By DAVID A. BROWN
MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. – It was easily the chilliest morning of the tournament, but the top 10 pros and co-anglers began the final day of the Stren Series Central Division event on Norfork Lake with high spirits. Why? Because they’d be fishing with an old friend they hadn’t seen in all week – the sun.
Dreary, overcast skies framed the previous two days against a dim canvas. Day one saw melting snow from an early-week storm and day two dawned with a fresh blanket of white. Anglers struggled to find cooperative fish in brutal conditions, but those who paid their penance and made the cut should find a considerably higher level of opportunity in Saturday’s improving conditions.
Leading the pro division by 3 pounds, 9 ounces, Robbie Dodson of Harrison, Ark. said he’s foregoing a definitive game plan in favor of an adaptive approach. “I’m going to play it like I have every day of this tournament. I’m just going to go out and start fishing. I have fished probably 100 different ways, just trying to get a bite.
“Most of my fish have come out of the bushes, but everyday it just keeps getting slower and they keep getting more pressure. We’re just going to try to catch one fish at every spot.”
Having missed a limit on day two, Dodson said he believes he can hold onto the top spot with another quartet: “I need to catch three good (largemouth bass) and maybe a Kentucky. I need to catch four fish to feel sure.”
Dodson’s co-angler partner, Kurt Evans of Hardy, Ark. holds a lead of 6 pounds, 8 ounces. He hopes the solar stimulus will perk up the fish. “The bite had been better during (sunny conditions), so it might be pretty good today. We should get a good bite right off the bat and then it’ll get good again in the afternoon.”
With the fish still unsettled by the week’s weather, Dodson said he hopes the combined local knowledge that he and Evans bring to the tournament will provide the key to unlock a sunny day’s potential. “Kurt and I have been fishing this lake all of our lives. Surely we can figure something out.”
The third-place team of Tim Fleetwood and co-angler Steven McFarland are the ones to watch. In 2007, these anglers found themselves paired for the Stren Series Central Division event on Bull Shoals Lake and ended up winning the pro and co-angler titles.
In sixth place, pro Mike “Cowboy” Foree of Osage Beach, Mo. will continue throwing the same jerk bait he’s been working all week. He’ll run upriver, past Red Bank and look for banks with muddy water, which he anticipates producing an active bite.
“When the water has a little more color to it, the bass seem to be shallower and more active,” Foree said. “I think the sunny conditions might move the fish up closer to the banks.”
Sitting six pound out of the lead, Foree said he’ll have to make up a lot of ground, but doesn’t rule out that possibility. “I’ll need 14-15 pounds to be competitive with (Dodson) and I had that (during practice) by 8:30 in the morning. Hopefully, those fish will bite again today.”
Look for more limit catches and higher overall weights in Saturday’s final round.
The Stren Series event, which runs March 6-8, is the first of four regular-season Central Division events. Hosted by the Mountain Home Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Norfork tournament offers a total purse of $275,225. The winning pro could earn as much as $65,000 in cash and prizes if contingencies are met, and the winning co-angler could earn as much as $35,000.
Saturday’s final weigh-in will be held at Henderson Point Park, located off Highway 62 East in Henderson, beginning at 4 p.m.
The full field competed Thursday and Friday and the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers advanced to Saturday’s final round. Winners will be determined Saturday by the heaviest accumulated weight from three days of competition.
Sunrise: 6:31 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 25
Expected high temperature: 38
Water temperature: 41
Wind: WSW 7 mph
Day’s outlook: Sunny to partly sunny