BULL SHOALS, Ark. – Robbie Dodson couldn't blame the fish – they wanted to be up shallow in the Bull Shoals buck brush, but with lake levels dropping each day, he had to adjust with the falling water to secure his victory at FLW EverStart Series Central Division action on Bull Shoals Lake.
The weekend's full moon sent a fresh wave of bass to the shoreline shortly before the tournament, but with the Army Corps of Engineers dropping the lake nearly a foot each day, those fish had no choice but to move out with the incremental changes. The spawners didn't abandon their mission, per se; they just remained in their comfort depth, as that zone moved farther out.
Hailing from Harrison, Ark., Dodson flipped partially submerged bushes each day, but as the water fell, his target zone slid progressively lakeward. Fishing the Lead Hill area – a region he's fished for four decades – Dodson said he just relied on his deep well of local knowledge to guide him to where the fish would move in declining water.
"I really wasn't on anything in practice, so I just took off and fished where I've fished my whole life," Dodson said. "The bushes I fished yesterday were on the bank today. It was like a whole new lake every day. I fished different areas each day and just ran around and looked for something in the water."
On day one, Dodson found his bites with Texas-rigged green pumpkin beaver style baits. On day two, he noticed that the fish were becoming increasingly skittish, so he scaled down to a 2 ½-inch Luck "E" Strike Fighting Craw on a 5/16-ounce finesse flipping jig. Dodson removed the jig's skirt for a smaller profile and dyed the craw's pinchers orange or chartreuse with markers.
Consistency told the underlying tale of Dodson's success. He was the only pro to break 14 pounds all three days. His weights of 14-11, 14-9 and 14-13 gave him the winning total of 44-1. His day three weight was the heaviest of the final round.
Dodson said he thought he could have amassed bigger weights each day, had the water level not been an issue. Nevertheless, tournament math certainly improved for him. On day one, he placed second and trailed the lead by 12 ounces. A day later, he'd overtake the top spot by a 14-ounce edge and ultimately secure his win with a 4 ½-pound margin.
"I think I would have done better today if they hadn't been dropping the water so much," Dodson said. "But it was a good tournament. I'll take what I've got."
King improves to second
Clarksville, Ark. pro Zach King landed in third place after each of the first two days, but gained another notch on day three to finish second with a tournament total of 39-9. The first two days, King caught his fish on Texas-rigged green pumpkin Zoom trick worms and Zoom speed craws. Today, he had to alter his presentations to accommodate the fish's mood.
"I caught all my fish on some of that Western stuff that (fourth-place pro Justin Lucas) talks about," King said. "I was throwing 6- and 8-pound test line and wacky-rigging a watermelon red Zoom trick worm. I was just throwing it in the bushes and letting it fall.
"I think that because the water level was dropping so fast the fish were spooky and they wanted something that wasn't doing anything. They'd just come out and grab it."
King said his daily productivity told him that the water fluctuations were taking a toll on the fish. "The first day I caught 30 keepers and the second day I probably caught another 30. Then today, I only caught 15 so I knew something was up."
Meredith slips to third
Meredith fished Prowler Slim Jim stick baits and Brush Dog creature baits. Stained water was the key for him and, though the day-three bite tapered off, he said he enjoyed plenty of action throughout the tournament.
"They slowed down a bunch today, but I have caught a bunch of fish this week," he said.
Recently returning to tournament fishing after concluding his first angling career in the 80's, Meredith thanked Ranger Boats founder and FLW Outdoors namesake Forrest Wood – present at the weigh ins – for helping him get started in bass tournaments all those years ago.
Lucas jumps up to fourth
National Guard pro Justin Lucas, of Guntersville, Ala., caught his biggest bag of the event on day three – a 13-7 limit that lifted his total to an even 39 pounds and moved him up four spots to a fourth-place finish. Lucas fished Bull Shoals for the first time this week and chose to view his lack of experience as a mental liberation.
"It was fun to just go out and not have any spots. I just went out and said 'that looks good, that looks good, that looks good,'" he said.
Lucas caught his fish on an umbrella rig baited with 4-inch Berkley hollow belly swimbaits and a Texas-rigged Berkley Havoc Rocket Craw. Lucas credits his day-three success to modern map study.
"The spot that I fished today, I found it last night on my iPad," he said. "I was looking through my Navionics app, just looking for a good spot to fish and I found this little bluff that ran next to this pocket where I'd been catching them shallow. The shallow fish were all little 2-pounc males, so we pulled out on that spot I found last night and (my co-angler and I) caught all of our fish on that spot. That just shows you that studying a map will still help you – I just did it the high-tech way."
Dalbey finishes fifth
Rich Dalbey, of Greenville, Texas reached the final round with the biggest day-two improvement in the top-10. He qualified for the finale by climbing 14 spots from 19th place to fifth. Day three saw him catch a limit of 11-10 and finish fifth with a tournament total of 38-7.
Dalbey fished dark colored wacky-rigged Senkos and most of his bites came with the bait dead-sticked on the bottom. Lower water conditions limited him to just six keeper bites.
"It was tougher for me today with that water dropping," Dalbey said. "I figured out yesterday that the fish were around the bushes with the bigger bases, but with the lower water level, those bushes kept getting closer to the shoreline. Today, they were right up on the bank with no water underneath them."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the Bull Shoals event:
6th: Shane Long, of Springfield, Mo., 37-14
7th: Robert Dodson, of Harrison, Ark., 37-10
8th: Lance Williams, of Billings, Mo., 35-6
9th: Frank Clark, of Benton, Ill., 35-3
10th: Dave Crisenberry, of Flippin, Ark., 34-12