SHERWOOD, Ark. — The great debate heading into the first day of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Women's Bassmaster Tour event on Lake Maumelle was whether the better fish would come from the shallow grass encircling the entire shoreline of the 8,900-acre lake or off-shore on deeper structure.
Most women were headed into the third stop of the season thinking shallow water. That was because the event was originally scheduled for the Arkansas River out of Little Rock, but high water created dangerous conditions for anglers and the tournament was moved to nearby Maumelle, a deeper, clearer lake filled with both spotted bass and largemouth bass.
The anglers gathered at the pre-tournament meeting agreed that catching keeper-sized fish would not be a problem, but getting a bigger bite to help push a 5- to 7-pound bag into double digits promises to be much more of a challenge. Would those bigger bites come shallow or deep?
Thus began the debate:
Tammy Richardson — Amity, Ark.
Richardson spends a lot of time on nearby Lake DeGray and Lake Greeson, which she said fish a lot like Maumelle, so she feels comfortable moving offshore this week in search of quality fish.
Most of the problem will be pressure from other tournament boats as it seems the small size of the lake has many of the women anglers sharing the same deep-water holes.
"I don't think there is a hole that nobody has found," Richardson said. "Every spot you find fish, you see six other boats fish it. I've sat and watched some of the very best anglers on the tour fish one of my best spots."
The pressure on her offshore spots still hasn't convinced her that moving shallow would be the best option.
"There are some good fish in the grass, but it has been pressured," Richardson said. "I fished that for a few days and it was easy to catch a limit, but not easy to catch a bigger fish."
Score: Deep 1, Shallow 0
Bridget Allen — Philadelphia, Pa.
Unlike Richardson, Allen found a strong grass bite and felt confident the fish would hold up under all conditions the anglers will face. Thursday's forecast calls for a chance of rain with the weather clearing up for the final two days of competition.
"I don't want to jinx myself, but I think they are going to bite regardless of the conditions," Allen said. "I think a lot of fish are holding in the grass. There are some big fish in there, you just have to be in the right place at the right time."
Part of being in the right place has to do with getting an early boat number to get to the spots quicker.
"It's going to be luck of the draw," Allen said. "If you are in the early flight then you might be able to get on an early bite. The water is dropping a little bit, but I don't think that is going to affect the bite either."
Score: Deep 1, Shallow 1
Meta Burrell — Fort Worth, Texas
Chalk up another point for fishing deep after Burrell pulled a monster 9-pounder out of Maumelle during practice.
"I was by myself when the big fish bit," Burrell said. "I was fishing rocky points with grass on them using a Carolina rig. I tried to keep it in the water as much as possible hoping I can catch it again during the tournament."
Considering a big fish on Maumelle might be 3 or 4 pounds, her 9-pound kicker was truly a rare occurrence and it anchored a limit she estimated around 17 pounds. Burrell is around some quality fish that will likely keep her fishing deep throughout the tournament.
"I honestly haven't seen anyone around me," Burrell said. "Hopefully, that turns out to be a good thing. I've been throwing up into the grass off points and humps off the points and bringing my lures off the second and third drops."
Score: Deep 2, Shallow 1
Dianna Clark — Bumpus Mills, Tenn.
The tally evens up after Clark notched one for fishing shallow grass. Like Allen, she agreed that being in the right place at the right time will be important for catching bigger fish and for Clark, the right place will probably be in the grass.
"I think grass will be more dominant," Clark said. "There are a few deep spots, but everything is a community hole. You are going to be in front of people and behind people. Plus, there is a lot more grass versus underwater structure."
Rather than focusing on hoping to get an early boat draw, Clark drew on the importance of the mental side of the sport, planning to stay focused on working spots thoroughly for quality bites that will be spread out through the day.
"There isn't a spot where you can go and load up the boat," Clark said. "It will be easy to catch a limit, but being able to grab that bigger bite will be a matter of working hard and that's where the mindset part of the tournament comes in."
Score: Deep 2, Shallow 2
Audrey McQueen — Eagar, Ariz.
Everything won't be strictly black and white during the tournament and McQueen plans on dividing her time between both shallow and deep fishing, noting that she noticed bigger fish shallow, but numbers of fish occupying deep-water cover.
"If I can get drawn early, I'm going to fish shallower to get a bigger bite before it gets pressured," McQueen said. "If I get a late draw, them I'm going to go deep and get a limit before turning shallow."
Unlike Clark, McQueen hasn't seen much pressure on her deep spots.
"There is a point that I haven't seen anyone on all week," McQueen said. "If the deep spots do get all covered up, then I can always go shallow. I went to some shallow spots the last few days and caught them pretty good. The rain we had last week gave us some nice current and so a little rain in the forecast should bring muddier water, which I like."
Score: Deep 2.5, Shallow 2.5
Debra Petrowski — Arlington, Texas
It only seems fitting that with the score tied between deep and shallow fishing, the last competitor to weigh in on the debate should throw a monkey wrench into the whole deal.
Petrowski was hesitant to reveal any real details about her plan of attack on Lake Maumelle, but didn't seem phased by any of the changes in store for the first day of competition. Neither rising water, dropping water, rain nor clearing skies will quell Petrowski's formula for breaking down the competition day.
"Start in the grass and every hour move out, move out, move out," Petrowski said. "I don't think pressure is going to be a problem. I'm looking forward to a good tournament with over 10 pounds leading after Day One. That weight should hold up each day too."
Score: Deep 2.5, Shallow 2.5, Everything 1
To see how the debate is resolved tune into live coverage of the third stop on the Academy Sports + Outdoors Women's Bassmaster Tour beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET only on Bassmaster.com.