RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Patience certainly does have its virtues. Just ask Greg Hackney, the new leader in the Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake Dardanelle.
After landing a 4-pound largemouth soon after competition began Friday, Hackney stuck it out in the same area the rest of the day, working through a series of dry spells without a bite. By day’s end, he was rewarded with five largemouth that weighed in at 18 pounds and 1 ounce.
“There were flurries when it was better, but overall it was pretty slow fishing,” Hackney said. “I wasn’t necessarily fishing dead slow, but I was thorough. This lake is full of fish, but you can go a while between bites.”
Hackney, in second place after Thursday’s first round, changed places with John Crews, the first-day leader. Hackney’s two-day total was 39-14 to Crews’ 39-5, for a spread of 9 ounces between them. On Thursday, Crews had 12 ounces on Hackney.
Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, was Friday’s biggest mover. In 87th place after Thursday, Rowland produced 25-5 Friday to rocket into third place with a total of 37-1.
Another Texan, Keith Combs of Huntington, held on in fourth place at 36-8. Bass fishing legend Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., moved up from 11th place into fifth place with a two-day total of 36-3.
Scheduled to begin Friday’s round at 6:15 a.m., the pros lost a chunk of early morning fishing time when a thick fog clung to the water past 8:30 a.m. Their start was delayed for two hours and 21 minutes. They were given the green light when boating conditions became safe.
Hackney said the delayed start was actually good for him.
“I didn’t catch one until 9 o’clock yesterday, and this morning I caught one on the third cast, so I feel like I was way ahead,” he said.
His largest two bass of the day weighed about 4 pounds each, he said. Two “heavy 3’s” and a 2 1/2-pounder completed the limit he weighed in.
Hackney has a strong background on Dardanelle, an Arkansas River impoundment. He now lives in Gonzales, La., but he was born in Star City, Ark., where he lived for 27 years before he moved to Louisiana, where his wife is from. He said he fished the lower Arkansas River about three days a week in his early youth. He’s been fishing Dardanelle since the early 1990s, he said. His tournament history on Dardanelle is good, too: eighth in the 2007 Bassmaster Major Legends event and second in a 2004 Elite 50 event.
From Salem, Va., Crews has shown he can keep up with the natives. He weighed 16-12 Friday. Not as strong as his 22-9 of Thursday, but consistent enough.
“I started today in a new area, caught a couple of 2-pounders pretty quickly, then went for a good little period with nothing — and then I caught two 4 1/2 pounders within 10 minutes of each other. That was the highlight of my day — game on, here we go,” Crews said.
But it didn’t happen that way. The bite shut down, and Crews moved on. Unlike Hackney, Crews “bounced around” Lake Dardanelle for the rest of his fish.
Rowland said he landed every ounce of his 25-5 in one pass through one area. Granted, he said, the area is large, and it took him about two hours to make that one pass.
“Yesterday I think I tried to fish too much water,” he said, and the result was just 11-12.
With about two hours of fishing time left Friday, Rowland ran to an area he remembered from the only two other times he’s competed on Dardanelle.
“When I got a bite, it was a good one, not a little one,” he said. “Tomorrow, we’ll see what happens there.”
For his largest bass, a 6-10, Rowland took the lead in the event’s Carhartt Big Bass competition, which is worth up to $1,500. For his 25-5 bag, Rowland became the top contender for the Berkley Heavyweight bonus of $500.
Hackney won the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for heading up the field halfway through the four-day event.
The field was cut to 50 for Saturday’s third round. By Sunday, only the 12 with the best accumulative weights will compete for the first prize of $100,000 and an instant-in to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
The Elite pros are also vying for points, which are awarded according to their finishes at each event. By season’s end, the 29 pros with the most points will earn a Classic entry, and the pro with the highest points total will be crowned Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., led the points race coming into the Dardanelle event. But after failing to make the Saturday cut, Davis has left the door open for others to gain ground. After Friday, his biggest threat was Hackney.
Davis has made the Top 12 in each of the first four Elite events this season. Friday he broke that streak, but he characteristically had a wry take on the situation.
“I ate a small piece of humble pie only catching 13 pounds yesterday. Today, with only 9 pounds, I’m going to have to eat the rest of the pie,” he said. “I just didn’t fish right. I should have gotten back up on the bank with the rest of the guys instead of fishing the way I most like to fish.”
And he knows the crown isn’t lost.
“I’m not out of it,” he said. “You can have a bomb and still come back.”