Practice for the FLW Tour’s annual stop at Beaver Lake begins on Sunday, April 23, with the tournament kicking off on Thursday the 27th. FLW has been holding Tour events at Beaver Lake since before some of the Tour pros had graduated from their Zebco 33 training reels, which means there’s plenty of history to go on as they prepare for the season’s fifth event. We pretty well know that jigs, crankbaits, finesse rigs and swimbaits will factor into the outcome, but that’s about all anyone can guarantee. Where they’re used and what pattern will win are up in the air. After all, the most predictable part of fishing Beaver Lake is that it’s entirely unpredictable.
The uncertainty stems from several factors, including the lake’s mix of largemouths, smallmouths and spots – any of which can anchor quality bags. Add in a diversity of cover, structure and water clarity, plus the fickle nature of springtime weather in the Ozarks as Mother Nature never seems to have her mind made up when the Tour boats roll into Rogers, Ark.
This season’s bout, which is presented by General Tire and hosted by Visit Rogers, looks like it’ll deliver more of the same, with conditions in flux throughout the weekend. Several inches of rain fell in the region at the end of the workweek, prompting a flood watch on Friday night. An accompanying drop in air temperature possibly dampened what has been a fantastic spring fishing season on Beaver Lake, but the forecast indicates the downturn shouldn’t last long.
If the weatherman’s forecast turns out to be accurate, we should see the air temperature climb back into the 70s by Monday and stay there through the week. More change is coming for the start of the tournament, as storms are in the forecast for Thursday through Saturday, with only a mild drop in air temperature expected.
What’s all that mean? Basically, the pros are in for a weeklong stretch of flip-flopping conditions on top of the spawn, which is already a tumultuous time of transition, and as usual for Beaver, the pro who adjusts best will be the one who walks away with $125,000 after the day-four weigh-in.
Fishing guide and outdoor writer Brad Wiegmann lives on Beaver Lake and will be competing in the tournament as a co-angler. He broke down the current conditions for us, and based on his reports and some research into the winning patterns at Beaver from years past, we pieced together some of the key factors in play this week and predictions regarding how this tournament might be won.
The Rogers area received about an inch and a half of rain on Easter evening and another 3 1/2 inches or so on Friday. The lake level has risen more than 2 feet since Thursday, to 1,119.8 feet above mean sea level (as of about noon on Saturday). That’s part of a 4-foot increase since the beginning of April and a 9-foot increase since the beginning of March. Full pool is 1,120.43.
For reference, the water level on Jan. 1, 2016 was about 1,129 and had stabilized at around 1,120 by March, where it remained for last year’s Tour event April 14-17. A dry summer and fall spurred a gradual lowering of the water level that bottomed out at about 1,111. That’s where it stayed until mid-March 2017.
In other words, last season’s tournament was a week earlier on the calendar and on the heels of falling water. This season’s tournament will pair the bass spawn with rising water, which can often lead to a good flipping bite. The upper riverine section could be red-hot for spawning activity, but sight-fishing that far upstream will be greatly impacted by the water clarity and where the lake level settles out.
“We’re getting a lot of floating debris. The water is coming up fast,” Wiegmann says after surveying the lake last Friday afternoon. “There was one tree about 2 feet in diameter that was probably 20 feet long, just at the surface. It was real dry last summer, so it’s been a long time since the water was up. That stuff that was all dry is just floating up.
“Right now [Friday afternoon] the rivers are clear, but probably in a day or two they should get muddy,” he adds. “Both War Eagle and the White will be stained by the time those guys start practicing Sunday. The good news is if you like colored water it’s coming your way. If you like that clear water, that part of the lake just got a lot smaller.”
FLW has seen some extreme high water events in the past, including when Mark Pack won it pitching jigs and cranking flooded roadbeds and boat ramps in May 2008 and when Ray Scheide flipped debris mats to win in May 2009. Those tournaments were obviously later in the spring, and this spike in water level probably won’t reach a point where it’s considered “extreme,” but a few similar patterns could work. With the water rising after a prolonged period of low water, new cover will be flooded, and mats of leaf litter known as “sawdust” and debris in the backs of pockets might provide pros some good areas to flip.
“That will be a good pattern,” says Wiegmann of the shallow setup. “And a Ned rig is going to be good just because those fish should be prime for being on the bed. Even though there’ll be some at all three stages – pre, post and spawning – there’s going to be a lot of them caught on that [Ned rig]. There might be some caught on a drop-shot in the beds.”
When Clark Wendlandt won at Beaver in late April 2001, sight-fishing was a major part of his victory. In fact, Wendlandt’s success sight-fishing at Beaver in the late 1990s and early 2000s earned him multiple top 10s and the nickname “Mr. Beaver Lake.” The timing is about the same this year. However, in recent years sight-fishing has been pretty much a hit-or-miss affair at Beaver Tour events. The weather conditions or timing haven’t been right, plus it’s just a tough place to sight-fish for multiple days due to fishing pressure and the overall improvement of the fishery. Used to be, an angler could sight-fish 2-pounders and be in good shape. Nowadays, with 15- to 18-pound stringers commonly coming from the dirtier areas upriver where sight-fishing is tough, and big smallmouths being caught in the lower end, there are other patterns that seem to produce bigger results. Lately wins have resulted from fishing for a combination of staging fish – both prespawn and postspawn – and blind-casting in bedding areas.
This time around, Wiegmann expects more of the same. He believes that anyone skilled with a jig will do well for prespawn staging fish. Sight-fishing and bed-fishing without actually looking at the fish on beds will be in play, he adds, but to what degree is yet to be determined. The recent front notwithstanding, conditions certainly look right for it given next week’s forecasted warming trend and the current water temperatures.
“Sixty-eight degrees – that’s what the lake’s water temperature is averaging,” Weigmann adds. “There’ve been days that people have seen 70 degrees already. Saturday’s high air temperature is in the 50s, but 67 on Sunday, 74 on Monday, 80 on Tuesday. They better bring their shorts and sunscreen.”
According to Wiegmann, recent tournaments have been won with some impressive stringers, and there’s a big-bass tournament scheduled for this weekend.
“I don’t even know how many anglers they’re going to have in that, but they’re dropping almost all of them [the fish that are caught] at Prairie Creek,” says Wiegmann. “If someone says they’re going to fish for fish that have been caught before, it’s probably within five miles of Prairie Creek.”
The Tour traditionally takes off from Prairie Creek, and fishing the takeoff creek is a popular strategy at Beaver. The area usually draws a crowd the first two days, and it seems that there’s always a pro or two who makes the cut by fishing there. Probably it won’t be any different this time.
As has been the case in recent years, top-10 caliber fish will be caught throughout the lake, with smallmouths the dominant species in the lower end, spots and largemouths in the middle, and largemouths upstream.
Weights have steadily improved over the last five seasons or so. Expect to see at least a few stringers surpassing 17 pounds, with most of the top 10 pros catching 15 pounds at least one or two days.
Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.
Takeoff Time: 6:30 a.m. CT
Takeoff Location: Prairie Creek Recreation Area, 9300 North Park Road, Rogers, AR
Weigh-In Time: 3 p.m. CT on days one and two; 4 p.m. CT on days three and four
Weigh-In Location: Prairie Creek all days
Check out the FLW Expo and Evinrude Test Rides
Test rides – Evinrude will be hosting test rides for its popular E-TEC G2 motors at Prairie Creek Recreation Area on Saturday, April 29, from 7 to 11 a.m. All participants will receive a free Evinrude hat. Come demo Evinrude’s most powerful and fuel-efficient two-stroke motor in history.
Expo – The FLW Expo will take place at Prairie Creek on Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30, from 12 to 4 p.m. Kids’ activities include a Ranger Boat simulator, casting pond and more. Concessions will be available, along with vendors selling tackle and other outdoor gear.