For most of the country, March and April are some of the best fishing months of the year. Just as the calendar flips to the latter, the Costa FLW Series Central Division will get underway with a tournament presented by T-H Marine on Lake Dardanelle.
An impoundment of the Arkansas River, Lake Dardanelle is part lake and part river fishery. The lower end of the lake offers some offshore fishing and deeper places, but there is also plenty of shallow water that anglers can run in backwaters, plus flooded strip mines. Dardanelle has a lot of vegetation in it, ranging from bank grass, hyacinth mats and cattails to big fields of pads. Because it’s on the Arkansas River, Dardanelle also has plenty of riprap and rock, as well as laydowns, stumps and some standing timber. Though navigation requires some care in places, it’s worth it – Dardanelle is one of the most diverse fisheries on the Arkansas River and is loaded with quality fish.
Come tournament time, the fishing ought to be pretty good.
“I’ve heard the big sacks haven’t shown up this year, but they’re still there,” says Chris Jones, who finished in the top 10 last year at Dardanelle. “I think we’re going to see some big sacks this week when we put 200 of the best guys on the lake.”
The Oklahoma pro might be right, and the lake might be ready. Last weekend, a Murray State team dropped 47.92 pounds (six fish per day) to win the two-day Collegiate Bass Fishing Open, and second place averaged more than 20 pounds a day as well.
Competitors may need to deal with some new water conditions when the tournament begins.
“The lake has been very clear, we haven’t had a lot of rain and typically you can only sight-fish in a few areas of the lake,” says FLW Tour pro Evan Barnes, who finished fifth last year on Dardanelle. “This year it’s been so clear you can pretty much sight-fish anywhere. But, in the last two days [March 18 and 19] we’ve had a lot of rain, so it’s definitely muddied up. I think the muddier it gets the better it will play into my favor, because I don’t plan on sight-fishing.”
Jones says that one side effect of light rain and clear water is that the vegetation has grown up better than usual, which might help to create a buffer against quickly muddying water. Even if the lake does muddy some, it may not be too bad. There is some – but not a ton – rain in the forecast before or during the tournament.
However the water color shakes out, the fishing is likely to center around the banks and the spawn.
“We caught a couple on Sunday [March 19] that had bloody tails,” says Jones. “I think it’s going to be one of those weird springs that’s strung out because of the weather.”
“The water temperature has been in the 60s for a long time, so I think it will be pretty much full-on spawn,” says Barnes. “You’re gonna have 90 percent of the fish caught off the bank I would say. I’m not saying there aren’t going to be fish caught offshore, but for the most part it’s going to be an absolute junk-fishing deal. That’s the way those fish get up there this time of year. There will be a lot of bed fish caught not sight-fishing – just guys flipping to stumps and things they think have a fish.”
For all that shallow action, Barnes tabbed a vibrating jig for pad stems and a crankbait for rock as top producers. He also expects a tube to play.
“Dardanelle is a phenomenal lake for flipping a tube,” shares Barnes. “A black neon-colored tube is probably the No. 1 bait this time of year. Guys will usually flip it on wood or in the dead bank grass, the water willow, on the lower end of the lake. I’m gonna have one tied – it’s such a dominant pattern up there.”
If a tube isn’t your thing, don’t fear, Todd Castledine whacked ’em on a Strike King Popping Perch last year, and Dardanelle is a very diverse lake.
“You can fish your strength on that body of water, more than any of the other pools,” says Jones. “If you fish down in the lake you can fish offshore and ledges and like it’s a lake. I’m a river rat – I tend to go to the river.”
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: 7:00 a.m. CT
Takeoff Location: Lake Dardanelle State Park, 2428 Marina Road, Russellville, Ark. 72801
Weigh-In Time: 3:00 p.m. CT
Weigh-In Location: Lake Dardanelle State Park, 2428 Marina Road, Russellville, Ark. 72801