No one saw this coming

BULL SHOALS, Ark. — Nobody saw this coming. No one, not even the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers from Arkansas, knew that Bull Shoals Lake was holding anything like what has been revealed in the first two days of the TroKar Quest.

"I'm blown away. I really am," said Jeff Kriet. "I had no idea. Honest to goodness, it's absolutely amazing. Unbelievable."

If you know Kriet, the 42-year-old veteran B.A.S.S. competitor from Ardmore, Okla., you know he isn't easily impressed. Even though he lives in a neighboring state, Kriet's only previous experience on Bull Shoals Lake was an eight-hour "Day On The Lake" TV show taped on a 20-degree day a few years ago.

Kriet missed the top 50 cut Friday with a two-day total of 26 pounds, 11 ounces, which left him in 56th place.

"If you and I went out fun-fishing, we could catch 60 15-inch bass," Kriet told a writer after Friday's weigh-in. "A 15-incher is not a pecker head. It's a good fish. I don't know of any place else in the country where you can do that."

Britt Myers, a 37-year-old B.A.S.S. veteran from Lake Wylie, S.C., was similarly impressed.

"I probably had the best fishing day of my life," Myers said of his 20-4 day, which put him in fourth place with a total of 35-3. "I might have caught more than a hundred. I don't know.

"When I heard we were going to Bull Shoals, 'I was like Bull Shoals?' "You look at previous tournaments and it took like 14 pounds a day to win it. Then I come out here and catch them like I did today. It's insane. I would rate this lake up with Pickwick."

Greg Hackney, a 38-year-old B.A.S.S. veteran from Gonzales, La., who has qualified for 10 consecutive Bassmaster Classics, was similarly impressed.

"You can pull up on a ledge at Kentucky Lake and catch them like that, but not just on the bank, like you can here," said Hackney, who finished just an ounce out of the cut with a two-day total of 27-1. "And they were keepers."

A "keeper" at Bull Shoals has to be a 15-inch largemouth or smallmouth bass and a 12-inch spotted bass, according to the minimum length limits in place.

"I'd watched the last couple of tournaments they'd had here, and 10 pounds wasn't bad and it would take 14 pounds a day to win," Hackney said.

"I roll into this place and right off I start catching keepers, and keepers seemed to be important. On the first day of practice, when I was like 75 keepers in, I was like 'What's the deal?' It's insane.

"I didn't catch a lot of short ones. I either caught little bitty ones or keepers. You don't even have to measure them. They are all 16 inches long."

Those 16-inch bass are from the 2008 "super spawn" that came when the lake was in flood stage throughout the spring. The "little bitty ones" were spawned last year, when the lake was even higher than it was in the spring of 2008.

"It's incredible what this lake is going to be over the next three or four years," Hackney said. "It's already got some big fish up the lake. This lower end is fixing to explode too."

"We go to a lot of places," said Kevin VanDam, who has won four Bassmaster Classic titles and seven Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year crowns. "But the number of smallmouth, largemouth and spots here, it's unbelievable. This lake is on fire right now. It's really special."

Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., stated what was on every one of the Elite Series anglers' minds when he said, "Put this lake on the schedule every year."

There hasn't been a major B.A.S.S. tournament on Bull Shoals Lake since 1991, when Ron Shuffield of Bismarck, Ark., won a four-day Top 100 event with 57-8. Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, is close to that after two days this year with 45-13.

Few people thought about comparing Bull Shoals, a 45,000-acre Corps of Engineers-operated impoundment on the White River, with Florida's legendary Lake Okeechobee, which is also on an upswing, until Bradley Roy mention on stage Thursday that the two-day cut weight for the top 50 at Bull Shoals was on track to top the cut weight at Okeechobee.

It did. The top 50 cut at Okeechobee was 25-10; the cut weight at Bull Shoals on Friday was 27-2. And although there hasn't been a seven-pounder caught at Bull Shoals yet, the top weights here are starting to approach those at Okeechobee. Palanuik's two-day weight is four ounces better than Chris Lane's two-day second-place weight at Okeechobee.

As Roy said yesterday, " Okeechobee is one of the best lakes in the country. So what does that say about this lake?"

"Yesterday I had a limit in 11 minutes (on a crankbait)," said Kriet. "I kept catching them everywhere I went. I thought I was dialed in."

When Kriet's Thursday weight of 11-7 left him in 88th place, he decided a change was in order.

"I threw a three-quarter-ounce spinnerbait all day," Kriet said. "I totally switched up. My marshal today said, 'You really caught 'em.' I said, 'Nah, I didn't catch them that good today.' He said, 'Dude, you caught 27 keepers.' I said, 'Well, if I caught 27 today, I must have caught 60 yesterday.'"

Only one of the 99 Elite Series anglers failed to weigh-in a five-bass limit Friday, when the number of 20-pound bags from Thursday doubled from two to four.

"I don't know that I've ever fished a place where you could just wind down the bank and catch keepers like this place," Hackney said.

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