The river reminds me of the way the lower end used to look when I was a kid,” said Hackney, after weighing a five-bass limit of 18 pounds, 1 ounce Thursday. “It’s just got so much wood in it – miles of laydowns, flats of logs. It looks like the old Arkansas River to me. It’s a fishy looking place.”
It looks fishier than it fished Thursday. Only 40 anglers on the pro side weighed limits and 28 zeroed.
“I think it’s typical Arkansas River,” said Hackney. “I believe this is the hardest fish to catch of anywhere we go – the river, in general, and under these conditions.”
“These conditions” are post-flood. The Arkansas River had been flowing full and muddy for weeks and weeks prior to settling down to a normal level and clarity prior to the tournament. A reference to “after the flood” was common when talking to other pros in the field. Two of those pros – Dale Hightower of Mannford, Okla., and Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla. – have almost as much experience as Hackney on this river, and it’s been mostly right here, where the tournament is being held.
“The flood I think has really played a role as to why the Three Forks Harbor pool is so tough,” said Hightower, who was tied for fourth-place with 15-0 after Day 1. “Typically, I would have probably stayed in this pool. But this year, I don’t know what happened.
“I’m locking down into the Kerr (Lake) pool. There are lots of numbers, but they’re tough to catch in a short period of time.”
The locking process, which can consume two to three hours on a round trip, eliminates a lot of fishing time. Hackney didn’t do that on Day 1, but said he would today. Hightower and Christie both locked down to Kerr yesterday and planned to again. It’s the loss of aquatic vegetation in both pools that’s obvious to the anglers experienced in this area.
“There’s a lack of cover because of the flood,” said Christie, who is tied for 15th with 12-10. “The water willow is about 20 to 25 percent of what it normally is. The cover is sparse. That’s apparent to everybody.”
And the bites are few. Hackney said he had seven bites yesterday and all were good-size fish. Hightower said he caught eight keepers. Christie landed 12 to 15, but none were in the class he was seeking.
“The fish are shallow,” Hightower said. “You can’t get shallow enough. There are times I’m actually dragging mud in this Express (aluminum) boat. I’m up in 2-foot, 3-foot mostly. The deepest fish I caught was probably 3 or 3 1/2 feet deep. But nothing’s changed as far as the way you catch ‘em here. That’s not any different.”
Shallow fish and diminished vegetation in a highly pressured fishery result in a grinding day on the water.
“The river is actually fishing pretty good, considering,” said Christie. “I caught a lot of fish yesterday, just not the right ones. There are so many tournaments on this river. These fish are educated.”
Hackney’s words are worth repeating: “I believe this is the hardest fish to catch of anywhere we go.”