Jason Lieblong, who won the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division event on Lake Dardanelle, devoted most of his time to fishing reed lines with a mix of chatterbaits, frogs and Texas-rigged worms. He also caught fish by dragging a Texas-rigged 10-inch worm past brush piles in 6-8 feet. Lieblong amassed a three-day total of 46 pound, 3 ounces.
Here’s a look at how the other top-10 anglers caught their fish.
2. Spencer Grace – Dardanelle, Ark. – 44-1
Grace says his final morning got off to a blistering start, with a brown/white Live Target frog producing a limit within 10 minutes. He adds he probably could have stuck with that pattern a little longer, but he needed to find better quality fish.
“I caught ’em and caught ’em and caught ’em,” Grace says. “I had one decent one, but they weren’t getting any bigger. So I decided to make a move and go run brush.That’s what didn’t work for me (on day two), but I ended up catching my two biggest fish in the last hour.”
Those afternoon fish ate blue-fleck Missile Baits Tomahawk Worms Texas-rigged with 5/0 hooks and 3/8-ounce bullet weights. Targeting brush in 8 feet of water, Grace used a slow dragging presentation.
“I needed two or three big bites to have a shot at winning and that was the way to win,” notes Grace, who improved his postion each day — sixth on day one, fourth on day two.
Grace reveals that his week consistently offered numbers early in the day and weight later in the afternoon.
“For me, the morning bite was better, but I could catch a better fish in the afternoon,” he says. “It was nice today being able to run around and not have boats everywhere.”
3. Jeff Keene – Vinita, Okla. – 43-13
Drawing upon his extensive local experience, Keene chose to forego the heavily pressured bank, as well as the offshore ledges that many were targeting. For him, that mid-depth range was the place to be.
“I’m not a ledge fisherman; I caught all my fish in less than three feet of water,” Keene says. “I caught my fish in grass and around stumps and brush.”
Keen banked most of his tournament on one bait – a technique he credits his father for teaching him.
“I used a 3/8-ounce black/blue swim jig made by a boy here in Russellville, Ark.,” Keene adds. “There’s a black/red-fleck leach on the back.
“I fished that on 20-pound clear blue (fluorocarbon) so when I saw it move, I jerked it.”
Lamenting a missed strike from a bass “eyes as big as quarters,” Keene says he caught his fifth keeper in the last 5 minutes on a balsa crankbait.
4. Barry Wilson – Birmingham, Ala. – 43-9
Despite minimal practice time, Wilson steadily increased his productivity with daily weights of 11-4, 15-15 and 16-6. Making a key decision to traverse the Dardanelle Lock yielded favorable results.
“I had a terrible practice, but I had a gut feeling and decided to lock down,” he states. “I grew up on the Coosa River, so river fishing — fishing below tailraces — is what I know.”
Hugging the rocks, Wilson fished a chartreuse/black back Strike King KVD 1.5 squarebill and a 3/8-ounce black/blue Strike King flipping jig with a black/blue Strike King Rage Chunk trailer. He covered water with the crankbait and flipped specific spots.
“I just went down the riprap and anytime I’d find some isolated cover, I’d spend some time there,” he says. “I’d keep rotating and coming back through. I’d hit (that cover) two or three times a day and every now and then, I’d pick up another good one.”
5. Kerry Milner – Bono, Ark. – 40-11
With limits of 15-14 and 17-5, the past BFL All-American winner fished his way up to second place by day two, but struggled in the final round as his spots ran low of fish.
Milner started his days looking for frog bites around reed lines and pads. Later in the day, he moved to shell beds that were scattered amid brush piles. The shell bed pattern, he recalls, had gone unnoticed by most of his competitors, who focused on the brush.
This pressure, he explains, seemed to displace many of the fish. Once they resettled on nearby shell beds, Milner would target them with Carolina-rigged Zoom Brush Hogs.
Milner also threw spinnerbaits and swimbaits along the edges of flats when he found the bass running gizzard shad there in the afternoon.
“I never got on anything early this week,” Milner says. “All my fish came late in the afternoon.”
6. Scott Suggs – Alexander, Ark. – 37-3
The FLW Tour pro and former Forrest Wood Cup champion Scott Suggs spent most of his time fishing the deeper ledges with 3/4-ounce football head and a green-pumpkin Berkley Havoc Changeup creature bait trailer. For occasional trips to the bank, Suggs flipped the Changeup on a Texas rig.
After limits of 13-4 and 13-12, Suggs struggled for his limit of 10-3 the final day.
“Everything I fished today was totally different,” he says of Saturday’s fishing. “I really fished from the seat of my pants and scratched and pleaded for everything.”
7. Austin Brown – Benton, Ky. – 32-14
A top-10 finish was a nice gift for the young pro who celebrated his birthday during the tournament’s final round. A strong day-one performance with 15-10, followed by a solid day-two limit of 11-10 buoyed him for a slow third day in which he found only three keepers for 5-10.
“This place didn’t really show its potential, but it has a lot of big fish — I’ve seen them,” Brown says.
Each day, Brown fished a white ChatterBait around shallow cover. Later in the day, when the fish pulled tighter to cover, he’d switch to a shaky head with a watermelon-colored trick worm.
8. Josh Hilton – Clarksville, Ark. – 32-1
Hilton nabbed the tournament’s second-largest sack (behind Lieblong’s 19-10) on day two, but that limit of 18-5 preceded a disappointing final round that yielded only one keeper for 2-12. Hilton had been throwing a black frog and a Texas-rigged Zoom Ol’ Monster worm all week. He caught his day-three fish on the frog.
9. Wells Kaiser – Cuba City, Wis. – 29-4
He opened strong with 16-14 on day one, but saw his productivity slip to 9-10 a day later. In the final round, Kaiser managed only one keeper for 2-12. During the week he caught his fish on a Spro frog in the bluegill color and a Texas-rigged Big Bite Baits Craw Tube in junebug. His day-three fish ate a frog.
10. Michael Stetich – Ankeny, Iowa – 27-11
Stetich employed a diverse attack to secure his weight fish each day. He caught his fish on a 1/2-ounce Dirty Jigs swim jig, a Dave’s Custom Baits Balsa B squarebill (black/chartreuse), a pivot head with a green pumpkin Zoom trick worm and a 4-inch finesse worm on a shaky head.
Working a variety of shallow cover, along with a few spots mid-depth off the bank was the game plan for Stetich. The swim jig and the square-bill were his top producers for the week.