TH-Marine FLW BFL Lake Ouachita 7th Place.
I just got back from capturing a 7th place finish in the TH-Marine FLW BFL on Lake Ouachita down in Hot Springs, Arkansas that was held on February 17th, 2018. It was great to make it down to Lake Ouachita for this tournament. The last time I had fished Lake Ouachita was back in April of 2010. Back then my college fishing partner Mike McCarthy and I had taken 2nd place out of 50 college teams in an FLW College Fishing Qualifier winning five thousand dollars in scholarship money. We had never prefished or been to the lake before but got on a great jerkbait pattern on the main-lake. When I saw Ouachita on the Arkie Division schedule I knew that I wanted to fish it. I just had a good feeling about making a trip down to fish even though the lake is about 8 hours away from home. Ouachita is a very pretty lake with a lot of standing timber and islands which can make it a little intimidating but I've found it to fish a lot like our Ozark lakes in Missouri. The water is clear enough that you can see about 7 feet down in a lot of places. The lake also has grass in some of the coves which is different from any lakes we have in Missouri. The lake was about 10 feet low which made it a little dangerous in some areas. The lake looked a lot different than the last time I was here as there were lots of standing trees that were below water out of the water. Water temps were between 45 and 48 degrees.
I took the Friday off work before the tournament so I could pick up a rental car from Enterprise and take my time driving down. One of the best things to do when traveling as a Co-Angler is get a rental car for your longer trips away from home. This is especially true if you have a pickup truck. Since I didn't have to pull a boat I figured getting a rental would be nice because I could get a lot better gas mileage than my truck and eat up the miles on a rental. I ended up driving a Hyundai Elantra which I was able to average 38 to 41 miles per a gallon and eat up over a 1,000 miles. The Elantra had some really cool modern features on it. I really liked the blind spot alert and also how much room there was in the front seats. I'm about six foot tall so sometimes cars don't have enough room for me but I was pretty comfortable during the whole trip. I was also able to fit all my rods in the car and had plenty of space for all my tackle and luggage. I really enjoyed the sound system and was able to hook it up to my phone to jam out to my playlists. This made the drive much more enjoyable.
I think one of the things people always wonder is where to eat when they go out of town. For me the trick to catching Mega Bags has been to get my BBQ on the night before a tournament. Friday afternoon I ended up eating at Smokin' in Style BBQ in Hot Springs. I did a google search and it said it had good reviews so I decided to check it out. I ended up getting the Sampler Platter which came with ribs, pork, beef, and sausage. I wanted to try a little bit of everything. They did a pretty good job with giving me a lot of food. I would rate them like a 3.5 out of 5 though when it comes to taste. They have a big menu and a lot of different choices. They also have a great sauce selection and it was cool to get to try them all. When it comes to BBQ I've had some of the best BBQ Kansas City, St. Louis, and Memphis have to offer so I have high expectations on how BBQ should be. Not a bad place to eat though.
The BFL registration meeting was held on the side of a really cool tackle shop called Geared. The shop had everything from rain gear to some fancy swim baits that looked as real as live bait. The shop is owned by FLW Pro Evan Barnes. It was fun to get to look around the shop and see some of the different stuff in there. One thing that is unique about Geared is that they will let you lease fishing tackle. If you want to buy a high end rod or reel or any other kind of equipment and don't have all the cash you can make payments over a time period on it. There were a lot of lures bought by anglers fishing the BFL and it was a full house that night. Anglers buying all kinds of different baits with hopes that they would have the magic bait to catch their fish during the tournament. I got to talk to a couple of the other anglers that had been out on the water and they said that the fishing was going to be pretty tough. One of the guys I talked to said he found a school of fish in 50 foot of water and was catching fish dropshotting and throwing spoons off bluff ends. Some of the other anglers said that they were catching fish on traps and Alabama rigs. Usually I don't pay too much attention to the dock talk. I like to keep an open mind and be prepared for anything. When fishing as a co-angler you just have to fish and make due with what you are given anyways. People were buying a lot of red rattle traps, a rigs and swimbaits, jigs, jerkbaits, and crankbaits. I made the joke that I think the real winner of this tournament was going to be Geared as looked like a good amount of baits were purchased!
Friday night after the rules meeting I met my boater and he said that he wasn't really on anything in particular. He had caught a couple fish in practice on jerkbaits and shakeyheads. He said that we would probably be trying a bunch of different things. In my mind I figured with the water being below 50 degrees a jerkbait and an Alabama rig would be the ticket if we fished the right kind of areas.
After the meeting I got checked into my room at the Econo Lodge Inn and Suites in Hot Springs. The room wasn't that bad for the price. My rooms door had some issues with being able to open with one of those swipe cards. The lady at the front desk had to make a couple trips up to the room to get my card to work. That's about the only thing that was bad. Most of the time when we travel when fishing we just need a place to crash and it doesn't have to be the nicest place. I was able to get a good
Tournament morning came fast and I got up at 4 am. It was pouring down rain and about 40 degrees. I met my boater down at the dock. He already had his boat in the water waiting for me. He had an awesome Skeeter bass boat that had all the bells and whistles. Twin power poles , good electronics and a 112 Spotlock trolling motor. I still had to rig up my rods but had plenty of time because we were boat 106 out of 120 to take off and in the last flight. Trying to see in the dark I rigged up a couple rods with Alabama rigs, jerkbaits, crankbaits, a jig, and a ned rig. I felt like those baits would let me cover all the bases.
After standing to pay our respects to the National Anthem and a prayer for the fisherman to make it back safe it was go time! They called boat number 106 and we tore out of the marina getting pelted by rain to our first spot which was a rock wall with a good amount of standing timber about 20 minutes away. Our boat was sitting in 40 feet of water. I started out fishing a jig on the bottom but that just didn't feel right. It was perfect conditions to be pulling a jerkbait down and pausing it around the timber. All my years of fishing has taught me that when it's overcast the fish really like to look up and tend to want to be up in the water column. It wasn't long after switching to a jerkbait that I managed to put a small Kentucky in the boat for keeper number one. The fish absolutely smashed my jerkbait on the pause. I was working my jerkbait with two sharp twitches and about a four second pause in between jerks which allowed it to sink down a couple extra feet on the retrieve. My boater after seeing me catch a fish picked up his jerkbait and caught a three pound Kentucky right in front of me. His fish was an absolute chunk. Minutes later I was able to connect with a 3lb largemouth on the jerk. The fish had come off a stickup halfway out from the bank and when I was fighting the fish he tried to take me into a tree. I was only using 10lb line so I was lucky I was able to keep him out of the tree and get him in the boat. We fished down the bank a little more without any more bites. We decided to turn around and go back through the stretch were we had caught our fish. I decided to pick up a ned rig on six pound line to give the fish a different look other than the jerkbait. I was able to catch a 14 inch largemouth behind my boater for keeper number three. The ned is something I have been using more and more that past year. It's been out for a couple years now but I've been seeing how it can be a early spring producer when the water is cold and you need a bite. Ouachita has a 13 inch limit on Largemouth and Spotted bass so I was willing to downsize for just a bite.
We didn't get any more bites off this bank for an hour after trying everything from plastics to a-rigs so we decided to move to another spot in the back of a pocket where my boater said he saw fish busting shad on Friday. He said that he'd also caught a fish on a jerkbait in there. This was just a flat pea gravel pocket with a ditch. The FLW camera crew boat had caught up to us at this point and they started filming us. The FLW guys in the boat were pretty cool and we talked to them about everything even Cardinals baseball when they found out I was from St. Louis. I asked them if they ever fish or do they just follow fishing. They said they all like to fish which was cool. They watched and filmed us for about 40 minutes and we got our picture taken with some of our fish. It was too bad that we couldn't have caught some fish on camera. We packed up and ran to another spot in the back of a long creek. My boater was fishing really slow in the back of the creek throwing a shakeyhead. The back of this creek had some steep banks with a little bit of grass growing around the edges. I was trying a red trap because there was some grass out off the bank. I was popping my trap out of the grass and letting it flutter trying to get a reaction bite. This failed to produce.
We fished our way over to the last secondary point in the creek. I threw an Alabama Rig out the back of the boat way out off the drop and managed to produce keeper number four. I was just slow rolling the rig back in trying to tick the top of the grass.The fish bit in about 11 feet of water. It was just a thirteen and a half inch largemouth bass but I was really happy to get him. After fishing the area hard trying numerous presentations my boater decided to run back to our starting spot. While headed back to our first spot we were crossing the middle of the lake and we hit a submerged tree. We felt a bump while running down the lake. The boat still ran ok but my boater texted me after the tournament that he'd actually done about five thousand dollars in lower unit damage. At the time we didn't know it but we were still able to run around and fish. We made a run up lake to our starting spot and were unable to catch any more fish. We spent about another hour on this bank working it hard. We had hoped that the area would replenish in the afternoon. Unfortunately we couldn't get a bite. We only had about 30 minutes left in our day so my boater decided to head back towards the ramp and maybe make one last stop if we had time. We made it back to the check in area with about 10 minutes left to fish. We stopped on a main-lake point just outside the off limits area and I was able to connect with my final keeper on an Alabama Rig. I was pumped to finish out the day with a limit. After catching that fish I knew I was probably going to get in the money.
I figured with the conditions there would be some big fish weighed in so when we got back to weigh-in I was pleasantly surprised that there were not that many fish caught during the day. I needed 11-7 to tie for first place but my 5 keepers only weighed in a 8-6 which was just good enough 7th place. That's probably the smallest limit I've ever weighed in a tournament. Fishing was pretty though and I was just happy that I kept fishing hard all day and never gave up. It hurts to come that close to winning. I was just one bite away. I truly was lucky that when we hit that tree running down the lake that it didn't end our day early. Below is a picture of my boaters prop. There's a couple chunks missing out of it. I'm hoping he is able to get that fixed quickly and he can get back out on the water.
My next tournament will be the TH-Marine FLW BFL March 10th at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. Last year I fished the BFL on Grand Lake and managed a 19th place finish for a check. I hope to do well at Grand again and I feel good about my chances on that lake. Hopefully I will draw a boater that is around some good fish. I'm headed to Kentucky Lake March 17th for the TH-Marine BFL and then March 24th I will be back down to Arkansas to fish the TH-Marine BFL on lake Millwood. Win or lose I'll be sure to post about my experiences as I travel to these tournaments.