Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 04/18/2012

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac

Bull Shoals, AR – The third Bassmaster Elite Series tournament of the 2012 season kicks off this week on Bull Shoals Lake, nestled in the Ozark Mountains on the border of Arkansas and Missouri.

When the 2012 schedule was released, many of the 99 Elite Series pros pegged Bull Shoals as the lake with the best opportunity of the year to target spawning bass in gin clear water.  However, Mother Nature had other plans. 

With water clarity on Bull Shoals typically anywhere from five- to 15-feet, depending on the area of the lake, many of the lakes on the White River chain of lakes have experienced an atypical spring with warm water that is uncharacteristically stained. 

“It’s definitely not the normal Bull Shoals for some reason,” said Arkansas pro, Mike McClelland after two full days of practice.  As a result, the bass have flocked to the banks, opening up a plethora of options. 

“I was scared coming into this tournament that the water would be really clear, but it’s not as clear as I thought it would be,” said Louisiana’s Cliff Crochet. “I’d say that there’s probably about two-feet of visibility in most places and three-feet in some places."

With largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass all viable options on the 45,000 acre lake that features over 700 miles of shoreline, the key this week is going to come down to who can identify and capitalize on the quality fish surpassing the three-pound mark. 

“It doesn’t seem to matter where you are on the lake; you’re going to catch fish,” explained Randy Howell.   “This is going to be one of those tournaments where everybody will probably have a limit and the standings will be really stacked.  You might have 20 anglers that are within a pound of each other.  The hard part that I’ve noticed is finding the 3+ pound fish.”

While there are some fish spawning, none of the anglers that The BASS ZONE spoke with after two full days of practice believe that the tournament will come down to looking at spawners.  With the fluctuating water temperatures and limited visibility, pre-spawn, spawning, and post-spawn bass will all cross the weigh-in stage. 

B.A.S.S. hasn’t visited Bull Shoals in recent years, but the FLW EverStart Series Central Division visited the lake earlier this month, and Arkansas’ Robbie Dodson took the victory by averaging over 14-pounds a day. 

Here’s what some of the Elite Series pros had to say about Bull Shoals after two full days of practice:

Mike McClelland
“It’s definitely not the normal Bull Shoals for some reason.  I don’t really have an answer, and nobody that I’ve talked to who fishes the White River chain of lakes has an answer for why the lakes are all the color they are this year.

“With the turnover or whatever has created the coffee or tea colored water, it’s probably going to make things interesting.  Normally, you would have a minimum of three or four feet of visibility up to 12 to 15 feet of visibility.  Right now, there’s nowhere on the lake that comes even close to that.

Mike McClelland

“It’s going to definitely position the fish in a manner that I didn’t want to see them positioned.  There would have been a lot of sight fish caught this week had the water been a normal clarity.  Other than that, you would have had to fish a little deeper or fish topwater. 

“The one thing that I hate to admit is that the water color takes away a lot of the advantage that I thought I had in knowing how to fish the White River chain of lakes.  The fish have been forced to go to the bank in order to feed, so it will make fishing a lot easier for guys who would have struggled with the clear water.

“The lake is full of 2 ¼ to 2 ½ pound largemouth.  Based on some of the results that I’ve seen over the past few years, the lake actually has quite a few 20-pound limits in it.  Those bags haven’t shown up yet this year.  I think that the top of the leader board will be dominated by largemouth, but I think that the guy who wins may have a mixed bag with all three species.”

Brian Snowden
“The fish are biting and there are a lot of fish to be caught.  The key thing is going to come down to size, because you can catch them just about any way that you want to catch them. 

“Coming into this, I really expected this to be a sight fishing tournament, and with the warm weather that we’ve had, I thought that a lot of the fish would be done spawning.  The combination of high water and a lot of flow has created a lot of color.  It’s actually the dirtiest that I’ve ever seen the lake and in my opinion, a lot of the bass haven’t spawned yet.

Brian Snowden

“There will probably be three to five people who don’t catch a limit, but there’ll be a lot of limits caught.  The difference this week will probably be that 14 pounds a day will have a shot at making the Top 12, while 11 ½ to 12 pounds a day will probably just be enough to cash a check.  It’s going to be really tight.

“I think that the largemouth bite will dominate.  I hope that my familiarity with the fishery will help me, but because I live on Table Rock, I don’t really get over here that often.  It fishes very similar to Table Rock, but it’s a different animal because it doesn’t have a lot of standing timber and stuff like Table Rock does.  The fish act a little differently, but it’s a little easier to pattern fish on Bull Shoals.”

Edwin EversEdwin Evers
“This is a massive and beautiful lake that’s full of fish.  I’ve caught smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass.  This is going to be a fun event that’s going to come down to who can find the better bites. 

“I think that anything over 3-pounds will be a huge bonus.  If there’s any way to target those bigger ones, I haven’t figured it out yet, and I’ve tried just about everything.  You really have to go through a bunch of keeper sized fish in order to hook up with a good one. 

“I think that there are definitely quite a few fish that haven’t spawned.  I’m still trying to figure out exactly what phase the fish are in – they either spawned a month ago or they haven’t spawned yet.  I’m amazed at how off-color the entire lake is.  What that water color does is make it a lot easier to catch fish.

“This is going to be a tournament where I’m going to fish a ton of stuff that I’ve never even seen before.  It’s the kind of lake where you can find a pattern and just go fishing.

Randy HowellRandy Howell
“Bull Shoals is a completely new fishery for me.  I heard that it was a good lake with a lot of fish in it, and that has definitely held true through the first two days of practice.  It doesn’t seem to matter where you are on the lake; you’re going to catch fish. 

“This is going to be one of those tournaments where everybody will probably have a limit and the standings will be really stacked.  You might have 20 anglers that are within a pound of each other.  The hard part that I’ve noticed is finding the 3+ pound fish. 

“The recent EverStart tournament was won with about 14-pounds a day and then the weights dropped off after that.  If that holds true, 3 pounders are super critical.  It’s going to be a matter of culling up a little at a time in search of that better bite. 

“This is such a big lake, and I really haven’t seen that many other boats on the water.  I’ve talked to a few other guys that I work with, and they haven’t seen many other guys either.  Both mornings of practice I’ve caught a 4-pounder, but there’s no rhyme or reason – you’ve just got to cover a ton of water and hope that it happens. 

“I think that this will be a fun one.  It may be one of the rare occasions when we actually get to run patterns, cover water, and spread out.  It’s still a little nerve wracking, because the weigh-in on Thursday will be very telling.  I’m not sure if 12 pounds will be 50th place or if 10 pounds will be 50th place. 

“This is probably the only tournament of the year where anybody can win.  I don’t know if anyone will start out this tournament believing that they’re truly on big fish.  It’s going to be a grind.”

Cliff CrochetCliff Crochet
“It’s a really big lake and there’s not much of anything in the water at all.  I was scared coming into this tournament that the water would be really clear, but it’s not as clear as I thought it would be.  I’d say that there’s probably about 2 feet of visibility in most places and 3 feet in some places.

“The water clarity is a great thing for me and really boosts my confidence.  It really opens up a lot of techniques that I’m a lot more comfortable with.  I don’t think that this will turn into a full blown power fishing event, because it’s not that dirty.  If you want to power fish, you have that option though.

“The lake seems to be fishing really big, but I’m sure that there will be several areas where guys are ganged up.  There’s also a good chance where nobody may see the winner all week long.  I think that you can get the job done with just two or three specific rods on the front deck. 

“This is a great pattern lake.  Everything looks the exact same and there’s a lot of stuff that is the same.  If you find a certain type of bank, you can go two miles down the lake and find the same thing.  I wasn’t looking forward to this tournament at all, but now that I’ve been on the water, it’s not as finesse as I thought it would be.  That’s a good thing for me.”

Keith PocheKeith Poche
“I had no idea what to expect coming into this one.  I was expecting clear water, but I was able to find some stuff that I like in stained water.  There’s a lot of rock and sand without many bushes or logs in the water. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time running the banks looking for little drops or rock piles – anything that’s abnormal.  I really like it so far.  I’ve covered a lot of water and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

“Bull Shoals kind of reminds me of Lake Martin.  It fishes a little differently, but the fishing is better here than it is there.  There’s a lot of bluff walls and deep water.  I really came to this tournament intentionally not knowing much about the lake.  In the past, I’ve done a ton of research on new lakes and it affected my practice.  I just wanted to go fishing and figure something out.

“I really don’t know about the cut weight.  I think that it should take around 12 pounds a day to get a check and around 15 pounds a day to make the Top 12.  There are a lot of 2 to 2 ½ pounders out there.  You catch a ton of those same size keepers, and I think a lot of guys will be on that same deal.  The bigger bites are harder to find.  The guy who fine tunes the 3 pound bites will really be in good shape.”