FLW FORREST WOOD OPEN - Beaver Lake, AR
APRIL 12 - Its 4:30 pm, I'm sitting here at the ramp at Lake Guntersville, waiting on Chris to load his boat. We have just completed fishing the B.A.S.S. TOUR event on Guntersville. Been here over a week, but its not home bound, its west young man for the FLW Forrest Wood Open on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. Mark Davis' wife pulls up. She ask "are you sure it is not canceled"? Beaver Lake has reached record highs due to rain and flooding in the area the past weeks. Rumor is that you cannot access the lake under bridges and the ramps are underwater. Chris remarks to her "We haven't heard anything." A quick phone call to a friend who is already there, and its on the road again. We stop and get a quick burger, try and decide how far we will drive. Paul Elias joins us for supper, we figure its at least 16 or more hours drive. We will drive until we can't any more. For me, that will be soon, its been a long week.
April 13 - Up early, can't hardly remember hitting the hotel bed. Heck, I'm not really sure where we are, somewhere on I-40 past Memphis. There was 4 or 5 more tournament rigs in the parking lot when we arrived, all moving on to the same destination, Beaver Lake. The road gives me time to think a game plan. Most of the FLW contestants have already fished Beaver before or have been there while I was fishing the B.A.S.S. Tour. So, I am already behind, but if all reports are correct, the lake has changed from years past, being high and muddy. The water has been rising, so everything is changing daily. The last couple FLW events on Beaver, sight fishing has been the dominant pattern, with Clark Wendlandt having won 2 of them. He will be the favorite again. We arrive at our home for the week, its a lodge on the water. Chris stayed here last year, we can cook and use the ramp here. Well, maybe, the water is so high, you cannot even see the ramp or parking lot. I haven't ever been to Beaver, but I can tell it is higher than in a long time, the roads are flooded, as is most yards and piers. But I like what I see! The shoreline is lined with willow and buck bushes, just like Kerr Lake. And its dirty. There is also gum trees, gum trees everywhere. We got about 2 hours before dark, I just have to hit the water, but where. The lodge owner comes out and tells us we can launch our boats anywhere we can reach the water. Rick Clunn is there, and he is going to use an opening between two trees. The lodge usually has mooring docks, but with the high water, the walk ways are flooded and the electricity is cut off. I proceed to launch my boat. I run to the nearest stretch of shoreline, pick up a spinnerbait and go to work. The cover and conditions bring back memories of fishing Kerr Lake in April with the water high. This will be no Kerr Lake.
April 14 - My first full day on Beaver. I plan on spending most of the morning getting familiar with the lake and what it has to offer. I run up the river arm. There I have to pass under a bridge, its tight, but with the pedestal seat down, I make it. I spend most of the day fishing some of the prettiest water I have ever seen! Stained water with willows, willows, and more willows. Yet, all I have managed is two small keeper spots. We will be able to weigh in 12" spots, but the largemouth and smallmouth have to be 15". I will concentrate on the middle lake area tomorrow. Back at the lodge, several fellow contestants are grilling out some steaks, they comment to me "having fun"? I laugh and say "Not yet". They offer us the hot coals and even give us some hamburger to cook if we agree to replace it later. Its grilled chopped sirloin tonight!
April 15 - Today it is raining, again. I think the rain has followed us everywhere we have fished so far. Its a light rain, perfect for buzzbaits. I begin fishing topwater, running gum tree points. No takers. When the sun comes out, I pickup my Hawg Caller spinnerbait, and start covering water to no avail. Amazing, its tough. I would think every fish in the lake would be on the bank with high water. This is usually a sight fishing tournament, so I begin cruising the shoreline looking for bedders. After several hours, and seveal different area's, I'm not seeing any fish. I go back to the stained water, pick up a jig, and begin flipping buck brush. Every flip, I expect a "thump" from a largehead, it just doesn't happen. It is tough.
April 16 - Today I will go to the lower end against my better judgement. The water is gin clear there, and if the fish are spawning, easy to see. I don't like fishing for bedders, but if nothing else is working, go with the flow. I manage to find several small spotted bass on the bed, no largemouth. There is a few nice fish cruising. I pick up a jerkbait, start running the points looking for pre-spawn fish. I manage a few small fish, no keepers. Again, it seems tougher than it should be under these conditions. I abandon the clear water, back up the river and the mud. These fish have to turn on sooner or later up here, its just too right. I finish the day without another bite. Registration is tonite in town.
April 17 - First day of tournament. Word around the meeting last night is that everyone is struggling. Guessing it will take between 7 and 9 lbs a day to make cut. I'm still undecided about what and where to go. I just do not have confidence in sight fishing. I have a late take off number. Forecast today is for wind and rain. I think I will return to the lower end where I saw the bucks on the beds and cruising fish. I will start with the jerkbait, see if I can get some reaction bites. The first area I fish, there is several boats in it. Most are anchored up on a bed. I start covering water with the jerkbait. I have a few fish follow it, no takers. They will follow the bait with each jerk, and with each pause, turn away. They are interrested, just not enough to take it. Maybe a spinnerbait will work, something that is alittle faster, and not as erratic. I start throwing a Hawg Caller spinnerbait. I immediately get a keeper. I notice several other fish following the bait and hooked fish in. Maybe I am on to something. I work this area good, and manage several keeper spots. Time to run and test the pattern. I hit a couple more similiar spots, landing 2 more fish. I now have a limit, not big but a limit. I make the comment to my co-angler "if I can get a good bite, I can make a run at the top 20." Everywhere I go, there is boats working beds. I decide that maybe I should hit the bank, look for a kicker, even though its not my cup of tea. I I'm really losing interrest fast when I notice a small largemouth on the bed. I flip my jig over there, it eats it. Dang, how easy was that. It does not help. A boat comes into my pocket, trolls by looking for spawners. I let it go on by, pretending to be working a bed, but I don't want them to go down the one stretch I am on. After they leave, I work back into the area, and there is a nice 2 or 3 lb largemouth on the bed. It takes me alittle while, but I land her. At weigh in, there is alot of small limits, and some 3 and 4 fish bags. My limit places me in 17th place.
April 18 - I got a early take off number today, plan is to hit my little area early with the spinnerbait. I need to atleast stay in the top 20 to make cut. Forecast this morning is wind and clouds, great. I hit my area, the bite is alot faster and better quality. I manage a limit, I think I got enough to make top 20, but you never know. I run into a friend who is working a bedding fish way behind a dock. He says he has 3, but if he can get this one to bite, he will make cut. I move on back into creek, later I hear a yell, he has either caught the fish or lost her. I find out at weigh in that he landed her, is in cut. Before I leave the creek, I make a couple last minute cast on the point, a big spotted bass nails my spinnerbug ! I give out a yell of my own. My limit is one of the better stringers, I actually move up to 9th place.
Tommorrow, the top 20 will start back at zero. Its anyones game. I think I can win this thing now. Funny how your focus and confidence can change from a bad practice. We will fish out of corporate sponsored boats tomorrow. I choose the Snickers boat, fitting, I eat more snickers than anyone. I will be boat 9 out, good.
April 19 - Conditions are perfect for me, wind and clouds. I think 19 out of the top 20 are sight fishing. It will take at least 7lbs to make the final day top 10. Back to my little area. Maybe I will have it to myself today with only 20 boats.
No luck, there is 2 other boats in there. Its easy to figure out who they are, each is in a separate sponsor boat. No worry with them, I am doing something different. The morning goes as expected, my co-angler is fishing today for the co-angler side championship, no tomorrow for him. He has missed several fish, I can tell he is getting frustrated. I cannot let him make me loose my focus, I'm fishing for an opportunity tomorrow for $210,000. The bite is slow, today, but I am getting one about every hour. I have not really gotten any largemouth on this pattern. I had a fish boil on my spinnerbug yesterday after I had my limit, and I decided to not throw back at it because it seemed like a nice fish. Today, I will need it. First, concentrate on the limit, which I get by noon. Conditions have changed, it sunny and no wind, the sight fisherman are going to be hard to beat today. As I approach the little set of trees I had the fish boil on my spinnerbait, I become aware of what my co-angler is doing. I can feel his tension building with only having 2 fish. I need to make a perfect throw on the tree, so I decide to tell him the scenerio. He agrees to allow me to make a few unanswered cast in there. I get no response. As I troll on by, my co-angler cast his lure in there and sets the hook. His response is words not meant for church, as the fish gets off. Dang, that surely was the fish I was after. I will return later, just before I have to make the run back. Searching for bedders, I just cannot find any fish that will help me. The wind has died, my spinnerbait pattern is all but gone. One more stop on the set of trees before I head in. I cast in, past the previous boil and where my co-angler lost the fish. A fish enhales the bait, I land her. Its a nice 3 lb largemouth! Today we will weigh in at the Wal-Mart Super Center. I large crowd is there. Only the tow vehicle drivers speak much, only they really know how everyone has done. Its silence behind the tent. I listen as one by one weights are tallied on stage. 10 weigh in, with 10th place being the hot seat, only 10 go tomorrow. My limit weighs almost 10 lbs, I am in 3rd place, will be 3rd boat out in morning. Great, what I need. Clark Wendlandt, the previous two time winner on Beaver is 2nd boat out.
April 20 - We have to be back at Wal-Mart 2 hours before take off to be miked for live tv, and meet our camera crew. I will have a camera man in the boat with me, and a camera boat following me. I left my gear in the Snickers boat overnite, just a few extra prepreations, and I'm ready. Being out early will be a plus.
Today we are due back in a 1 pm so we can be live on tv by 3. Short day, but my bite is early, should be worse on the sight fisherman. When we arrive at the ramp, it is obvious things are not going in my favor. There is a fog so thick you cannot see the end of the ramp. We have a fog delay of over 2 hours, not good. When the fog finally lefts, the skys are clear and not wind, again, not good. I have to stick with what got me here, no time to abandon ship. As the day progresses, things are not going well. My camera man has eaten all my days supply of Snickers. I have had a few short fish on, nothing camera worthy. I finally have a nice spotted bass on, and as I flip it into the boat, the fish comes unglued and bounces off the gunnel, back into the lake. So, as it goes, the day ends on that note. What can I say, I feel dejected. On the ride back to Wal-Mart, my camera man looks at me and says " I can tell you are really down on yourself today. Let me say one thing, there is 165 pro's who started in this tournament this week that would love to be in your position right now". Ya know, he was right. A top 10 finish is something to be proud of.
April 21 - I have been up every morning for the last 17 days at 4 am. I'm dead tired, its a 21 hour drive home, but my plan is to be home with my family by time my kids are due for bed. I will loose time on the return trip, but I will make it in time to hug my kids good nite tonite.