Two Ways to Chase Big Post-Spawn Bass at Dardanelle

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Two Ways to Chase Big Post-Spawn Bass at Dardanelle

By Pete Robbins

Arkansas pro Mike McClelland believes that when the competitors descend upon Lake Dardanelle for the first time in Big Bass Tour competition, the vast majority of the bass will have settled into distinct post-spawn patterns. They’re may still be a few stragglers on a bed here and there, but they will be a distinct minority. That doesn’t mean that anglers will be locked into a single pattern, though. Quite to the contrary, McClelland said that there will be two distinct ways to catch them.

Whether you like to stay shallow 24/7 or turn your back to the bank and go offshore, you’ll still have a chance of earning a check.

Because there’s no past BBT history on the lake, it’s unclear what caliber of fish it’ll take to be an hourly or overall money-earner, but the eight-time B.A.S.S. winner and 11 time Bassmaster Classic contender said that the lake is “incredibly fertile right now,” and while he doesn’t expect a double digit fish – or a trio of them like Chickamauga recently produced – he won’t be even slightly surprised if one close to 10 comes to the scales. Over the course of his storied fishing career he’s caught quite a few over 7 pounds out Dardanelle, and he’s all but certain that mark will be eclipsed in this event.

“There are really probably two approaches that could produce a tournament-winning fish,” McClelland opined. “The first is to fish in Dardanelle’s emergent grass. It allows the opportunity to swim a jig or throw a SPRO frog and get a big bite.”

The grass in question is most likely to be the abundant water willow, although he said there are also productive clumps and stretches of lily pads. “I’d look for little clumps and irregularities close to deep water,” he said. While the frog gets the most explosive bites, and often the biggest, he said that the swim jig produces under all conditions. He likes one from Dirty Jigs with either a Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper or Battle Bug as a trailer, depending on the size and shape of the forage he wants to emulate, as well as how much water he intends to move. “My swim jigs will be mostly brim-colored this time of year,” he explained. “Usually that’s green pumpkin or green pumpkin with a little bit of chartreuse. But on occasion, especially in the early morning if the fish are keyed in on a shad spawn, I’d use more white hues.”

For anglers who’d prefer not to chase their big fish in the grass, or who can’t make it happen, McClelland also suggests looking for an offshore bite. If you’re a traditional ledge junkie, though, you’ll have to reassess what “offshore” means in this context. It’s not the 15 to 30 foot range that dominates on other lakes, like much of TVA chain, this time of year. Instead, he’d be focused on structure and cover in the 8 to 12 foot zone.

“They don’t typically get deeper than that,” he said. “You’ll be looking for drops in that depth range and there are also a lot of stumps. Find flats that have hard bottom and rocks and look for those stumps.”

Much of the key offshore juice exists in the lower end of the lake, sections including Illinois Bayou, Delaware Bay, and Dardanelle Bayou. The fish that reside there this time of year are keyed in on the lake’s abundant shad population. Accordingly, his first choice would be a crankbait, either a SPRO Little John Baby DD or a SPRO Fat Papa, both of which get down into that key depth zone, depending on line size. He’d keep both on the deck until he figured out which sound profile the bass preferred on that particular day. Because the water color in the lower end of the lake tends to be relatively clear, his first choice in colors would be Nasty Shad with both lures.

This is going to be a great event, and one that’ll take some creativity and adjustment, he concluded, because the winning fish “could be dirt shallow or offshore.” This 40,000 acre gem on the Arkansas River is chock-full of fish, and they’re perfectly geared up to go on a heavy summer feed. No matter how an angler prefers to fish, there’s a chance to make BBT history.