ROGERS, Ark. – In the history of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, few times has the field faced flooded conditions – truly flooded conditions.
Sure, there have been some high-water FLW Tour events on Kentucky Lake and Buggs Island in years past. And the Connecticut River flooded out for the Forrest Wood Cup in 1998. All in all, however, the FLW Tour has managed to dodge the deluges over the years.
That will change this week as the FLW Tour visits a flooded Beaver Lake for the 2008 Wal-Mart Open. This marks the 11th year the Wal-Mart Open has visited Beaver. And it also marks the highest water the Tour has ever seen on Beaver.
Currently, Beaver Lake is 8 feet over the top of normal pool. The last time the lake was close to this level for an FLW Tour event was in 1998 – the inaugural year of the Wal-Mart Open.
That year Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., won the tournament by flipping and fishing a spinnerbait.
Since that first event, though, the Wal-Mart Open has pretty much been a perennial finesse-feud of spinning rods, little worms and sight-fishing on Beaver’s gin-clear waters.
But due to an abundance of rain in the Ozarks over the last few months, the White River basin is now swollen with high, muddy water, and the water color for much of Beaver Lake looks like creamed coffee.
“It’s a completely different lake this time around, and I’m pretty excited about it,” said Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., who won the Wal-Mart Open in 2003. “For the first time in a long time on this tour, I have just a couple big rods on the deck, and there’s not even a spinning rod in my boat.”
Morehead is looking forward to going “old school” by power fishing shallow, flooded cover in stained water this week.
“I get to fish like a man for a change,” he chuckled. “So I’m tickled to death.”
Morehead recalled that the last time the water was high in 1998, the lake water was still clear.
“I don’t think the high water is so much of a shocker as the water color,” Morehead said. “I can’t believe how muddy the water is and how far down the lake the stain line travels. There’s just a little bit of clear water near the dam. Several times during practice, I had to ask myself, `Am I really on Beaver Lake?'”
The high, muddy water will also make Beaver Lake fish big, meaning anglers will be able to spread out and fish just about any way they want to.
BP pro David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., had an interesting observation about the lake as well: “Normally when we come here, all the power-fishing guys are all packed into one small part of the lake where there’s just a little bit of stained water, while the finesse guys have free reign over the whole lake.
“This time around the flippers and pitchers can fish just about anywhere they want to, and all the guys holding spinning rods are crammed into the last quarter of the lake by the dam.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Walker continued. “There will still be a few guys who make the top 10 with a shaky head. But I do believe there will be a larger representation of shallow-water power-fishing anglers in the finals this time around.”
And from the looks of things at the day-one launch this morning, Beaver Lake is only going to get higher and muddier.
Ironically fitting for a flood tournament, the day-one launch of the Wal-Mart Open was punctuated with a steady downpour, which had most anglers soaked before they even made their first casts.
Anglers will take off at 6:30 each morning from Prairie Creek Marina located at 1 Prairie Creek Marina Drive in Rogers, Ark. Thursday and Friday’s weigh-ins will also be held at Prairie Creek Marina beginning at 3 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday’s weigh-ins will be held at the John Q. Hammons Center, located at 3303 Pinnacle Hills Parkway, beginning at 4 p.m.
Prior to the weigh-ins Saturday and Sunday, FLW Outdoors will host a free Family Fun Zone and outdoor show at the John Q. Hammons Center from noon to 6 p.m. each day.
The Family Fun Zone offers fans a chance to meet their Fantasy Fishing team anglers face-to-face and review the latest products from Berkley, Lowrance, Ranger, Evinrude, Yamaha and other sponsors while children are treated to giveaways, fishing themed games and rides like the Ranger Boat simulator.
Children 14 and under visiting the Family Fun Zone on Sunday will receive a free rod and reel combo while supplies last.
One lucky member of the audience will even win a new Ranger boat during the final 4 p.m. weigh-in Sunday, May 18. Admission is free, and you must be present to win.
The total purse for the Beaver Lake event is $1.5 million, including $10,000 through 75th place in the Pro Division.
Sunrise: 6:09 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 55 degrees
Expected high temperature: 60 degrees
Water temperature: 65 degrees
Wind: NNE at 10 to 15 mph
Day’s outlook: rainy and cool