By Todd Ceisner
Tough as nails. A lot of small fish. Iím confused. Same old Beaver.
That is just a sampling of the quips collected from anglers preparing for this weekís Beaver Lake FLW Tour Major. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for one of the mainstays on the schedule. Some love it, some loathe it, but thereís still going to be a trophy and an oversized check handed out come Sunday afternoon.
Beaver Lakeís place in tournament bass fishing is well-documented. The White River reservoir in northwest Arkansas was the site of the All-American Invitational tournament back in June of 1967. One year later, Ray Scott created B.A.S.S. and the rest is history.
Beaver has been a constant on the FLW Tour schedule for more than a decade. Only twice since 2000 has the Tour not made a stop there (2005 and 2010) so thereís no shortage of data to pore over from this general time of year.
Before delving into more about the bite, hereís a breakdown of Beaver:
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Beaver
> Type of water: Highland reservoir
> Surface acres: 28,000-plus
> Primary structure/cover: River channels, creeks, rocks, points, some standing timber and laydowns
> Primary forage: Crawfish, shad, minnows
> Average depth: Around 50 feet, especially on the lower end
> Species: Largemouths, smallmouths, spotted bass
> Minimum length: 12 inches for spots, 15 inches for smallmouths and largemouths.
> Reputation: Lots of small fish, often tough.
> Weather: All over the place. Mid-80s for first couple days and dropping into the 60s by Sunday.
> Water temp: Low- to mid-60s.
> Water visibility/color: 6 to 12 feet, mostly clear.
> Water level: Slightly below normal pool. Down 5 feet from a month ago and 3 feet from this time last year.
> Fish in: 1 to 30 feet, many suspended fish.
> Fish phase: Mostly post-spawn, limited bed-fish remain.
> Primary patterns: Umbrella rigs, crankbaits, deep jigs, shakey-heads, swimbaits, wacky rigs.
> Winning weight: 53 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 20): 17 pounds (2 days)
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 2 for Beaver
> Biggest factors: Limits of largemouths are hard to come by. Bagging four keepers a day could be the ticket.
> Biggest decision: Shallow or deep. Theyíre so scattered, itís just a matter of where a guyís comfort level is.
> Wildcard: Late spawners. With mostly small fish being caught, one or two 4- or 5-pounders could break it open.
Who gets to hoist the trophy and pose with the check Sunday will be the angler who best unlocks whatís been a pretty tough bite, even by Beaver standards, in practice. Since the lake went off-limits on April 9, the water temperature has dropped more than 10 degrees and the water level has come down more than 5 feet since the beginning of April. It seems those two factors have conspired to make an already anticipated meager bite that much harder to figure out.
ďThis time of year, 2 or three weeks might as well be 2 or 3 months just because so many different things happen,Ē said pro Travis Fox, who hails from Rogers, Ark.
The fish are scattered and mostly in the post-spawn phase. Whatever bushes remain in the water arenít deep enough to be worth anyoneís time flipping. There are scant few stragglers still on beds, but not enough to go all-in on a sight pattern. Itís safe to say this could be a grinderís delight this week.
In 2009, with the lake nearly 8 feet above full pool, Ray Scheide flipped his way to victory in the mid-May Tour Major.
Last year, Bryan Thrift won the Tour Major in early March by throwing jerkbaits and crankbaits to catch 54 1/2 pounds, focusing mainly on suspended fish off gravel points and isolated trees. His weight was helped immensely by a 20-pound sack on day 3, which stands as the heaviest stringer weighed during an FLW Tour event at Beaver.
Itíll be difficult to repeat Thriftís thrashing this year, especially with overnight air temperatures dropping into the 30s and daytime temps struggling to get out of the 50s early in the week. A mixed bag of weather is forecast for the tournament days with temperatures expected to rise into the 80s for Thursday and Friday before dropping into the 60s by Sunday.
Like neighboring Table Rock Lake, which hosted the most recent FLW Tour Major a few weeks ago, Beaver holds smallmouths, largemouths and spots. Thatís about where the similarities between the lakes end, however. Contestants wonít catch nearly the numbers they saw at Table Rock and squeezing out a solid stringer of keeper largemouths will be the challenge this week. Catching 20 of them might win you the derby.
Andy Morgan won at Beaver in 2007 and needs another strong showing to help his chances at earning a Forrest Wood Cup berth.
The spotted bass are abundant, but the quality just isnít there. The key will be mining the largemouths with the X-factor being the smallies hugging deeper structure.
Several pros have noted theyíve marked numerous suspended fish, which begs the question: Will an umbrella rig play a role? Some have reported catching one here or there on it, but no oneís real sure the impact itíll have on what figures to be largely a post-spawn bite.
Notes from the Field
Here are practice notes from some anglers who'll be competing this week.
ďTo me, it seems to be tougher than normal for some reason. I donít know if its all of the water they pulled off it since cut-off. Itís got the fish pretty scattered. They were biting good before the cut-off. Right now, Iím struggling. I didnít even catch a limit (Monday) and worked all day (Sunday) to catch a limit.
ďI can think of a lot of other places Iíd rather go. This would definitely be our weak tournament of the year, but it is what it is. Beaver will still turn out a winner. Itís just going to be the guy who can unlock them the best. The waterís in pretty good shape from end to end. Itís not too dirty on the upper end and the lower end is pretty clear, which is usually the case.Ē
ďItís different every single time weíre here. The way the conditions have been here with the water being up and 2 days before practice it came down to full pool, I think thatís made the fishing pretty darn tough. But I think itís going to improve a lot. It wonít be Table Rock-good, but I think itís going be a lot better than what it is right now just based on the fact that the water seems to have stabilized.
ďI like it here. I have a lot of confidence fishing here. Itís not like Iíve caught a ton of fish in practice, but I just feel good when Iím fishing here and I think Iíll have a good week. Itís just a confidence or mentality about how to fish here and if my pattern goes south on me, Iím able to punt and figure something else out. Itís just always suited me.
ďA guy not catching them at all in practice can go catch them in the tournament just by going fishing because I feel like itís going to change. Itís not going to stay the same as it is right now.Ē
ďItís been pretty darn tough. There are tons of fish, just lots of little ones. Last year, it seemed like a pretty good bite. I didnít have a big weight or anything, but I got on a couple of places and caught about 40 spotted bass keepers. This weekís been tough. Itís been tough to catch keepers.
ď(The falling water temperature) is making the fish suspend and will make for a tough bite. Obviously, some guys are going to figure them out. Not having the experience from seeing bites likes this in the past is going to hurt me, too. I have an open mind and hopefully I'll get some of these fish to bite. Right now, I just donít see it taking a whole lot of weight (to do well).Ē
ďItís the same old Beaver. Itís tough as nails, just like always. And thatís how itís going to be during the tournament -- just another Beaver Lake event. If you can catch five a day and have four of those be largemouth, youíre going to do well. Itís always a challenge to catch a 15-incher here. Itís never easy. I donít think Iíve ever caught an easy limit of largemouths here.
ďI think I can catch a few if the weatherís bad. If itís windy and nasty and we get some clouds, thatís your opportunity on these clear Ozark lakes. This one is no different. What few are in here seem like they get caught over and over so you are going to need something to disturb them so you can actually get a bite.
ďI practiced for 2 days and Iím pretty darn confused. Iíve looked around quite a bit and Iím not seeing a lot spawning, maybe a handful. I fished out deep for the spotted bass and I havenít caught those. I havenít caught a smallmouth either so Iím really in between as far as confidence goes. Iím really confused on what to do.Ē
ďThere are some fish deep and some shallow. There are some on beds, also. The water is stable now and theyíre biting pretty good for some guys. The water clarity is excellent. Itís all back to normal being back to normal pool. A guy just really needs to fish his strength and he can catch fish right now. You just have to figure out which ones are going to be the most productive. I think youíll see a lot of mixed bags.
ďIím swinging for the fences. I have a school of spots I think I can go catch a limit out of real quick. Other than that, Iím going to try to catch five (largemouths). On a scale of 1 to 10 whether Iíll come out with a check, Iím about an 8 or 9. I feel pretty good.
Dan Morehead's confidence is soaring right now, which makes him dangerous at Beaver, where he won in 2003.
ďIf someone finds a couple big ones on beds, thatíll throw a big curveball into it. There are opportunities to catch those.Ē
ďPractice for me was pretty good. Itís been typical Beaver Lake. The one time I made the Top 10 here, the fishing was real, real tough and itís kind of doing the same thing now. I figured it out then and Iím trying to do the same thing now.
ďI (sight-fished) for 3 days and this has to be the hardest lake in the world to sight-fish. I got some of them to bite, but some I just canít. I think there are a lot more to come. I think 3 weeks ago when the water was up, there were a lot of fish on beds, but Iím thinking they were bucks waiting because Iím not seeing any fry or any fish guarding fry.
ďI donít think a guy can win doing it, but if you play your cards right, you could make the Top 10 and have a chance to win it. I still think, though, youíll have to go catch some just fishing.Ē
ďFor me, itís been a little tough for a couple reasons. Number one, they dropped the lake like 5 feet in 10 days and the fish that were up spawning backed off. Also, itís been pretty cool here lately and the winds have been blowing pretty hard steadily so itís made it tougher. Iím sure someone will catch them, though.
ďThe first day of practice, I caught eight keepers on seven different lures. There are some fish still on beds and Iím guessing guys will run to them first as theyíll see them as sure things. There are other areas with some schooling fish in the morning so there will be a race to those, too.
ďIím going to two areas and fish there all day and see if I canít catch some largemouths. I actually like fishing the lake, but itís been super tough. I know there are some big fish in here. You just have to be patient.Ē
Top 10 To Watch
With the above in mind and more, here, in no particular order, is BassFan's recommendation on the Top 10 to watch at this event.
1. Dan Morehead Ė Among the hottest sticks on Tour with a Cup berth already in his pocket. He won here in 2003.
2. Clark Wendlandt Ė Since 2001 at Beaver, he has four Top-5s, including a win in 2001.
3. Randall Tharp Ė Versatile enough to adjust on the fly, which could be a huge factor this week.
4. David Dudley Ė Reigning Angler of the Year is plugging along with a 24th at Hartwell and 59th at Table Rock (29th in points). He rarely goes five events in a row without a Top 10 result.
5. Stacey King Ė If thereís a jig bite out there, heíll find it. Coming off runner-up finish here a year ago.
6. Bryan Thrift Ė Heís been no worse than 24th in his last three trips to Beaver. Plus, he won here in 2011.
7. Matt Arey Ė A stretch pick, but he was 5th at Beaver in í08 and í11.
8. Mark Rose Ė In need of a get-well tournament as much as anyone. He was runner-up at Beaver in í06 and í09.
9. Jason Christie Ė Heís on quite a tear with eight straight money finishes, including an 8th at Table Rock.
10. Greg Bohannan Ė He could throw a stone into Beaver Lake from his home and heís surely out for redemption after finishing 119th at Table Rock and 116th at Hartwell.
Anglers will launch at 6:30 a.m. CT each day from Prairie Creek Park (9300 N. Park Road, Rogers, Ark.). Weigh-ins on days 1 and 2 will get under way at 3 p.m. at Prairie Creek Park. Weigh-ins on days 3 and 4 will get under way at 4 p.m. at the John Q. Hammons Center (3303 Pinnacle Hills Parkway, Rogers).
> BassFan Big Sticks Luke Clausen and Jay Yelas filed their practice wrap-up reports. To read them, click here.
> Thurs., April 26 Ė Overcast/Chance of Thunderstorms - 84į/64į
- Wind: From the W/NW at 5 to 10 mph
> Fri., April 27 Ė Clear/Chance of AM Rain - 84į/57į
- Wind: From the S/SW at 20 to 25 mph
> Sat., April 28 Ė Overcast - 72į/50į
- Wind: From the S/SW at 10 to 15 mph
> Sun., April 29 Ė Partly Sunny - 64į/46į
- Wind: From the N/NE at 10 to 15 mph