Davis Says Binge on Backwaters at Dardanelle

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Mark Davis said that when the Big Bass Tour descends upon Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas on the first weekend of June, anglers need to carefully watch the flow to gauge where and how to fish. The region has been inundated with rain through the early part of this year and the river has been running hard, bringing off-colored water, and constantly changing conditions. He’d look for areas that are changing for the better. That likely means focusing on the lake’s most productive zones outside the main flow.

“The biggest fish in Dardanelle live in the bigger backwaters,” he said. “The best one is Illinois Bayou, right at the state park. It has a good channel, lots of stump flats, and tournaments keep the area stocked, but they’re all good.” The Shoal Bay area is another consistent producer of tournament-winning fish.

What he’d try to gauge is how the bite is changing.

“The river will run real hard for several days and then do what I call ‘falling out,’” he said. “The current slows down and the water clears. They’ll bite no matter what, but that really seems to improve things.”

He expects that the bass spawn is entirely done, or very close to it, but there still should be a shad spawn going on during low light hours, so he’d look for hard cover during those periods in the quest to bag an early morning prize winner. After that, he’d focus on the shallower drops within the backwaters with a Texas rigged worm or a crankbait like a Strike King Series 5 or KVD 2.5 square bill.

“Deep water on that lake is 15 to 20 feet, so get out close to that,” he advised, to the drops en route from spawning areas to summertime haunts should go from 5 to 10, or perhaps 10 to 15 feet deep. He said that most of his best Dardanelle fish at this time of year have come bouncing a crankbait over and through cover on those drops, but he also admitted that “someone is liable to catch a big fish on a buzzbait.”

The veteran pro is known for his patient strategy and that would inform his actions in this event. “Running around is not my approach,” he said. “Pick an area or two and commit to it. The lake gets so much pressure, day-in and day-out, probably more than any other lake in the state. You can’t let that bother you.”

“There are occasionally 8 pounders weighed in, but they’re surprising,” Davis explained. “Six pounders are big, and 7-pounders are somewhat common, but eights are uncommon. There are lots of 3- to 5-pounders.”  He said that it’s easy to get sidetracked in areas that are loaded with those chunky two and threes, like the shoreline water weeds that produce so many fish. He wouldn’t bank on those areas, except perhaps during the shad spawn portion of the day. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t rule out vegetation entirely. “If you can find some coon-tail, that could be key,” he added.

Dardanelle’s northern-strain largemouth do not often grow to the mammoth proportions of their Florida-strain cousins, but they’re adaptive, chunky and not easily dissuaded from biting. Dardanelle is loaded with 3- to 4-pound largemouth that just about any tournament angler would be proud to weigh in – but they provide something of a conundrum for a Big Bass Tour competitor because the weights will be stacked so carefully. Last year a 6.97 pound brute was the overall champion, and there were three other fish over 6 pounds weighed in. It took 5.59 just to make the overall top ten, and no hourly winner was less than 5.17 pounds. That means it’s critical to pay attention to the Live Leaderboard. A 5-pounder that could claim an hourly top prize during one period could fall to third or fourth during in the prior or subsequent period.