"This is a funky kind of bite," says Boyd Duckett, winner of the 2007 BASS Legends tournament on Lake Dardanelle, after two days of practice for the 2009 Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive. "The bass are tentative. As a result they're short-striking almost everything I've thrown at them. I can't say I've ever seen anything like it in all of my professional fishing. It's really weird."
He goes on to point out that most of the bass are shallow, which complicates the problem.
"The fish want to spawn — the water temperature is 60-61 degrees in the creeks and a degree or two cooler in the main river channel — but they aren't committed to the beds yet. But they aren't feeding either.
"To make matters worse there's virtually no deep water bite, at least if there is I haven't found it. This could be a tough tournament. It's certainly not like it was in 2007."
That's a surprising synopsis considering that it's March and that Dardanelle, located about halfway between Little Rock and Fort Smith, is one of Arkansas' premier bass lakes. With over 34,000 acres of surface water, more than 50 miles of river channel along the Arkansas River and 315 miles of shoreline, it would seem reasonable to think the bass should be on fire.
"I'm as surprised as anyone else. I'd guess it's the water and the weather, but you never know for sure. The water's at least a foot lower than it was when I fished here in August of 2007. That's really affected the bite and the fishing. I couldn't get into one of my favorite places today during practice. It was frustrating.
"Along with that we've had a big front move through which has messed everything up. Today (Tuesday) we had storms and heavy rain, it was nasty out there. I don't think the bass liked it any better than we did.
"On top of everything else, the water's murky which makes sight fishing difficult — darn near impossible really. In two full days I've managed to mark three keepers on their beds."
Duckett's not alone in his difficulties. He reports that the other anglers he's talked to are having the same difficulties. Based on that, he predicts a quiet tournament with a shallow bite — on what he claims to be clueless — and lighter weights. At the same time, however, he warns us not to get too pessimistic.
"This is an Elite Series event. Someone always figures them out. I'd say that everyone will be struggling at some point but that a few of the guys will weigh big sacks before it's over."
Duckett describes a big sack as something approaching 17 or 18 pounds. He doesn't expect that to be the norm, however.
"I'd say 11 pounds a day will make Friday's cut for the Top 50. And, it might take 50 pounds to launch on Sunday morning with the Top 12. The winning weight will be around 60 pounds, maybe just a little better."
"I know there's not much distance between Sunday's cut and the winning weight, but you have to remember that most of these bass are about the same size. And I watched a lot of guys run over their bass in practice. That isn't likely to get any better during the tournament. (Duckett promised to explain that statement after the competition's over.)
"I'd say it'll be difficult for anyone to break away from the pack with a heavy stringer. That's especially true when you realize that the biggest bass of the event isn't likely to break the 7 pound mark."
With all that in mind, the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion believes we should watch anglers like Todd Faircloth and Greg Hackney as the tournament progresses if we want to stay well informed.
"They fish methodically and are two of the best in the business at breaking everything down and figuring out what the bass are doing. That's what it'll take to win this one. A run and gun style of fishing won't do you a bit of good here."
The weather isn't likely to have much of an impact, according to Duckett. He believes that it'll continue to be cool at night with plenty of bright sunshine during the day. That should keep water temperatures about where they're at now and have little impact on the fish.
"I'm going to warn you, though, if the water cools down this tournament's going to turn ugly. That'll make a funky bite even worse and make my weight predictions look optimistic. But it won't affect my choice of anglers to watch. The same skill sets will prevail in the end."