Jason Christie often fishes Oklahoma’s Arkansas River, a short drive from his home on Lake Tenkiller. Despite his familiarity with the river, Christie doesn’t want to be considered a local favorite in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens tournament slated for Sept. 19-21 on the Arkansas River.
“I really think that once we get all the Opens anglers out there for all of practice and for the tournament, this river is going to fish really small,” said Christie, who qualified for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic through the Elite Series. “I think the winner will be someone who finds an area all to himself or finds a way of fishing that no one else knows.”
Christie said the fishing is good, but the pressure is going to make the tournament challenging. Normally, an angler might catch a five-fish limit of 20 pounds a day, but with so many anglers on the river, weights are more likely to be in the 13- to 15-pound range.
“We’ve had two big tournaments in the past two years, and from both of those, I know it’s going to be tougher during a tournament than it normally is to catch fish here,” Christie said. “This river does have a lot of fish in it, but because of the number of boats and the amount of fishable water, pressure is going to play a big part in this tournament.”
Christie, who has won two Opens in addition to the 2013 Ramada Quest Elite at Bull Shoals, Ark., said ideal times to fish the Arkansas River are spring and fall when anglers have no problems reeling in plenty of quality largemouth. Summer tends to be only slightly slower.
Right now, the river features plenty of current from recent rains, and that should help the fishing. But Christie said the key still will be finding an area with no other boats.
“You might see guys fishing out of aluminum boats to access areas you can’t access normally,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that will win this.”
Don’t expect Christie to be one of those bushwhacking into remote areas.
“I’ve got the mentality that I’m going to go fishing, and it’s going to happen, or it’s not,” he said. “I’ll be fishing stuff that’s easy to get to rather than getting back into an area all by myself. I just hope I’ve got more places to try than anybody else and that it all evens out. It’s nice to be able to relax and fish for the money instead of worrying about a Classic berth.”
Christie also anticipates that the time involved in locking on the river will work against some of the competitors.
“Right now, there’s more barge traffic on the river than I’ve ever seen,” Christie said. “I’ve seen three or four a day lately. That could play a huge role in this tournament, too.”
He added a caution for fellow anglers: “For people who haven’t been here, this river can be rough on the equipment. You should take it slow, or you might be carrying your outboard back to the boat ramp in your arms.”
Pros who win the competition receive a boat-and-motor package plus roughly $10,000 in cash and valuable points toward the Elite Series. Most coveted is the prize of a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic if the winner fishes all three Central Opens events. Co-anglers are fishing to win a $35,000 boat-and-motor package, while other top finishers receive a cash prize.
Elite Series pros planning to compete on the Arkansas River include: Josh Bertrand, Tommy Biffle, Stephen Browning, Cliff Crochet, Michael Iaconelli, Billy McCaghren, James Niggemeyer, Keith Poche, Pete Ponds, Chip Porche, Scott Rook, Fred Roumbanis and Dennis Tietje.
The host organization for the event is the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce. Anglers will take off daily at 7 a.m. CT at Three Forks Harbor, 5201 Three Forks Rd., Muskogee, OK 74403. The weigh-ins on Day 1 and Day 2 will be held at 3 p.m. CT at that location. On Saturday, the weigh-in will be held at 4 p.m. CT at Bass Pro Shops, 101 Bass Pro Dr., Broken Arrow, OK 74012.
Image courtesy Gary Tramontina/Bassmaster