Shuffling stops at Dardanelle

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — The one-hit wonders have been weeded out. The 12 finalists in the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Lake Dardanelle have been rewarded for their consistency.

Now it's time to see who will be the most consistent of them all in a mid-May tournament held in early-April weather.

Sixty-seven-year-old Rick Clunn has won 14 B.A.S.S. tournaments, including four Bassmaster Classics, but he hasn't notched a victory since the Elite Series began in 2006. He came close at Falcon Lake last year before finishing second to Keith Combs.

Going into Sunday at Lake Dardanelle, Clunn is 13 ounces behind leader Greg Hackney's three-day total of 56 pounds, 8 ounces.

Of the 12 finalists, Clunn sounded the most confident that he could repeat what he's been doing the last three days, when he's sacked 18-5, 17-14 and 19-8.

"You can't be consistent if you don't know what's going on every day," he said. "(The bass) haven't changed on me. They've all been where I thought they would be."

Zell Rowland mentioned Saturday that Clunn said he'd had the best practice period here this week than he'd had in years. Saturday Clunn offered a correction to that quote.

"I said I'd had the most fun practice that I've had in years," he said.

So what's the difference between "best" and "fun"?

"I didn't see many boats," Clunn said. "Everything came together. I narrowed it down to two baits. I don't want many other options."

He had fun in the unseasonably cool, cloudy weather Saturday, when the high temperature was 62 degrees and it felt colder than that.

"I always prefer bad weather," he said. "It gets all the (boat) traffic off the lake."

Clunn said he's getting only 7 to 10 bites a day, but they are the right bites. That's the biggest adjustment he's had to make. It didn't occur this week, but over decades. When he started guiding other anglers, the goal was always as many bites as you could get every day. As the B.A.S.S. tournament daily limits have been reduced from 10 to 7 to 5, he'scome to realize it's not about quantity, it's about quality. That's not the way veteran anglers like Clunn was programmed.

"You've got to give up (quantity) to get the big ones," Clunn said.

Clunn is fishing shallow, like all the finalists, with two of his longtime favorite lures. You can probably figure out what those are, but we'll wait and let him say it on Sunday.

Jason Christie, who is fourth, 3-7 behind Hackney, explained how that shallow bite has worked to his advantage, one he didn't expect to have in mid-May on Lake Dardanelle.

"I'm fishing in 4 or 5 feet, or less," he said. "Sometimes a lot less. Typically this time of year these (post-spawn) fish would be offshore."

The cool water temperatures, which started the week in the mid 70s but dropped into the low 60s, have kept fish shallow, where Christie would prefer to catch them.

"I'm a bank-beater," he explained.

The key for Christie has been figuring out how the fish are setting up and when they're feeding. That has allowed him to expand the area where he caught fish on Day 1. He thinks the full moon has influenced an early bite, which he discovered today, and water current is the key to an afternoon feeding spree.

"I might as well take a nap in the middle of the day," said Christie, whose three-day totals have been 16-7, 16-10 and 20-0. He wasn't able to take advantage of the early bite until today. "That's the difference between 16 and 20 pounds. Today I caught some early."

Leader Greg Hackney has been trending the wrong way, catching 21-13 on Day 1, followed by 18-1 and 16-10. In terms of confidence for Sunday, he wasn't exactly full of it.

"Honestly, I can't tell you what I'm going to do (Sunday)," he said. "I've worked two areas over pretty good."

Hackney knows he needs to go somewhere different Sunday. All the bass that are stacked up shallow have helped Hackney, too. His thorough flipping style will probably work in many places on Lake Dardanelle, where he has a long history.

"One problem I've got is that I probably have too many places," he said.

Hackney does have one Elite Series victory on his record. But it came a while back, at Sam Rayburn in 2006 in the second-ever Elite Series tournament.

John Crews, the Day 1 leader, is on a downward trend too: 22-9, 16-12 and 11-11. It has left him in seventh place going into the finale. All it will take is another bag like Crews caught Thursday to put him in the hunt for $100,000.

He has another source of confidence for overtaking the 5-pound, 8-ounce lead that Hackney has over him. Hackney was leading fourth-place Crews by 5 pounds, 7 ounces after three days at the California Delta in 2010 when Crews came back to notch his only Elite Series victory.

You can make a winning case for anyone in the Top 12, which is separated by 7-15, especially on a lake where Zell Rowland caught 25-5 Friday. (Rowland, by the way, dropped to 17th place with 10-5 Saturday.)

It's supposed to be another cloudy, cool day on Lake Dardanelle. The boat traffic should be low for a mid-May weekend. And there will be only 12 Elite Series anglers on the lake, after Thursday's and Friday's field of 107 competitors, which was cut to the top 50 for Saturday.

"That's why you'll probably see some bigger bags (Sunday)," said Clunn, after making this prediction: "I think I'll need 22 or 23 pounds to win."

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