Top 10 baits from Lake Dardanelle - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits from Lake Dardanelle

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A mix of spawning baits and reaction baits worked for the top finishers at Dardanelle. Photo by Matt Brown.
April 10, 2023 • Erik Gaffron, Matt Brown • Toyota Series

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Springtime bass fishing tournaments in the South are notorious for two main factors being in play: changing conditions and lots of presentations being effective. Often times it’s the anglers that keep their options open this time of year who find the biggest bags when they need them most.

This past week, things stuck to that trend at the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Southwestern Division event on Lake Dardanelle. The Top 10 anglers employed a variety of tactics, having to adjust to a multitude of weather and wind conditions along with correlating water levels to land at or near the top of the leaderboard.

Much of the Top 10 focused on fish that were actively spawning, whether by blind casting or sight fishing for fish on beds, they knew that targeting fish that were pairing up for their yearly ritual was the ticket up the leaderboard. Most anglers also mixed in some power fishing techniques as well, targeting roaming prespawn bass between stops on bedding fish.

1. Zach King’s primary plan was to catch bedding bass that others could not. Step one meant weaving his way into secluded, backwater areas that only he and a few others knew how to access. Step two meant working over those areas efficiently and bouncing around to bedding that bass he located throughout the event. King’s money maker was a 5-inch YUM Dinger in watermelon red, Texas-rigged on a 4/0 worm hook. King also turned to a 5/16-ounce War Eagle Mike McClelland Finesse Spinnerbait in white when conditions got nasty on Day 2. The adjustment allowed him to stay steady all week, posting consistent 18-pound bags all three days.

2. Todd Castledine was one of a few anglers in the Top 10 who waited until the final day to make a hard charge up the leaderboard. Castledine spent time up shallow both looking for new fish moving to spawn and targeting those already locked on beds, the majority being slightly prespawn and aggressive enough to chase a lure. Sight fishing was key for Castledine for both bedding bass and prespawn roamers alike, as he saw the majority of his fish in the clear backwaters he chose to target. Castledine leaned the most on a Strike King Popping Perch in warmouth and a Strike King Tour Grade Swim Jig in blue craw with a Strike King Rage Bug in California craw as a trailer. All of Castledine’s offerings were thrown on a combination of Lew’s rods and reels spooled with Sunline braid and fluorocarbon.

3. Another angler making a massive comeback on the final day was Erick Hurst. The Clarksville, Arkansas pro busted a tournament-best 22-pound, 4-ounce bag and vaulted from 18th place up into third on the last day. Scrapping his game plan from the first two days of competition, Hurst scrambled to find new water as the lake levels began to drop and his primary area became inaccessible. Fishing for spawners, Hurst kept things simple, using a 5-inch Texas-rigged stickbait in black and blue with a ¼-ounce weight. A choice of HI-SEAS 100% Fluorocarbon (15-pound) was essential according to Hurst, who felt that it made a massive difference for tricking finicky bedding fish into biting.

4. Kirk Smith played much of the same game as the others in the field, looking for spawners in shallow water. What differed for Smith was the use of forward-facing sonar to locate his bass and make continuous presentations to his targets, as dingy water hindered his ability to sight fish traditionally. Smith’s go-to bedding bait was a 3/8-ounce black and blue jig with a Reaction Innovations Kinky Beaver in black/red flake for a trailer. He slung it on a 7-foot, 3-inch, extra, extra heavy action MHX Custom Rods stick with a Shimano Chronarch 150XG casting reel. For line, he went with 17-pound Seaguar InvizX was his line of choice. Smith also mixed in a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait in chartreuse and white living rubber with an Indiana blade to cover the gaps between each spawner he had located.

5. In another final day comeback story, Dillon Harrell swam a Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover Swim Jig in white paired with a Strike King Rage Bug (also white) around a variety of areas and types of cover. Locking that lure in his hand most of the final day, Harrell got into the Top 25 by flipping around a Strike King Rage Bug in black and blue on a 5/16-ounce sinker and 4/0 hook on Days 1 and 2.

6. Cole Breeden earned his second-straight second straight Toyota Series Top 10 as he cranked, pitched, and finessed his way through his week on Dardanelle. A wacky-rigged Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General in green pumpkin was his finesse rig of choice. Breeden also mixed in a ½-ounce green pumpkin flipping jig with a color-matched Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Meaty Chunk and a Berkley Frittside in a ghost morning dawn pattern.

7. Matt Baker bed fished his way through the event in many of the same areas as winner King, throwing at spawners with a pair of lures he trusts the most this time of the year. His main offering was a Texas-rigged YUM Christie Craw in black and red flake slung on 50-pound Vicious Braid. A second offering of a 5-inch YUM Dinger with a red 4/0 Gamakatsu Offset EWG Worm Hook slung on 20-pound Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon carried him into seventh.

8. Keith Combs is known as a Texas hammer, but Arkansas was very good to him this week. Targeting dirty water, Combs flipped a Strike King Rage Bug in black and blue with a 3/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Weight and a 4/0 Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover Flipping Hook. His secondary offering was a 3/8-ounce black and blue Strike King Thunder Cricket. Both lures were thrown with Shimano Expride rods, Shimano Metanium reels and Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line.

9. Jeff Lugar threw a different tandem than most of the Top 10. A finesse Carolina rig helped Lugar make out with a limit each day, the rig featured both 4- and 5-inch Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ with an 8- to 10-inch leader (16-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon for both mainline and leader) behind a 1/8-ounce tungsten weight. His crankbait of choice was a discontinued flat-sided balsa bait known as a “baby pig,” that runs 3 to 5 feet deep on 14-pound Gamma Edge. He offered both lures on Dobyns Champion XP casting rods.

10. Steve Lopez covered water with a tandem of Super K swim jigs in 3/8-ounce, one in white and the other in a custom green pumpkin/black and blue mix. Lopez opted for a Reaction Innovations Spicy Beaver on both jigs because of the water displacement the trailer offered. Lopez matched white to white, and the more natural offering received a green pumpkin Spicy Beaver on the back. Two 7-3 Duckett Black Ice Series casting rods matched with 50-pound braid and Lew’s reels were his go-to setups throughout the week.