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Low and slow

Tommy Biffle took the lead using a jet boat to run into shallow water for unpressured fish.

MUSKOGEE, Okla. – How low can you go?

Low water levels on the Arkansas River are providing distinct advantages to the anglers who can get shallow, as the top two in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open showed Thursday.

They utilized shallow draft jet boats to access fish on the Arkansas River the rest of the field couldn’t reach. The majority of big fish on Day One came out of the Grand River for anglers fishing along rocky bars and way up in shallow creeks.

One-hundred thirty-six boats boomed out of Three Forks Marina this morning for Day One of the second Central Open, most of which fishing a 95-mile stretch of the 421-mile river system that’s filled with shad.

Among the competitors on the boater side are 10 B.A.S.S. Elite Series Pros, including Tommy Biffle. He used an aluminum boat with a jet drive outboard to get into the shallow areas and caught a five fish limit weighing 18 pounds, 12 ounces.

 “I had to go through some nasty areas with only six or seven inches of water and hard rock bottom,” Biffle said. “The fish in the river system have been beat up in practice the last week or so, so I thought I’d take my aluminum boat and get to where the other anglers can’t get and take my chances. I think I’ve got enough fish for three days.”

Biffle borrowed the jet boat rig from one of the local marinas and caught six or seven fish on a bite that was over early. Jet drive outboards don’t have props and push the boat using air, allowing the boat to maneuver through shallow and often rocky bottom.

Also benefiting from a jet boat was Muskogee High School graduate Janet Parker, who was the first angler to weigh in on Day One. Parker’s 15-2 limit was good for second place.

“I ran into an area that’s inaccessible to regular outboard motors, caught eight fish and five were keepers,” Parker said. “It was not an easy day. The river is fishing real tough. Everything is shallow right now, and the big fish are eating on top.”

Parker’s bites came early then late in the day. Many of the anglers fishing the pro division had a tough day on the water, with only about a quarter of the field catching a limit.

Sitting in third place in the pro division is Dewayne French with a 14-13 limit he caught fishing shallow with jigs and worms. In fourth is Louisiana pro Mark Smith, at 14-5. Smith’s co-angler Darryl Hanks also had a good day.

“The bite was on all day, but with long periods between them,” Hanks said. “We were flipping baits in the shallows. I think I got eight or nine bites, and they were all decent fish.”

Rounding out the Top Five in the pro division was Lendell Martin, who brought four fish weighing 12-13. Just behind Martin in sixth place is Elite pro Ricky Clunn, with 12-11.

 “Everyone knows the fish are shallow and that they’re hard to get to,” Clunn said. “The folks that are fishing topwater are catching some big ones.”

Anglers fishing in the Pro Division can weigh in up to five bass per day, with a 14-inch minimum size limit. The Co-Angler Division allows up to three bass per angler.

The Arkansas River is producing a mixture of Kentucky bass, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, with many of the anglers reporting lots of action from the sub-limit fish. After the Day Two weigh-in tomorrow, the Top 12 Pros and Co-Anglers will advance to fish the final day. Up for grabs in the pro division is a Triton 19XS bass boat with 200 h.p. Yamaha outboard.

With the water levels low on the Arkansas River, the boats with jet drives and those finding access to shallow creeks have a distinct advantage over the rest of the field. Many of the local anglers are hoping the water level will stabilize and clean up, which will help the deeper sections of Arkansas River fish a lot better on Day Two.