“We got a fabulous reception last year,” said Mark Davis, former Classic champion and Arkansas native son, in reference to weigh-in crowds as large as 7,500.
They were there to see the debut of the Elite 50 Tour, the first time that an entire tournament trail matched the cream of the crop of today’s bass pros in no-entry-fee, limited-field events. The 50 top pros earned their Elite status through either their combined performance over the past three CITGO Bassmaster Tour seasons or based on a career of excellence that placed them atop BASS’ all-time money list.
Bass fishing’s all-star lineup returns to Lake Dardanelle May 18-21 for the second stop of the 2005 Elite 50 season, and the pros are expecting another dazzling event.
“I think the fishing should be excellent,” said Davis, fresh off of a victory in the Elite 50 season opener on Smith Lake in Alabama. “The fish will be in the weeds. Some of the fish are four or five weeks after spawning, but they’ll still be shallow. They’ll be feeding up. It’ll be good.”
Located in northwestern Arkansas, Lake Dardanelle is situated on the extreme northern boundary of the Ouachita Mountains and sprawls through five counties (Yell, Pope, Johnson, Logan and Franklin). Lying in the shadow of both the Ozark and Ouachita national forests, Dardanelle is surrounded by picturesque landscapes in every direction.
Completed in 1969 as part of the multi-million-dollar McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigational Project, Dardanelle covers 35,000 acres on its 50-mile run to the Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock and Dam. The reservoir, which is two miles across at its widest point, is captured between locks 9 and 10 (between Russellville and Little Rock). Its 315 miles of shoreline weave a network of cozy coves and inlets along the way. Also included are numerous creeks, borrow pits and backwater flats.
“It’s probably the best lake we have in the state right now,” Davis said. “All of our lakes in Arkansas are down [because of the Largemouth Bass Virus about four years ago] from what they used be, but it’s a good lake, and it’s coming back. I wouldn’t say it was fully recovered, but I would say it’s 75-percent back.
“The only thing it’s lacking right now is the real big fish. It’s never been known for huge fish, but it’s been known for a lot of 6- to 8-pound bass. Those aren’t showing up in numbers yet, but there’s lot of 3- to 5-pounders. It seems to be even better than it was last year.”
Last year, Randy Howell won the event on Dardanelle with 30 pounds, 9 ounces, caught during the two final rounds, which feature the old MegaBucks format — a timed rotation through a course of assigned fishing holes. His success came on a jig with a Berkley Gulp Swim Frog trailer.
This time around, Davis predicts that it will take 30 pounds to make the top-12 cut and another 30 pounds to win.
“The fish will be caught on buzzbaits and by swimming a jig,” he said. “There will be a lot of fish caught on soft plastics like tubes and worms, and there will be some shallow crankbait fish. There’ll be a lot of different ways to catch them.
“There should be a lot of limits caught.”
At stake are the $100,000 top prize and valuable points toward qualifying for the 2005 and 2006 Classics. The top 10 pros in the Elite 50 standings after four tournaments will earn a ticket to both Classics.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite 50 Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and Cialis (tadalafil).
Local Sponsors include the Russellville Tourism & Visitors Center.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.