Water flow to play significant role in Central Open on Arkansas River

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B.A.S.S.
The Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens Series visits Oklahoma's Arkansas River June 18-20 for 2020's first Central Division tournament.

MUSKOGEE, Okla. — When the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open Series visits the Arkansas River June 18-20, anglers fishing this Central Division opener may fare well by following a simple strategy: Go with the flow.

At 1,469 miles, the Arkansas River is the nation’s sixth-longest and the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi–Missouri system. With its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, the Arkansas River originates in snowmelt, but its course affords plenty of opportunity to collect rainwater. Lately, that’s been a significant volume.

“All local lakes feeding into the Arkansas River in our area (northern Oklahoma) are full; they’re at flood stage,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Dale Hightower, who lives in Mannford, Okla. “We’ve had a lot of rain, so [the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] has been keeping the river pretty high.

“If we don’t get any more rain by the time the tournament starts, it may stabilize a little bit, but I still think we’re looking at higher than normal conditions. I think fishing is going to be really good.”

Daily takeoffs will be at 6 a.m. CST from Three Forks Harbor and weigh-ins on Days 1 and 2 will be held at the same location at 1 p.m. The Day 3 weigh-in will also be held at Three Forks Harbor, but with a later start time of 2 p.m.

Noting that he expects 18 to 20 pounds a day to be a winning average, Hightower bases his optimism on the fact that high water extends the backwaters that almost always play a significant role on this fishery. With the river pushing deeper into shallow cover that’s normally inaccessible, fish and fishermen will undoubtedly capitalize on the opportunities.

Seasonally speaking, Hightower said he expects Arkansas River bass to have transitioned out of their postspawn stage. The fish, he said, should be healed up and feeding well; a scenario that should make for a good tournament showcasing early summer patterns.

“Anglers will be fishing laydowns, hyacinths, matted vegetation, water willow and some rock jetties,” Hightower said. “You’ll see a mix of frog fishing, squarebills, flipping creature baits; power fishing will be the deal — it always is.

“You don’t have to fish deep to catch them. You seldom have to fish over 6 feet; and that’s actually pretty deep on the river.”

With the entire Arkansas River, along with its tributaries open to competitors, time management will be one of the key considerations. Locking to adjacent pools may offer worthwhile opportunity, but river rules could toss the proverbial monkey wrench into one’s plans.

“Barges always take precedence over fishermen, so you lock at your own risk,” Hightower said. “Guys will have to take this into consideration.”

That being said, Hightower said the river’s current water level could create a scenario worth exploring. As he explained, the frequent locking activity common during a tournament week — practice included — can drop the water level in the narrow upper pools and render some areas unfishable. However, the greater volume of water in the system may create a favorably different scenario.

“That upper end in the Wagoner-Afton Pool might actually be a player this time,” Hightower said. “Normally, these tournaments are later in the year, so there’s not as much water flowing in. When they start locking, the water level falls and there’s nothing to replenish it. This time, we have a lot more water in the system.”

The event is being hosted by the Visit Muskogee and Three Forks Harbor.