Dardanelle in Flux - Major League Fishing

Dardanelle in Flux

Change is the constant at Costa FLW Series Central Division opener
Image for Dardanelle in Flux
March 30, 2017 • Marshall Ford • Archives

If the pre-tournament registration process offered a clue, the Costa FLW Series Central Division opener presented by T-H Marine at Lake Dardanelle will be an unpredictable affair where anglers will decipher changing conditions hour by hour.

This morning, 406 pros and co-anglers blasted off in the wake of a massive storm that spawned tornadoes, rain, hail and heavy wind across the Arkansas River Valley Wednesday night. With tornado sirens blaring in the host city, Russellville, Ark., Tournament Director Ron Lappin cancelled the pre-tournament meeting so that anglers could seek shelter. Anglers and co-anglers would receive their partner assignments by text message, Lappin said.

The event starts the race for the 2017 Costa FLW Series Championship, division angler of the year and potential qualification for the Forrest Wood Cup.

Pros will compete for a top award of up to $50,000 in cash and a new Ranger Z518C boat with a 200-hp Evinrude outboard. Co-anglers will cast for a Ranger Z175 boat with a 90-hp Evinrude outboard, and an additional $5,000 if Ranger Cup qualified.


About the Fishery

Covering nearly 34,000 acres, Lake Dardanelle is impounded from the Arkansas River and is one of the major pools of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System. It touches about 315 miles of shoreline and exhibits multiple profiles. It is essentially a highland reservoir with distinctive lowland characteristics. Its average depth is 15 feet, with a maximum depth of 61 feet.

Major tributaries are Big Piney Creek, Spadra Creek and Illinois Bayou. The backwaters and tributaries are relatively clear, but the main river areas are typically more stained. Water levels are variable and can fluctuate dramatically overnight, and sometimes throughout the day. The upper end of the lake, near Ozark Lock & Dam, is narrow and shallow, with rock wing dams and revetments, large sandbars, and mud flats with a lot of shallow cover in the form of laydown logs.

Lake Dardanelle consistently ranks as the state's best largemouth bass fishery in terms of bass numbers, density and quality. It is a major tournament destination and hosts many major events.

The minimum length limit for largemouths is 14 inches, but it commonly requires 15 pounds a day to win a three-day tournament at Lake Dardanelle. In June, the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza takes place along the entire length of the Arkansas River. It is one of the largest amateur bass tournaments in the nation that pays $50,000 to the angler that catches the biggest bass of the tournament. The winner always comes from Lake Dardanelle or the Dumas Pool, near the river's terminus. The average winning weight is around 7 pounds, and fish that size are plentiful in Lake Dardanelle.


Current Conditions

Lake Dardanelle currently sits at about 288 feet above sea level, or 7.6 feet. Flood level is 312.16 feet. Current has been running about 32,000 cubic feet per second, but water levels have been trending upward. That has provided access for fish to prime spawning areas.

However, large amounts of rain have drenched the Arkansas River Valley and its watershed over the last week, bringing large amounts of silt into the lake. That has stained the water to a high degree and forced anglers to scramble to find clear water. It is available in limited amounts, which could cause anglers to concentrate in relatively small areas.

A cold front will be a major factor today in the first round. The air temperature was 73 degrees at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, but dropped to 50 degrees at 7 p.m. A high temperature of 60 degrees is expected. The wind was out of the northwest at 8 mph. On Friday, the temperature at takeoff is expected to be 50 degrees, with a high of 73. On Saturday, the weather forecast is sunny, with a high of 77 and a low of 59. Water temperature in the lake is 61 to 64 degrees.


Tactics in Play

Lake Dardanelle is a dynamic fishery that welcomes a variety of fishing styles. Some anglers have excelled here using finesse tactics, while others have won with power-fishing tactics. A common strategy is to fish jigs and spinnerbaits in the headwaters.

Sheldon Collings of Grove, Okla., won the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Regional presented by Ranger Boats last October by cranking wing dams below Dardanelle Dam. That was unheard of at the time, but Collings established it as yet another option to consider.

Without question, the most popular area is a system of strip pits in a backwater area on the north side of the lake, north of Interstate 40. It has a lot of wood and rock cover, with radical deep drops that provide shelter, thermal refuge and ambush points for the biggest concentration of magnum-size largemouths on the lake. Its hard bottom also makes it a prime spawning area.

The clearest water is in the upper part of the lake west of Clarksville.

The main thing to consider is that largemouths are nearing the peak of the spawning season on Lake Dardanelle. Prespawn is the dominant trend right now, and while fish are on beds, muddy water and cloudy conditions make bedding fish hard to see and thus hard to catch.


Critical Factors

1. Mud: Finding clear water is probably the most important factor for this tournament, but a heavy inflow of mud will take large portions of the lake out of play in the first round at least. It will also make sight-fishing very difficult.

2. Crowds: With 203 boats spread over 34,000 acres, Lake Dardanelle would be crowded in ideal conditions for the first two rounds. Highly stained water will cause anglers to concentrate in and compete for limited amounts of clear water. That will likely depress weights for the first two rounds.

3. Timing: Being the first to reach prime areas will be extremely important. Anglers that can get a limit early, and hopefully a big fish or two, will have a major advantage over late arrivals.


Dock Talk

Because of fluctuating water and weather conditions, few if any anglers have been willing to say they have identified a dependable pattern. Usually 15 to 17 pounds a day is possible here in optimum conditions, but with a field this large in present conditions, 10 to 12 pounds per day is probably more reasonable to reach the top 10.

Daniel Kweekul (shown above) of Bryant, Ark., is well known in local tournament circles, and he has a long history at Lake Dardanelle.

“If the water goes up, there's going to be some big fish caught,” says Kweekul. “If it goes down by even half a foot, it's going to make it tough.”

Kweekul says he won't fish for bedding fish because he hasn't seen any.

“I really want rain and cloudy conditions,” he says.

Lawson Tilghman of Somerville, Tenn., turned 16 years old Tuesday, barely reaching the eligible age to fish as a pro. He says that fluctuating conditions have prevented him from settling into a pattern.

“Once you start figuring something out, it changes,” Tilghman says. “I think the water is going to rise more, but then they'll probably drop it.”

Wesley Anderson of Moscow, Tenn., says he's seen bigger mud lines on Lake Dardanelle this week than he's seen anywhere else. That's going to put clear water at a premium.

“They [bass] are going to push up this week big time,” Anderson says. “I've found spawning areas where I look for them to do nothing but keep pushing to me. The guy that adjusts to the prespawn fish and catches them coming to him will be the guy that knocks it out of the park this week.”


Tournament Details

Format: All 406 boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The 10 boaters and co-anglers with the heaviest cumulative weights after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round on Saturday. The pro and co-angler with the heaviest cumulative three-day weight will win their respective divisions.

Takeoff Time: 7 p.m CT.

Takeoff Location: Lake Dardanelle State Park, 2428 Marina Rd., Russellville, AR

Weigh-in Time: 3 p.m. CT

Weigh-in Location: Lake Dardanelle State Park, 2428 Marina Rd., Russellville, AR