Open pros pick up hints

Tyler Wilson became a student of sorts again last week in hopes he could school every other angler in this week’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Table Rock Lake.

The 24-year-old from Carlsbad, N.M., was learning from the Bassmaster Elite Series competition that wrapped up Sunday on Table Rock’s sister fishery, Bull Shoals Lake. Both are rocky White River impoundments, and conditions appear to be the same.

“Anyone who wants to do well here — and who doesn’t — needs to pay attention to what the pros were doing on Bull Shoals,” said Wilson, entered as a pro in the April 26-28 event.

Another young Open pro, Chris Franks of Petaluma, Calif., went even further to keep up with the Elite event. Last Friday, after a long day practicing on Table Rock, the 26-year-old drove the mountain roads from Branson, Mo., host city for the Open, to Bull Shoals Lake to attend the Elite Series weigh-in.

“From what I’ve seen and heard, both lakes are fishing the same,” he said. “Like on Bull Shoals, one or two big ones a day will be key on Table Rock.”

Chris Lee of Keithville, La., studied Table Rock from afar for two weeks before he started keeping track of the Elite event and continued even as he was making the eight-hour trip to Table Rock on Friday.

“From what I’ve heard, Table Rock and Bull Shoals fish are doing about the same things, and most everybody will have limits,” said Lee, age 33.

He was looking for clues that might help him improve on his sixth-place finish when the Open tour stopped at Table Rock last October, when Elite Series pro Kevin Short won with 33 pounds, 8 ounces. That Open had been postponed from springtime when the lake flooded and lake officials cancelled all tournaments.

“I think Table Rock is going to fish a lot better than it did last fall,” Lee said. “This time, almost everyone will have limits. In October, the fish were scattered and hard to find. This year we’ll have prespawners, spawners and postspawners up shallow.”

The Open pros wouldn’t reveal exactly what they learned by studying Elite pros’ performances. It could have been anything, but more than likely involved crankbaiting; the majority of the Elite field tied on crankbaits. Winner Brandon Palaniuk used one to give the show-and-tell of the season. With a four-day weight of 78 pounds, 6 ounces, Palaniuk took first place in wire-to-wire fashion by a margin of almost 12 pounds.

Duplication of that feat is unlikely in a three-day Open, but Wilson speculated that the daily weights could be similar.

“I think you’ll need an average of 20 pounds a day to win this, just like on Bull Shoals,” said Wilson, a first-year Open pro who also competes in New Mexico B.A.S.S. Federation Nation tournaments. (He has qualified for the Western Divisional tournament in Wyoming at the end of May.)

Wilson, Franks and Lee are among the pros out for the Open’s top prize, a 2013 Bassmaster Classic berth, cash and a $45,000 bass boat rig. In the co-angler division, the winner will get a boat package worth $35,000.

Fans are invited to watch the Open in person in Branson, Mo., or online at, which will offer free and live video of the Thursday-Saturday weigh-ins. All onsite Bassmaster fan events are free and open to the public, as is access to features.

Anglers will launch their boats at 6:15 a.m. CT from Table Rock Lake State Park Marina, 380 State Park Marina Drive, Branson, MO 65616. Weigh-ins on Thursday and Friday will be at the park beginning at 2:15 p.m. CT.

For Saturday’s finale, the 3:15 p.m. CT weigh-in will be adjacent to the Branson Bass Pro Shops location, 1 Bass Pro Drive, Branson, MO 65616.

The event’s local sponsor is Visit Table Rock