(Apr 15, 2016 - Mountain Home, AR)
It’s hard enough for the 109 anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series to travel across the country, far away from their homes and locate fish when they’re competing on only one reservoir.
Now they’ll be faced with the task of finding fish on two lakes for one unique four-day event.
The Bassmaster Elite at Bull Shoals/Norfork is scheduled for April 21-24, with the first and final rounds taking place on Norfork Lake and the middle rounds being held on Bull Shoals Lake.
Luckily for the pros, some experienced locals say the lakes aren’t that different.
“Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake are extremely similar, except that Norfork is about half the size of Bull Shoals,” said Ricky Eastwold, co-owner of Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock and Marina. “With Norfork being smaller, it warms up a little quicker as a rule. But the fishing is usually about the same on both.”
Water temperature is something the anglers will be keeping an eye on, with the bass at both lakes getting ready for their annual spring spawning run.
Though the fish aren’t on beds yet, Eastwold said they might be by the time the anglers arrive.
“The water temp is running from about 55 degrees into the low 60s on Bull Shoals, depending on the day,” Eastwold said. “The males are making beds, and people are catching a lot of small males. But the big females haven’t moved up yet.
“I went fishing the other night and saw about a half-dozen empty beds. I think they’re staying on the beds during the day and moving off during these cold nights we’ve been having.”
Eastwold said square bill crankbaits, swimbaits, jigs and Carolina rigged plastics have all been producing good fish. He also said a 260-boat tournament held on Bulls Shoals April 9, was won with five bass that topped the 20-pound mark.
The weather forecast between now and the start of the Elite Series event is calling for highs in the mid-70s and lows in the low 50s. That’s an improvement over the colder nights the region has experienced lately — and the long-range forecast says the weather will only get better with highs pushing into the 80s once the tournament begins.
If the conditions are right for sight fishing, Texas pro Kelly Jordon said he will reluctantly join in.
“Sight fishing is one of my strengths — and you have to play to your strengths,” said Jordon, who is fresh off a third-place finish in the Elite Series tournament held at South Carolina’s Winyah Bay on April 7-10. “But it makes you nervous to depend completely on sight fishing because so many things can go wrong.
“The last time we were at Bull Shoals (in 2013), it was shaping up to be an awesome sight fishing deal. But a cold front moved through and just knocked them in the head.”
Another thing that makes sight fishing so risky is that multiple pros often find the same bedding fish. In that situation, tournaments can become a race between anglers to the best bedding areas.
Jordon said the split format could help with that.
“I think it sets up perfectly, fishing one day on one lake, two days on another lake and one day back on the first one,” he said. “If it’s a sight fishing deal, some fish will be found and caught that first day. But then those areas will have time to replenish a little bit.
“The people who qualify for that last day might just land on some new fish they weren’t even expecting to find.”
The official practice period for the Elite Series tournament will begin Sunday.
On April 21 and 24, anglers will take off at 6:15 a.m. CT from Lake Norfork Marina. On April 22 and 23, takeoffs will be at 6:15 a.m. at Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock.
Weigh-ins for all four rounds will be held at 4 p.m. on the campus of Arkansas State University in Mountain Home.
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