By Todd Ceisner
It's early April in northwest Arkansas. That can only mean one thing the FLW Tour is rolling into Beaver Lake.
The fourth stop of the season comes at a time when the lake is on a steady rise and contains a fair bit of stain as a result of heavy rains a week ago and off-and-on rain during practice. What's more is with water temperatures still lingering in the low- to mid-50s, some are thinking the fish are behind their normal schedule by a couple of weeks at least.
Schools of bait have been harder to locate and groups of fish aren't much easier to find. Heck, it's been a challenge for some to generate much activity with a shakey-head and without the umbrella rig cluttering up tackle compartments this week, it's expected weights will revert back to those of a few years ago at Beaver when 6 to 8 pounds a day was worth a paycheck.
Anyone who can average double-digits through 4 days will be near the top of the standings. Based on the conditions and reports from anglers, it appears last year's winning weight of 61-08 posted by Jason Christie won't be approached this time around.
The White River arm figures to see plenty of activity early on this week as warmer water seems to be easier to find there, but with a warming trend in the forecast, it could trigger fish on the main lake to group up in their staging areas in advance of there shoreward push.
Before getting into more about the bite, here's the lowdown on the lake itself.
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: Expected to be clear with temps in the 70s the first 3 days before thunderstorms move in Sunday. Winds will be stiff throughout.
> Water temp: Low to mid 50s on main lake. Upper 50s in the river.
> Water visibility/color: Typically clear toward the dam, some stain in the mid lake and plenty of stain toward the river
> Water level: Just over a foot above full pool
> Fish in: 5 to 25 feet
> Fish phase: Mostly pre-spawn.
> Primary patterns: Crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, flipping, Texas-rigged plastics, shaky-heads, wacky rigs, single swimbaits
> Winning weight: 52 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 20): 21 pounds (2 days)
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Beaver
> Biggest factors: Water temperature. If it warms up, it could turn on more areas.
> Biggest decision: Running a pattern in the lake or committing to the river.
State of the Lake
While it has been an abnormally cold winter for the area around Beaver Lake, things are starting to percolate, according to Brad Wiegmann, a well-known outdoors writer/photographer who lives in Springdale, Ark., and occasionally guides at Beaver.
"A lot of people are thinking it's a running couple weeks behind with the water temperatures where they're at," he said. "We've been getting some rain and that had the water muddied up around the Horseshoe Bend area and the middle of the lake.
Greg Hackney is coming off back-to-back 3rd-place finishes and will looking to finish a grueling 6-week stretch in style at Beaver Lake.
"It's supposed to nice with warmer temperatures later in the week so everything will be warming up. The fish will be heading to the bank as fast as they can."
The warmer weather should prompt some fish to start heading toward their spawning areas and better position them for pros targeting those staging zones.
"With so many fish going to the bank, I think someone's going to do really good power fishing," Wiegmann added. "The water's real stained, but what's happened is the water is stained where it hasn't been. Those fish will get right up in the buck brush in some of those pockets and they can move in and stage there. When they move up in those spots, they can replenish. In the river, they can't replenish as fast as they can in the middle section of the lake."
Wiegmann also believes transition banks will ultimately determine the outcome this week.
"Whoever find those best banks will win this tournament," he said.
With the umbrella rig banned from competition, it's brought back the old-school methods to catching fish at Beaver.
"It brings the fun back into this one," Wiegmann said. "People are hiding baits again and being hush hush. Some guys last year had three rods on their deck with three different umbrella rigs and that was it. It made a huge difference in the whole thing.
"Beaver really is a versatile lake. You can throw a jerkbait in clear water or come up into the river arms where it's stained muddy and pitch and flip and throw cranks the middle section."
With the second half of the season set to kick off this week, the points standings are going to start getting more attention as each day of competition comes and goes.
With Randall Tharp (defending Forrest Wood Cup champion), Andy Morgan (reigning AOY) and Dan Morehead (2013 Central Rayovac points champion) all pre-qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup and inside the Top 35 in points so far this year, it appears there will be at least a couple double-qualifiers which would open up additional Cup berths through this year's points standings.
Tony Davis, who won the Southeast Rayovac points title a year ago, is currently 66th in Tour points and will need to finish strong to get into the Top 35 and trigger another double-qualifer spot.
Cody Meyer, who hasn't finished below 11th in points in either of the last two seasons, is off to the best start of his career and holds a 1-point edge over Morgan at the top of the standings. It's a 20-point gap back to Tharp in 3rd before it bunches up a bit.
There are some usual suspects lurking in the Top 15 and all are within striking distance of the lead. Brent Ehrler is currently 4th while last year's AOY runner-up Stetson Blaylock is 7th. He's followed by Okeechobee winner Brett Hite and Mark Rose in 9th. In 14th is Peter Thliveros, a former FLW AOY who's off to his best start since coming back to FLW in 2011.
Peter Thliveros is enjoying a fine season so far and he's comfortable with what he was able to find in practice this week.
There are a handful of big names well down the standings and several of them can ill afford another sub-par finish. Three-time AOY David Dudley is 51st while Larry Nixon is 63rd, but both could work their way into Cup contention with three good showings the rest of the way.
Others like former Cup winners Luke Clausen (71st), David Fritts (80th) and Dion Hibdon (109th) have their work cut out for them, as do Clark Wendelandt (95th) and Jay Yelas (99th).
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
"We've been coming to this lake for like 17 years now and I feel it's almost like we're locals. I've finally learned that you don't practice where you've caught fish before because when I do that I end up catching one or two that would help me during the tournament. So I fished all new areas this week and once I figured out where they were, I got the same kind of bites.
"Its a lot tougher than it has been in the past. Once you figure how to get that bite, you can catch some fish. It fits my style, which is slow and methodical. That usually ends up getting a check here. I'm fairly pleased with what I've done and where I 've fished so I feel comfortable.
"The potential is there that by the weekend that conditions will change and fish will be moving and doing different stuff, but the first couple days should be the way it is now. I think I'm on same kind of stuff I'm always on here. It just depends on what everyone else has found."
"It's definitely a completely different Beaver Lake to me. I'm not seeing the bait and I've heard they had a big shad die off with the cold weather. I'm not finding groups of fish either, which is bothersome. Usually, you can find some schools and catch some spots. I experimented a little offshore and caught spots here and there. I tried to figure out the smallmouth deal, but just couldn't. I'm sure someone will catch them, though.
"The good thing is we have some color in the lake and its seems like the largemouths are biting better than in the past. These fish are almost all pre-spawn and the fish are a little fatter, but I expect the weights to be back to pre-Alabama Rig Beaver Lake weights. I think 14 or 15 pounds a day will win and 8 pounds will get a check.
"I found fish in both the lake and river on different days, but it's definitely a different Beaver. Some of the traditional ways to catch them aren't working right now. You could always pick up a shaky-head and catch a lot of fish, keepers and non-keepers. That's just not the deal right now. It's a real random fishery this year."
"Tuesday was an Alabama Rig day. I had six keepers and the best five went about 18 pounds. Wherever I pulled up, I seemed to catch them. With this water temperature the way it is around 55 degrees, it's good right now and the water is coming up every day.
"They're wanting to pull up and start spawning, at least that's what I'm thinking and hoping. This lake is notorious, though, for you catching a good one out of one area and then that'll be it. I feel like there should be more coming in. It's been one here and one there, but I keep going back to areas I know.
"It's been the same thing wherever I go. You try so hard to anticipate what the fish are going to be doing and with the warm weather coming, nine times out of 10 you're ahead of them. Luckily, I think I've hit on where they're coming and what they're doing and what's going to make them bite. I could be wrong, though."
"It's all changing. The water keeps cooling off and then it warms up. By tournament time, it should be warming up and the bass should be moving up. They're not there yet and they're not there in big groups.
"I think a person will do well to catch 10 pounds a day here this week. Like everybody has been saying, the lake seems like it's a couple weeks behind. We just have not experienced any warm weather to speak of in the Ozarks. Usually by this time, there are a lot of fish cruising the bank and others are starting to make beds and you can catch a lot of fish on a square-bill.
"There's some muddy water coming out of the river is mixing with the water at Prairie Creek near take off and it's got a good stain to it. They're going to catch them up the river. It's too good looking for them not to."
Ramie Colson, Jr.
"Compared to years past we've been here, it's fishing a lot tougher. That's probably because it got so cold. Usually, you can take a shaky-head or jig and go along the bank and catch all you want. I haven't been able to do that this week.
"The water temperature has been so cold and it's been cloudy and cool and rainy during practice and then we're supposed to have 74 or 75 degrees the first 2 days of the tournament. It's just not a typical Beaver Lake tournament. If the weather would stay like it's going to be Thursday and Friday, it could make it better.
"I caught them out to 25 feet on a deep shaky-head all the way up to 10, but I haven't had many bites. On Sunday, there were a few fish up on a jerkbait, but there wasn't any size to them. It's not been what I would call a good practice. I don't think the weights will be near what they've been the last couple of years. I'm thinking I'll be happy to catch 10 pounds a day. These fish have to be close to moving up. It's possible that the people that figure out the standing timber may have better chance to get better bites."
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. Greg Hackney He missed a day of practice due to his making the final day at the Table Rock Lake Elite Series where he finished 3rd. He's a big fan of the Ozarks and is riding a strong momentum wave right now.
2. Andy Morgan No lake seems too tough for him to tame anymore. Beaver's been good to him (his lone Tour win came here in '07) and he's as good as there is at taking what the conditions give him.
Bryan Thrift has won before at Beaver Lake and is coming off a victory at Sam Rayburn Reservoir 2 weeks ago.
3. Stetson Blaylock His finishes have steadily declined since an 8th at Okeechobee in February, but he knows the lake well and a strong finish will keep him in the top 10 in AOY points.
4. Mark Rose Fresh off a runner-up at Sam Rayburn, he's back in his home state and coming off a 15th at the Grand Lake Central Rayovac.
5. Cody Meyer Current AOY leader is on quite a roll with eight straight Top-40 finishes in Tour events dating back to last year. Hasn't finished below 25th in three trips to Beaver.
6. Bryan Thrift Seems to be back on track after winning at Sam Rayburn Reservoir 2 weeks ago. He's won at Beaver before and if running and gunning is what it takes to win this week, he'll be a threat.
7. Anthony Gagliardi Has been in salvage mode since DQ at Okeechobee and has two Top-30s to his credit. He took 3rd at Beaver a year ago targeting mostly smallmouth. He's typically strong on deep, clear lakes and could use another top-end finish.
8. Jason Christie Last year's winner at Beaver won't have the umbrella rig at his disposal this time, but he's versatile enough to dial up something just as effective, especially if he figures something out in the stained water up the river.
9. Greg Bohannan He's lives nearby and might have an edge with it fishing as tough as it is. He needs a decent showing following two straight triple-digit results.
10. Scott Suggs Figured out a non-umbrella rig smallmouth deal last year that earned him a Top-5. If he can get on a similar deal this week, he'd erase the sting of an 83rd at Rayburn 2 weeks ago.
> Anglers will launch at 7 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, Ark.).
> Thurs., April 10 Clear 77°/56°
- Wind: From the SSW at 15 to 25 mph
> Fri., April 11 Partly Cloudy 75°/56°
- Wind: From the SSW at 10 to 15 mph
> Sat., April 12 Partly Cloudy 77°/60°
- Wind: From the S at 10 to 20 mph
> Sun., April 13 Thunderstorms 68°/44°
- Wind: From the S at 15 to 25 mph
> Check out BassFan's Pro View Report to read practice recaps from Luke Clausen and Jay Yelas. To read it, click here.
> The TBF National Championship gets under way Thursday at Grand Lake and runs through Saturday with the winner earning a berth in this year's Forrest Wood Cup. The final-day weigh-in will precede the Tour weigh-in on Saturday.