David Shopher was only six casts into the competition when he boated what would be the largest fish in the 2012 Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza. In this, his 23rd year fishing for dollars, the McGehee, Arkansas, resident put the treble hooks in a 6.27-pound largemouth bass. Incredibly, too, Shopher missed fish on each of his previous five casts before tackling the trophy. Now that’s a fishy spot on the fabled Arkansas River.

When asked why he kept entering a tournament that, for nearly a quarter century, kept him blanked, Sopher said with spontaneity, “You can’t win if you don’t fish.” That proved to be sagely self-help advice. And the dogged optimist will be back on the river again this weekend for his 24th run.

This year, like always, the Arkansas River is but a muse of the prevailing weather. Consequently, the flow needs to be fished like a virgin body of water with each adventure. And since winter let loose, the Arkansas has managed more than its fair share of water. Spring rains have left river levels appreciably high, which, in turn, stocks food shelves differently and literally rearranges the structural furniture. In short, water conditions are different than last year, so treat the river like a blank sheet of paper.

Randy Zellar, Editor of the Game and Fish Commission’s Arkansas Wildlife Magazine, offers these suggestions for approaching the current conditions…quite literally. “When fishing on the Arkansas River, current volume is everything. When it’s moving between 40,000 and 70,000 cubic feet per second, fish the jetties with crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Target current breaks away from the jetties.

“If it’s moving below 40,000 cubic feet per second or above 70,000 cubic feet per second, stick to the backwaters and look for isolated clumps of grass. You’ll want to switch to a surface frog or jig in those areas.”

Zellar also recommends fishing the less crowded areas of the river during tournament hours. “Everyone tends to race to Dardanelle and Dumas because large fish have historically been caught in those areas. I recommend fishing the Pine Bluff, Little Rock, and Fort Smith Pools and focus on the hourly prizes.”

Pine Bluff Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Greg Gustek is ready to see the winning fish weighed on the Pine Bluff stage. He recommends that anglers head into the main channel for the best prospects. “The water will be cooler than in the harbor,” explains Gustek. “Anglers should concentrate on pilings and wingdams. Light-colored crankbaits or a finesse-worm technique around pilings should bring in big fish.”

But like Shopher says, “you can’t win if you don’t fish.” So ready the rigs and clear the calendar this weekend. You’re goin’ fishin’!

Image courtesy Traditions Media

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