LITTLE ROCK, Ark. For Mike McClelland, the secret to success when it comes to catching fish on the stingy Arkansas River is simple: Catch five keepers in the first two hours and chill for the rest of the day.
A task that is easier said than done on a day that saw 11 more blanks, but those who did catch fish on Friday caught them early. McClelland, of Bella Vista, Ark., had all of his fish before 9:30 a.m.
"I was stoked," said McClelland, who finished the first two rounds in fourth with 17 pounds, 8 ounces (12-5 on Friday). "Everything went just like it should. I slowed down a bit and tried to catch some bigger ones later, but it just didn't work. They bit pretty quickly, pretty early."
McClelland was no slouch on day one, finishing with three fish, but he said he missed his boat. Had he have been more aggressive and worked his way into that area earlier, he said he could have had two consecutive big days.
For most of the anglers, especially the four who didn't catch a fish either day, two big days seem almost impossible. Then there was Gerald Swindle. Swindle took care of business by 11 a.m. and took a pleasure cruise through the six holes that the 12 remaining anglers will be fishing in tomorrow.
"I don't think I really found one area in Saturday's course that I wanted to go into, but I found some places I knew I didn't want to go," said Swindle, of Hayden, Ala., who finished at the top with a weight of 21-12.
"It gives me a little peace of mind, and when I get out there tomorrow, I have four or five places that I know I can go fish in, which should save me 15 minutes of idling. On an hour hole course, 15 minutes is a lot."
Swindle and McClelland weren't the only anglers who caught fish early, but they were among the few who caught fish often. Lee Bailey, Jeff Kriet and Stephen Browning all said they had early success, but all of them finished with just one fish.
"I caught a fish just as my day started," Browning, of Hot Springs, Ark., said. "I was thinking, 'Boy, all I need to do is get one or two more like this, and I'll be set.' I just couldn't keep it going."
Randy Howell, of Springville, Ala., must have thought he was getting an early Christmas after he reeled in a 4-pound fish in his first cast at the spot he had picked out.
"I thought for sure it was 4-and-a-half pounds," said Howell, who finished with three fish for a weight of 7-12.
But every trend has its rebel, as Scott Rook, of Little Rock, Ark., continued to do the unexpected. After posting one of the two five-bass loads on Thursday, Rook bagged three more on Friday, all of them in the afternoon.
"I just stayed patient and kept working it and then I started catching them one after another," Rook said. "Early is always good, but for me on the river, I've always been better when it gets hot and sunny. The fish move to the shade when it gets hot, so it's easier to target them."
Aside from Rook's unusual easy afternoon fishing, most of the quality fish caught and big weights posted have come from success within the first couple of hours. It seems like the 12 anglers who made the cut should be looking to get out early to get the big fish … or maybe not.
"There's definitely been an early bite, but I don't think that's going to be as big a deal tomorrow," McClelland said. "I'm not going into tomorrow thinking that I have to get something early. Everybody's going to have to change their style tomorrow because we're going into a different format. When we're moving holes, people can't just sit and fish where they want for as long as they want."