MUSKOGEE, Okla. — A strategy of going on past history and “winging it” is giving local angler Mark Tyler an edge at the Bass Pro Shops Central Open finale on the Arkansas River.
The Vian, Okla., angler sacked up a 14-pound, 12-ounce limit Friday to take over the pro division lead with 30-5. Tyler said he has been so busy with his cattle ranch this year that he hasn’t been able to fish the river much, so he had to rely on his extensive experience on his home waters.
“Over the previous five years I have probably spent a hundred days a year on the river,” said the 41-year-old Tyler, who estimated he spent only about six hours practicing for this event.
The strategy is working well for Tyler, who weighed in a 15-9 limit the first day.
“I am just kind of fishing in the moment and reading the conditions and not tying myself down to a bank where I got bit in practice or anything,” he said. “I am just reacting and I think it is really helping me.”
A cold front and north wind has caused him to make changes both days.
“I am just flying by the seat of my pants from the first day,” he said. “I am just going where the conditions seem right and where the water clarity is right and where I can make a presentation the way I want.”
Even though he has bagged two solid limits each day, Tyler notes fishing has been “extremely tough” for him.
“I am grinding on every bite and don’t know if I am even going to get a limit until I get that fifth one in the box,” he said
Second-place Vu Au of Tucson, Ariz., has never fished the river before but he has found one primary area that has produced 30-4. The 32-year-old auto repair shop owner said he missed a couple of quality fish Thursday, but made up for the lost opportunities Day 2 with a 17-15 limit.
“I had to mix it up a bit,” he said. “I don’t know what it was today but they didn’t eat the same thing that they ate yesterday.”
Au said he tripled his catch Day 2 by staying on a 200-yard stretch of the river.
“I know that spot is reloading,” he said. “I made one pass and caught two and then made a pass and caught nothing. Then came back there and caught three.”
The field was cut to 12 anglers in both divisions for the final day of competition. Rounding out the Top 5 on the pro side are Gary Klein, Weatherford, Texas, third, 29-13; Tommy Biffle, Wagoner, Okla., fourth, 28-0; and Brian Potter, Claremore, Okla., fifth, 27-1.
Afton, Okla., angler Toby Hartsell moved into first place in the co-angler division with 20-4. The 43-year-old upholsterer fishes several regional tournaments in Oklahoma but this is only his second time on the river. Both days his pro division partners have taken him to the same section of the river.
“So I knew what to do once we got up there,” he said. “The fishing wasn’t easy and it’s probably going to get worse, but that’s alright.”
The Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting this week’s event. Saturday's launch will be held at the Three Forks Harbor, 5201 Three Forks Road. The weigh-in will move to the Bass Pro Shops, 101 Bass Pro Drive, in Broken Arrow, Okla., and will begin at 4 p.m. CDST.