- Mike Suchan, Outdoors
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. The Arkansas River and its 15-inch slot limit severely limited the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers on the first day of the Bassmaster Legends, a local angler said.
Bassmaster.com asked Matt Lea what to expect from the pros in the season's third and final major on his homewater. The 15-inch minimum length on the river severely minimized the catches, as only two pros brought in a five-fish limit, 17 had one fish and 11 were not able to weigh in a single fish.
"It was brutal," Lea said. "It was tough. They're biting, it's just the size is what's posing a problem for them. It's a big problem for most all of them. They say they're catching a lot of fish, but a lot of smaller ones. 'I caught 25,' or 40, but a lot of them are 14-inch fish. The length is giving them a problem."
Before the event, Lea said the only viable pattern was a midday bite on sandbars, grass, jetties and rocks, but that some fish could be found in backwater areas, which is where he suspects second-place Scott Rook of Little Rock caught his.
"Rook ended up coming out good," Lea said. "He's probably flipping out a bite in the backwater, just flipping a worm or tube to laydowns and trees, just trying to get those five."
Several other locals, Greg Hackney, Kevin Short and Stephen Browning, didn't find the hometown magic.
"The only surprise was Hackney didn't do that good, nor did Short, or Browning, the Arkansas guys. I expected them to do better than they did," Lea said.
The other surprise to Lea was that a number of anglers made the run to Pine Bluff, eating valuable fishing time. He says that can be a risk-and-reward prospect.
"They locked two dams, and that's only leaving them three hours to fish," he said, "and that's just kills their fishing time. But Pine Bluff can hold them. They can get in the harbor and catch them."
Lea is curious as to where, and how, leader Brian Snowden caught his 15-8 limit.
"The quality of fish he had was pretty good," he said. "It will be interesting to see if he can do it again. There were no surprise weights to me, but that 15-pound stringer was all solid 3-pound fish."
The cut to Saturday's top 12 will double Thursday's current 12th-place weight of 7-6, said Lea, who predicts another tough day.
"Unless we have some weather, I don't see the conditions changing any, and I don't see the weights changing," he said. "If we get quality rain, it will help."
Several weeks back Lea noted an isolated thunderstorm helped him gain a topwater bite in an event, but anglers can't expect that kind of luck. So he anticipates more short bags and zeroes.
"It's some sad weights. But all in all, it's what we expected," he said. "The heat probably wears on them, too the fish and the fisherman."
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne