The Arkansas River will always be a special place to Mike McClelland, except for when it is fishing this hard.
McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., got his first Bassmaster win at an invitational on the Arkansas River in 1996, and his career has flourished since. In fact, McClelland loved his experience so much, he fished the river again in 1997 and he hasn't been back since.
"I live four hours from here, so this isn't a place that I am just going to go fish for fun,"
said McClelland, who sits in 21st with 5 pounds, 3 ounces at the start of Day Two. "But I enjoy fishing rivers and all of the extra strategy that comes with it."
Much is made of local anglers and the advantage they have over the other competitors before a competition, but the anglers themselves claim it is all blown out of proportion.
"I don't think that against this field I can say that I have an advantage," McClelland said. "These guys don't leave anything unexplored. They are going to find good places and catch big fish."
But McClelland hasn't fished the river in nine years; surely the anglers that are closer to home will hold an advantage, right?
"I really know the bottom end of it better than this part," said Greg Hackney, who grew up in Star City, Ark., but now resides in Gonzales, La. Hackney is sitting in 28th with a weight of 3-9. "I fished up toward this area when I had to, for a tournament or something. I thought I had an advantage going in, but it sure doesn't look like that now."
Jimmy Mize, who finished day one in 30th with a weight of 3-1, sang the same sad tune. Mize has spent most of his time on the Arkansas River in Pine Bluff and Dardanelle, and spent most of his first day traveling to and from the familiar waters of the pool in Pine Bluff.
"I know the lower end of it a lot better than here. I probably fished this pool one time in my life," Mize said. "Running to Pine Bluff doesn't leave enough time to fish, but I am going to go ahead and try the same thing today. I have about five spots that I know well and I like to fish, so I am just going to try and hit them all real quick."
But even though he claims to have no advantage, the experienced angler from Ben Lomond (171 miles from Little Rock) still has a few local tricks up his sleeve.
"I have one early-morning spot where the 3-pound fish will hang out until about 9 a.m.," Mize said. "We didn't get there until 9:20 yesterday and it was too late. I hope to make it in time today."
Stephen Browning, of Hot Springs, did the worst out of all the Arkansans in the first day of fishing, but he is one of the few who feels like he does hold an advantage over the rest of the field. Browning said the river is fickle, and it doesn't give up all of its secrets in one day.
"The only time that I think locals have an advantage is when it is really tough, like it is now," Browning said. "We know where the fish are. You can go fish a spot in practice, not catch anything and think that there aren't fish there, but the locals know to stick with the good spots."
And even though he only brought home one 2-pound bass on Thursday, he is going to follow the plan and stick with his guns.
"I know where the good fish live, and I am going to go there and hope that they bite," Browning said. "I am going to go do the exact same thing as I did yesterday."
Kevin Short, of Mayflower, Ark., said if an angler gets too caught up in what he's known in the past, it could cause him some trouble. He said if he does hold an advantage, it's minimal, and he's not planning on using any of his old tricks.
"If I find a little something and figure out where the fish are hiding, I'm going to know where to find similar spots, but that's about the only advantage," Short said. "Sometimes that local stuff can really bite you in the butt. You might end up fishing in the past with old spots instead of fishing right now. I developed a little top-water pattern in practice, and I plan on putting that into action today."
Despite their collective bad first day, excluding Little Rock's Scott Rook who has an advantage over everyone but Brian Snowden going into day two, the Arkansas anglers seemed optimistic that things will turn around. Hackney said he has a lot of confidence on the water, and Browning gave a little encouragement to the entire field, which posted some of the lowest numbers in Bassmaster's long history.
"This river is very notorious for having fish biting in an area one day and not biting the next," Browning said. "You can catch nothing in a spot one day, and catch a lot of good fish the next day that you didn't even know were there."