This week at Lake Dardanelle the pros won't find much, if anything, to remind them of the slugfest they just finished at Amistad. In fact, when I spoke with veteran Elite pro Kevin Short, who fishes Dardanelle regularly, the upcoming Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive tournament probably won't even remind them of previous events on this very lake.
That's because last spring's heavy, heavy rains on the upper Arkansas River pretty well eliminated the threadfin shad spawn, and Dardanelle biologists believe many of the 15-inch bass — which feed primarily on threadfins and which also make up the majority of tournament catches — have starved. Short fished Dardanelle regularly this past winter, and reported that the majority of 14- and 15-inch bass he caught then were extremely skinny, which isn't a good omen.
At the same time, the river's high water, which remained until autumn, also wiped out the majority of the shoreline water willows for which Dardanelle has been famous. Much of the vegetation is also gone in the backwaters, Short told me.
The good news about this week's Elite tournament is that Dardanelle's larger bass population, which feeds on larger gizzard shad, appears to be in good condition. Thus, we may see not only a more difficult tournament than previous events here, but also a tournament that forces anglers to fish differently than they may want to.
Short didn't think any particular lure, pattern, or location would dominate, and I agree. The water temperature is in the low 50s but some fish have spawned; the majority is still staging to move shallow and some undoubtedly will if temperatures continue to rise.
Conditions like this tend to favor certain pros, so here are a few I'll be watching:
Kevin Short — Short not only has the advantage of living near Dardanelle and fishing it often, he tends to do well in tougher events that don't depend on one primary pattern. A two-time Bassmaster winner, he's past due for number three; he finished 10th at Amistad.
Boyd Duckett — I like Duckett not only because he won the most recent BASS event here in 2007, but also because he's always so positive and refreshing about his time on the water. That type of attitude makes changing lures, techniques, or locations much easier. He's also coming off a strong 9th place finish at Amistad.
Michael Iaconelli — Yes, I picked him to win the Classic (he finished 2nd) and to do well at Amistad (he was 7th), and I'll be surprised if he doesn't do well here. I've been able to spend some good time with him, and he's more focused now than I've ever seen him. Fishing-wise, he's perfecting how he generates reaction bites, and that's what will win on Dardanelle.
Kevin VanDam — Although the upcoming Tennessee River events are more suited to his style and preference, Dardanelle could serve as a nice tune-up for KVD if it does require a run-and-gun approach. Kevin simply covers more water more efficiently than practically anyone else out there.
Kenyon Hill — He's not one of the Arkansas boys, but he has had plenty of experience on Dardanelle, and, just as importantly, Kenyon knows how to win in this business. He's awfully good with jigs and spinnerbaits, and a win here would push him over the $1 million mark. He was 7th in the Classic and 11th at Amistad, so he's fishing well.
Alton Jones — Alton really wanted to win Amistad and finishing 2nd there may provide the incentive he needs to get back into the winner's circle. He's had a lot of experience on the Arkansas River, and he's certainly versatile enough to figure out Dardanelle's secrets.
Others on my watch list include Scott Rook and Stephen Browning, both Arkansas pros with a lot of experience here. Browning, 4th at Amistad, may be entering what will become his best tournament season. He really seemed excited when we visited at Amistad. Greg Hackney, whom I have watched and filmed in previous Dardanelle events, is also completely capable of doing well here, especially if it boils down to a jig bite.