Despite high water and heavy flows on the Arkansas River, the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Dardanelle presented by Econo Lodge “is a go,” B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon said Wednesday.
“Barring unforeseen changes in weather or river conditions, the tournament will be held as planned,” Weldon said. He announced the decision after discussions this week with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other local experts on river conditions. “However, we will continue to track developments at Lake Dardanelle, and we will reschedule the event if conditions dictate,” he added.
In a message to the 109 Elite anglers participating, Weldon urged them to exercise caution in running the river, and to be especially alert because some jetties are expected to be under the surface.
While flow on the river next week is predicted to be higher than normal, B.A.S.S. events in the past have taken place on the same fishery when water levels and flow rates were similar. Boyd Duckett won a Bassmaster Major tournament in 2007 after a planned event out of Little Rock was moved upstream to Dardanelle. And Mark Menendez won an Elite tournament in 2009 on the same section following high-water events. Both four-day tournaments were won with about 55 pounds of bass.
The high, muddy water could present challenges during the sixth regular-season Elite tournament, but you can bet as the 109-angler field spreads out across the 40,000 surface acres, somebody will catch them and take home the $100,000 first-place prize money.
The Arkansas River would typically be a factor during a tournament like this; but with the high-water conditions, the river might not be as fishable as in years past, thus restricting the anglers to the backwaters of Dardanelle.
“The red Oklahoma clay is being washed into smaller tributaries thanks to an overabundance of spring rain, which is eventually ending up in the Arkansas River with a destination of Lake Dardanelle,” said Jerry Williams, a retired professional bass fisherman from Conway, Ark., who has fished the lake for more than 30 years.
He said Dardanelle has been a great bass fishery for years, but upstream erosion has taken its toll on the vegetation growth.
“There are still plenty of opportunities for big fish and heavy stringers,” he said. “But thanks to the persistent difficult conditions in recent years, the muddy water greatly restricts the needed sunlight, which impacts how well aquatic plants grow.”
Williams started fishing the lake in 1970, and enjoyed an exciting career as a pro angler on the Bassmaster Top 100 and Top 150 circuits. He qualified for the Elite Series twice but declined the invitations. The Arkansas native has seen his share of tough tournaments, and he expects Dardanelle to be challenging.
“With the high-water conditions, the main river will be difficult to navigate, and the backwaters will be jammed with anglers,” he said. “There are plenty of great spots to consider on the main lake, but if the wind blows hard enough, the field will be forced to share the water along the shoreline.
“It will create an exciting event because everybody will be on a level playing field. The angler who figures it out will need to average about 12 to 14 pounds per day. I’d be surprised if a four-day limit of bass exceeds the mid- to upper 50-pound range.”
He said areas of the fishery are capable of producing 20-pound limits, but the problem will be matching that weight on subsequent days.
“It’s very exciting to win a tough tournament, I think,” he said. “Knowing you beat everyone when the conditions aren’t conducive to catching numbers of bass really places the top angler on a pedestal. This one will come with an exciting finish for sure.”
Even if the fishing is better than he expects, a thrilling finish is likely. When Jason Christie of Oklahoma won here in May 2014 with 72 pounds, 3 ounces, only 4 ounces separated him and Gerald Swindle, and Greg Hackney was only 8 ounces out of the lead.
Takeoff will occur at 6:15 a.m. CT from Lake Dardanelle State Park in Russellville, Ark., and weigh-in will be at the same location beginning at 3:15 p.m. To avoid fishing on the popular Memorial Day holiday, practice for this event will begin Tuesday. The full field of anglers will fish Friday and Saturday, and the Top 51 will compete in the semifinal round Sunday. On Monday, the Top 12 will compete for the championship.
The event is hosted by the Russellville Advertising and Promotion Commission.