MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Although The Bass Federation Central Divisional Championship takes place in Oklahoma on the Arkansas River, Oklahoma Bass Federation President Gary Gunter isn’t so sure his team has the home-field advantage. River conditions are expected to remain stable when the three-day event kicks off Wednesday, so anglers who find fish during the official practice period, which started Monday, will have a good shot at winning.
“We’ve got a lot of experienced anglers on our team,” Gunter said. “These guys are good. However, quite a few anglers from Kansas come down and fish the river, and Mississippi anglers have some river systems of their own. So no, I don’t think we have any advantage over the other states.
“The guys from Arkansas also fish the river a lot, so they are just as capable of winning this thing as we are. That’s one thing I really like about the Central Division. We fish each other’s waters quite a bit, so the playing field is pretty level.”
Anglers who make up the 12-man teams from seven Central Divisional states are likely facing a challenge in finding not only good numbers of bass, but quality fish as well. That’s not to say they aren’t there.
Brad Smith, a guide from Fort Smith, Ark., said the Arkansas River has plenty of fish and good numbers of quality bass as well. However, anglers who focus entirely on a shallow-water shoreline bite will likely struggle. The river’s bass move into shallow grass in the early morning, and surface lures will play into the equation, but that topwater bite probably won’t last long.
“Those fish will follow sandbar ledges out to the main river when the sun comes up, and those ledges will be the best places to look for quality fish during the middle of the day,” Smith said. “It’s a solid summer pattern, and it’s just getting right now, so those guys who can find fish on those ledges will stand a good chance of holding a spot in the top 10.”
The event will be held at Three Forks Harbor in Muskogee, and anglers will have the option of fishing 75 miles of water in three rivers: Verdigris, Arkansas and Grand. There will be plenty of room to spread out.
Despite the wide-open spaces and a variety of water conditions and cover, however, Gunter says the river tends to run hot and cold, even when weather, water and other factors remain stable. He said it took 15 pounds to win a one-day tournament two weekends ago, but it’s also taken considerably less to win. Still, both he and Smith agree that, at this level of competition, the winning angler will need to bring 12 to 15 pounds to the scales all three days.
Gunter said: “It’s not a fishery that recovers real fast. Spots that gave up a good number of fish one day don’t replenish themselves real fast, so those anglers who hope to rely on one or two spots for the whole tournament better reconsider their strategy.
“Those who can find a milk run of 10 or 12 (locations) should be able to do well. Also, there is some clear water available, but not much, so those spots will probably get a little crowded.”
Smith agrees. There are planted brush piles and numerous log jams along the entire river. All of them may hold bass. However, anglers who catch fish from them one day will likely be disappointed when they return the next. To add even more challenge, Smith says the river’s larger bass tend to roam in small schools, making them difficult to locate.
“You can fish a ledge for two hours without a bite and then, bam, you catch two 4-pounders on back-to-back casts. You need to fish big if you want to win a tournament on this river because they are out there,” Smith said.
Daily weigh-ins start at 2:30 p.m. at Three Forks Harbor. The top two anglers from each state team advance to the TBF Championship next spring.
The TBF Central Divisional Championship is sponsored by The National Guard and is hosted by the Oklahoma Bass Federation and the Muskogee Chamber of Commerce.