RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Ozarkians and Alabamians will likely dominate this week on Lake Dardanelle, which is essentially a wide spot on the Arkansas River. Keep that in mind when setting your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster.
That anglers hailing from the Ozarks region of Arkansas are likely to succeed on familiar waters relatively close to home is no secret: Arkansans Mark Davis and Stephen Browning are the most-owned anglers in Buckets A and C, at 36.2 and 24.7 percent, respectively.
But consider also anglers with track records of April and May success on the Alabama River and Alabama riverine reservoirs Logan Martin, Wheeler and Neely Henry. Not surprisingly, many anglers with good history on those Coosa River impoundments hail from Alabama.
Bucket A: Tharp, VanDam or Jones
It was Alabama native Randall Tharp (4.3 percent ownership) that told me in a recent interview that Dardanelle would fish similar to Coosa River reservoirs. And that’s partially why I’m picking him this week in a bucket that’s stocked with anglers with both the momentum and résumés to justify picking them instead — such as Kevin VanDam (17.3 percent), Mark Davis, Greg Hackney (5.3 percent) Alton Jones (1.1 percent) and Aaron Martens (6.2 percent).
My other reason for picking Tharp is that I think this tournament will be won fishing shallow grass, which is Tharp’s strong suit. Two weeks ago, he flipped grass to place third on Toledo Bend. Flipping and swimming grass could be the ticket this week.
My Bassmaster.com colleague David Bell made a good case for KVD, who has notched numerous postspawn Top 5s and 10s on Dardanelle and similar reservoirs, and it was hard to ignore that history.
I was intrigued also by Jones, whose 1.1 ownership percentage is way too low for someone with two springtime Top 12s on Dardanelle and four Top 20s on comparable reservoirs (one of which is a fourth-place finish on the Alabama River last year in the second week of May).
Bucket B: Chapman or Herren
Having grown up fishing in the Ozarks, Kansan Brent Chapman (5.5 percent) has a solid springtime history on Dardanelle and on similar riverine reservoirs: third, 20th and 27th on Dardanelle (April 2004, May 2005, March 2009); two second-place finishes on the Alabama River (May 2003 and 2005); and fourth on Wheeler (April 2009). On the other hand, his résumé also includes a 93rd-place bomb in early April on Neely Henry and a 155th-place showing in a mid-May 2005 event.
Alabamian Matt Herren (2.6 percent) has a better average finish on Dardanelle than Chapman, having won an event here in May 2007 and placed ninth in a late March 2009 Elite Series tournament. His springtime body of work on similar riverine reservoirs, however, is not as good as Chapman’s. In five April or May events between 2005 and 2013, his finishes were: 16th, 30th and 100th on Wheeler; 110th on Neely Henry; and 50th on the Alabama River.
Bucket C: Browning or Hite
I’m following the crowd in Bucket C and taking Hot Springs, Ark., resident Stephen Browning (24.7 percent), who enters this tournament hot off his Open win on the Red River. With his Classic ticket already punched, Browning will be able to fish pretty loose and aggressively on pretty familiar water.
Browning placed 23rd on Dardanelle in a late March Elite Series tournament and 16th in a late August 2007 one. In three springtime visits to comparable riverine reservoirs, he placed 10th (Wheeler, early April), 13th (mid-May, Logan Martin) and 65th (early May, Alabama River).
South Carolinian Davy Hite (6.8 percent) has an up-and-down track record on Dardanelle and similar riverine reservoirs in the spring. In addition to a mid-May win here in 2005 and an 18th-place showing in late March 2009, he just barely made a check in mid-April 2004, placing 49th. Likewise, in mid-May 2013, he placed 15th in the Alabama River, but finished 80th and 81st on Wheeler in mid-May 2000 and early April 2009.
Bucket D: Klein or Biffle
Only in Bucket D am I straying from my overall theme and not recommending an Ozarkian or Alabamian. Instead, I like veterans Gary Klein (4.1 percent) and Tommy Biffle (19.2 percent), of California and Oklahoma, respectively.
I’m giving the nod to Klein, who has a great history here and on similar riverine reservoirs this time of year — fifth and 10th on Dardanelle (May 2005, April 2004); 11th and 20th on Wheeler (April 2009, May 2000); and 15th on the Alabama River in late May 2003. On the other hand, he bombed on the Alabama River in the second week of May last year, placing 63rd.
While Biffle has never notched a Top 10 on Dardanelle in the spring, he placed 22nd here in May 2005. On similar fisheries, he won an April 2009 Elite series event on Wheeler, placed 28th on Wheeler in May 2005, and placed sixth on the Alabama River last year in May. On the other hand, his spring history on riverine reservoirs also includes finishes of 35th, 38th and 42nd place on Dardanelle, and finishes of 60th, 129th on Neely Henry and Wheeler, respectively.
Bucket E: Vinson or Duckett
I’m with the crowd again in Bucket E, where I’m picking Alabama’s Greg Vinson (20.5 percent). Although Vinson placed 43rd on Dardanelle in a May 2007 event, he balanced out his résumé here with an 11th-place showing in a March 2009 Elite Series tournament. In five April or May tournaments on similar riverine reservoirs, he finished out of the money only once (58th, Wheeler), in the 20s twice, in the 40s once, and was the runner-up on Logan Martin in last May’s Open there.
A good case can be made for Duckett, another Alabamian, who won here in late August 2007. Conditions then, of course, were not similar to now, but Duckett does have two high finishes on similar riverine reservoirs in April or May — fourth on Neely Henry (2009, PAA), and 14th (2013, Elites).
Who are you picking for your Fantasy Fishing roster?