The Arkansas State Kayak Fishing Championship featured three very different weather scenarios over the two day period – challenging anglers to make adjustments along the way to keep catching bass. Over tournament weekend, 67 of Arkansas’ top kayak anglers scrambled across the varied waters of the largest lake on the Arkansas river system. Growing up I used to hear the expression, “If you don’t like the weather in Arkansas, just wait a bit and it will change.” That definitely was true at the Championship.
I really struggle at Lake Dardanelle because of the dirty water and the long stretches of grass – which I am not very good with in catching fish. However, the size of the boundary area made it possible for us to spread out which was a positive, and the pavilion at Dardanelle State Park is a venue which is second to none for captain’s meetings and weigh-in. Tournament Directors Jeff Malott and Garett VanWie did an excellent job preparing and executing the event. But would the fish cooperate?
Day One – The Heat is On
Weather on opening day was going to be a pretty straightforward proposition. Mostly sunny with a high near 90 degrees made for a long, hot day on the water. Despite the heat and a crowded Saturday on the lake for kayak and boat angles alike, more than 300 bass were caught and submitted. The majority of day one competitors (91%) carded a keeper, and a really strong 35 anglers (52%) turned in a full limit. Terry Brown hooked a 21.75″ toad on a big Texas-rig worm for the biggest bass of the day. The top three after day one were Eli Powers (84.25″), Kyle Fields (80.75″), and Cole Sikes (78.25″). I was sitting in 9th place with 72.5″ and felt OK with that, because I was in a large group of anglers within striking distance for day two.
Day Two – Weathergeddon
Loading up to head to my spot on day two, I was rolling the dice and heading to a new spot from day one where I thought some big fish might be found because of incoming rain. And boy did it rain. Starting about 6:00 a.m. it rained off and on for the next three hours or so. At 6:45 with first cast it was raining so hard where I was that it was like being in the shower, and so dark I could hardly function for the first 30 minutes. As the rain started to move out mid-morning the temperature dropped significantly and bluebird skies took over. The weather changes definitely hurt the bite, as there were around 100 less total keepers caught on day two than day one. Only 73% (49) turned in a keeper, while the number of those turning in a limit dropped to 43% (29).
Eli Powers led the way again on day two with 84.50″ while Shane Oakes made a big move with 82.00″ and Toby Bogart turned in the third highest total for the day with 81.75″. My day was strange, as I didn’t catch anything during the rain (weird), got into a bit of an altercation with a bass boat local, and then caught my limit post-cold front and bluebird skies. Go figure.
If you read the info above, you probably have figured out that Eli Powers is your 2017 Arkansas State Champion with a two-day total of 168.75″. Congrats to Eli on his achievement of dominating both days! The rest of the top five shook out like this:
- Eli Powers – 168.75″
- Toby Bogart – 156.50″
- Kyle Fields – 155.25″
- Shane Oakes – 151.25″
- Garrett Morgan – 150.00″
See the full results here on TourneyX. Terry Brown’s 21.75″ toad held up to take the Big Bass side pot for the weekend! I finished with 138.00″ and 12th for the tourney which was outside my goal of the top ten, but all things considered it was a good weekend.
Some of the top anglers of the event shared their experiences from the big weekend – Eli Powers, Toby Bogart, Kyle Fields and Shane Oakes shared a recap of their tournament weekend. As usual, these anglers all did things a bit differently and figured out how to make the fish bite. Each angler also had some key moments where they overcame a negative situation or prepared themselves mentally for success. Thank you to them for some great stories from the tournament:
Shane Oakes – 4th Place 151.25″
Dardanelle is so large and so diverse that many different methods can be effective on the same day as long as you are targeting [and finding] the shad population that hasn’t already been cherry picked by the big boats. With this in mind I didn’t want to over think it. Most of us have a comfort zone, and while I am all about change and learning new things I didn’t figure the state championship was the time to get outside of my comfort zone and try to learn something new. So I went with what I am comfortable with….creek fishing. I chased the shad up into the creeks.
I didn’t really change strategy or technique from Saturday to Sunday. However, I did make a different type of change. Finishing 20th on Saturday wasn’t as “consistent” as I had hoped. I thought I had to have a strong showing on Sunday to even be close to the top 10. Having finished in the top ten the last two Championships I set this as a goal for myself this year. Saturday was mental mistake after mistake which I let get to me when I should have just let it go, relaxed and had fun catching fish because I caught a lot of fish Saturday…..just not the size I wanted. I spent Saturday over-thinking and second guessing everything, simply not relaxing, not doing what I was comfortable with, and not enjoying the moment. Early Sunday morning at the hotel I ran into another competitor whom I have fished around several different times, but have not taken the time to get to know on any level. As we stood watching the rain and looking out into the darkness we had a lengthy, enjoyable [and turns out insightful] conversation which I hope is the start of new friendship. Thinking more about our conversation on the drive to the launch point it became very evident what I was going to change for Sunday. I changed my attitude. I reminded myself at every mistake or setback that I simply needed to relax, continue to do what I know to be successful on creeks, and most importantly enjoy the moment.
As I said earlier Dardanelle is a very diverse lake, but one thing I believe is a key element to a successful day is finding the shad population throughout the lake. You can be very successful with a wide range of techniques and baits…..as long as you find the shad on a spot that hasn’t been cherry picked by the big boats. Find the shad and I believe you can do well on just about any day.
When fishing a big tournament or a two-day event, definitely have a plan that accounts for where you are fishing and the weather conditions. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing up and beating up a bank that “looks good” for 2 days you have to take into account the other anglers in the field. This field was 67 of the state’s top kayak anglers. If you are going to beat them all over a 2 day tournament you are going to have to do your homework, research, pre-fish, and be on your game with a solid plan.
Kyle Fields – 3rd Place 155.25″
I have never fished this lake leading up to this tournament and knew there wasn’t a day I could pre-fish, so I started with the map and the last few years of fishing reports for this time of year. I could see it was a nice sized lake and knew I had to find a creek to fit my style of fishing. I narrowed down a few tributaries and got with a guy local to me but who used to reside down on the lake. He told me about a spot and it happened to have a hotel near the put in.
I got on the water 25 minutes early and it was the longest 25 of my life since all I could hear is bait fish flickering and the bass feeding on them. I set a reminder on my phone for game time and waited. My second cast with the Loon Whopper Plopper landed me a 18 incher. I continued to fish the Plopper and collected my limit in under a hour. Being that I have struggled in getting limits this season, my heart was pounding. I knew I was in a good spot. I rode that topwater bite as long as I could, only to cull up a few inches. So then I picked up a War Eagle spinnerbait and on the first cast caught a 10″ and I thought “I am on them.” A couple casts later landed me a 16.25″. I put it on the board and took the pic and he flopped back in the water. Giving it no thought I continued to fish. I finally pulled over and uploaded it only to find the photo of the 16.25″ was not accepted. The tip of his lip touching the board was cropped out. I didn’t let it get me down too much – just kept grinding. A few minutes later a bass boat pulled up about 60 yards from me about the time I casted and caught the rod behind me and the war eagle wend sailing into the woods. I hurried to dig for another one, only the find a size was a little smaller. Threw it a while but nothing. I then paddled my way out into the mouth of the creek, with bait fish skipping everywhere. I picked up a 18.5″ and a 16″ on a X-calibur square-bill crank. With the leaderboard being turned off on Day 1, I just knew everyone had to be on them. With my hopes high but not cocky I scrambled to the weigh-in spot about a hour early to learn I was sitting in 2nd going into day two.
Toby Bogart – 2nd Place 156.60″
I’d never fished Lake Dardanelle before the tournament. So basically I just looked at the map of the lake and figured out a spot with lots of points and shade that I’d like to fish that was also fairly close to home. for me I’ve had better luck in the past just showing up and fishing rather than pre-fishing. On day one I started out at Cane Creek close to Scranton and I figured they’d be chasing shad so I chose to throw a square bill shad pattern at every piece of cover and point I could find. I caught my first fish about 30 minutes in. I then continued to work the cover and found around 10 bass total for the day. Unfortunately, I managed to lose a rod and reel and new sunglasses around the time the sun came out, then missed a nice fish at the boat which made things worse. I pressed on and finished 7th on day 1.
I decided to take a chance at Spadra creek on day 2 which started badly. When I got to the ramp it was raining pretty hard and I backed my truck down to the water and was untying the kayak and let go of it for just a second and my kayak slid out of the truck so without thinking I jumped in the water after it. So as day 2 I started out soaked from the waist down – I was cold and miserable. I was cheered up when on my second cast I caught my first fish of the day. It was a bit of a struggle to take photos in the rain and had to renew my identifier once. I fished a long bluff close to the railroad bridge casting as close to the bluff as possible and worked the bluff all the way down and trolled back and went past the ramp where I launched. I continued down the bank stopping to fish what little shade I could find and any cover. I caught my last fish of the day around noon and was also my biggest of the tourney. I ended up quitting fishing around 2:00 and then got on Facebook to see if i could get any info on who was in what place. I saw a post from earlier that morning that showed me in second and I had caught fish since it was posted so i had a good feeling about my position. Then I dropped my yak off at home and headed to the final weigh in. My goal was to finish in the top half of the field. I never thought I’d even finish top 10, let alone second place. All of my keepers on day 1 and 2 came from the same square bill. Had a great time competing against some of the best in the state.
Eli Powers – 1st Place 168.75″
Coming into this event, I was piggybacking off of my last year finish and technique. I was confident enough with my technique from last year, that I went ahead and ordered the main bait that I would throw about two months in advance. I chose to fish the Illinois Bayou due to my experience in the area. I lived in Russellville for 4 years while attending ATU, and spent an awful amount of time on the water in this area. I knew from past experience and seasonal patterns, that October can be lights out in the water willow that surrounds the lake shorelines. I have always concentrated my efforts in the shallow portions of the lake, and I felt no different about this event.
Each morning, I knew I had to take advantage of the aggressive bite in the scattered grass before the sun got up, and try to get as many keepers as I could with fast moving baits. Once the sun gets up, those fish that are feeding in the scattered grass either move to thicker cover or slide back to deeper water. After the sun came out, that’s when I looked for the “thickets” or the thickest grass I could find. If I could see open water in between the grass, then that was too thin, and I wouldn’t even stop to fish it. Sunday threw a little curve ball in the morning bite, with the rain and wind, and allowed me to stay shallower longer, but again, after the sun came out, it was time to head to the thickets!
Saturday morning, I started out throwing an Underbite Custom Tackle ¼ oz white swim jig, and a white Texas-rigged Zoom Z-craw with a ¼ oz tungsten bullet weight through the scattered grass. With both baits, I would swim it just under the surface through and around the scattered grass patches. I fished both baits on a 7’ MH action Favorite Summit rod with a Lews reel spooled with 20lb fluorocarbon. I was able to pick up 4 keepers this way, before the sun got too high, and the fish in the scattered grass quit biting. As soon as this happened, approximately 9:30am, I headed for the thickets, where I would punch the white Z-craw with a 1 oz tungsten punch weight into the thick stuff. I fished this rig on a 7’6” heavy action Favorite Big Sexy rod, with a Lews reel spooled with 20lb fluorocarbon. This stuff was so thick in places; I had to shake the bait in tiny openings for up to 15 seconds before it would finally slip through the thick mat. Once the bait broke through, I would snap the bait up two or three times before I would move on to the next opening. I preferred mats of grass that had water depths under them of about 2 – 4 feet. I would essentially cover an entire mat from end to end, and top to bottom with that bait and make as many pitches and flips needed to saturate the entire grass mat. This process would often take up to an hour to cover one grass mat, and typically, I would only catch one fish per mat. I went from mat to mat until the end of the day looking for just a few more good bites from each, and this was good enough to make some really good culls.
Sunday morning was blessed with storms, wind, and rain, and the opportunity to throw a big spinnerbait! I threw a ½ oz Underbite Custom Tackle spinnerbait with double large gold Colorado blades and a white and chartreuse skirt. I was able to get 5 keepers, including my 19.25 inch big bass, on this bait before the sky lightened up a little, and the bite shut off. From there, I went back to flipping and pitching the mats with the Z-craw, and was able to make a few more upgrades.
All in all, it was important to get the aggressive bite early, and take advantage of the nasty weather early Sunday morning, and then settle in and pick off a few more good fish once the sun got high. Having confidence that the fish were buried in that thick stuff, and having the right equipment was critical to getting them out. I fished high percentage areas, and stayed in areas, where I knew fish were. If I find any vegetation in a body of water, I always check it first, and then adjust accordingly. Dardanelle is one of those lakes that has productive grassy areas all summer and fall, and finding those critical areas will provide enough fish for several days. The water temperature was ideal, and the shad were in the same locations, so there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to fish the shallow grass.
Sounds like we won’t be back on Dardanelle for a while for the State Championship – next year heading to north Arkansas for a site hosted by Twin Lakes Kayak Anglers. It was a good venue for sure, with a healthy but challenging fish population. I’ll miss being able to recover at CJ’s Burger Boy with some other anglers after a long day on the water. Qualifying for the Championship is something kayak anglers should strive for in 2018, it is definitely a fun experience.
All of those who qualified and participated should be proud of their accomplishments! Looking forward to 2018.