LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The last time hometown angler Scott Rook fished a BASS tournament on the Arkansas River he won $250,000. But Rook’s run got cut short without a check this week in the Bassmaster Elite Series Diamond Drive.
Rook, who is a local legend on the Arkansas River, left Friday’s weigh-in as confused as someone who had never fished here before.
“You fish a body of water for 25 years, and you think you know every scenario they can throw at you,” Rook said. “Then you go out there and they jack the water like they did this week, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”
Although Mayflower, Ark., angler Billy McCaghren sits in third place going into Saturday, generally there wasn’t a home-field advantage on the Arkansas River this week. Stephen Browning of Hot Springs and Kevin Short of Mayflower made the Friday top 50 cut. But they are 33rd and 44th, respectively. Rook missed the top 50 by one ounce and won’t fish Saturday.
Short has fished Pool 8 the last two days, but he won’t be there Saturday.
“I honestly have absolutely no clue what I’m going to do,” Short said. “I will probably go to Pool 7, but I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do when I get there.
“The only way I would go back to Pool 8 is with a 55-gallon barrel of rotenone. I want to see what I’ve been fishing around.”
Like Rook, Short blamed his inexplicable lack of success the first two days on the rapidly changing water levels, which are controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Arkansas River lock-and-dam system. It was inexplicable because Short, like Rook, has fished this system for 25 years and thought he’d seen every water level scenario possible. He had another thing coming after this week.
During practice, Short spent four hours Monday and four hours Wednesday in Pool 8.
“Honestly, I could have weighed 16 to 18 pounds both days,” he said. “Why I can’t get them to bite now, I have no clue.
“I’ve fished this river for 20 to 25 years. I fished this river before there were dams on it. It’s very frustrating.”
Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., won a Bassmaster tournament in 1996 on the Arkansas River, but doesn’t consider it home water like Rook and Short do. That didn’t keep him from recognizing a pattern this week.
“Probably what happened this week was that the river was not in any sense normal,” said McClelland, who finished in 85th place with 5-9. “The flow was really good when we started (practice), but then they started messing with the flow.”
As both Rook and McClelland have proven in the past by winning tournaments on the Arkansas River, local knowledge as a general rule can’t do anything but help you. The general rules simply went out the window this week, as far as most Arkansas anglers were concerned.
“I stayed in this (Little Rock) pool for two days and fished stuff I’ve caught them off of for years,” Rook said. “I know where to catch them when the water drops out. But when it’s two feet low one day, then three feet high the next morning, then three feet low that afternoon, the fish are more confused than I am.”