There’s a lot on the line at the Bassmaster Central Open this week on the Arkansas River, make no mistake. Every angler is competing for a coveted spot in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic, and some (Aussie angler Carl Jocumsen comes to mind) have a shot at qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite series for 2015 – so the stakes are high. All that stands in the way of these lofty goals is the Arkansas River – a fickle beast filled with locks, barges, shallow creeks, and decisions, decisions, decisions.
Fred “Boom Boom” Roumbanis grew up fishing the waters of the Arkansas River in his home state of Oklahoma, and there are few better to provide some insight as to what these anglers will be facing this week.
“You know, here’s the deal about the Arkansas River: it’s one of those places you can learn in three days”, says Roumbanis. “And the reason I say that is – yes, there’s channel markers marking the main channel, but there are so many back waters, and being that it’s a river, a SANDY river, and has such extreme weather in Oklahoma, that sandbars are constantly getting moved around, especially in the back waters. With all that, you either have to take a chance and run on plane back there, idle, or trolling motor all the way back into these creeks – it consumes so much time, to get in the back of just one area where the might be some fish. I think that’s gonna be the biggest challenge for these guys – not having that experience on this river. Seeing for the first time and wondering ‘how can I back to that bank’ and ‘is there fishable water back there’.”
Roumbanis also cited the myriad of hidden stumps found throughout the Arkansas River system as a potential tournament delaying issue for the anglers fishing the Open. “I got stuck on a stump yesterday for about five minutes”, joked Roumbanis, “I didn’t really get stuck on it – I kinda got stuck in between stumps. I couldn’t back out, it was weird – it was a like a pinball machine. I got stuck in between ‘em. There’s that much cover in the water, and with that much cover, it gives the fish a lot of room to grow. “
As a result of the multitude of habitat and low fishing pressure, Roumbanis says the bass in the Arkansas river: largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass depending on which section you decide to fish, that anglers will have plenty of opportunity to catch decent limits in the tournament – if they can read the river. “They (the fish) don’t get pounded on here like they do a lot of other places we fish. Really, there’s a lot of habitat, a lot of bait. It’s a healthy, healthy fishery.”
While bait selection will be important this week, Roumbanis thinks selecting the right areas to get bigger bites will be key. “These fish, when you find ‘em, will attack just about anything, “ Roumbanis laughs. “I’m not just saying that. It’s not that they’re dumb, but they are very aggressive. The key is obviously to get back where they live. There’s a lot of spots where I’m blowing down the river and I’m thinking there’s gonna be bnoats all over, and then I have to sit an think a minute: they haven’t spent the countless hours I have trying to get back to those spots. They have no clue that you can even get back there. By just having that little bit of extra knowledge, its gonna help any angler (who has a lot of experience on this water).”
Forage species abound, as one would expect, with bream and shad the food of choice for Arkansas River bass. Finding grass, where these forage species thrive, is something that every successful angler will have done in this tournament. “There’s milfoil in certain areas, but it’s predominantly that water willow grass. It’s so healthy right now and usually, come late summer, early fall, that stuff is really dying if and gets real brown. It almost looks like it’s starting to spoil a little bit, and it depletes oxygen, so the fish will pull out of it. Well not this week – the weather must have been mild enough this year because the fish are just about everywhere and there’s tons of bait in that water willow. This is the first tournament this time of year on this river where I think the fishing is really, REALLY good.”
So good in fact that Roumbanis thinks it’s going to take 15 pounds a day to stay in contention. “I think the guy that wins this tournament is going to break a 20 pound bag one day, and probably back it up with a 16 and a 17.”
Roumbanis will be relying on several key baits to do his damage on the Arkansas River. “My key baits will be the Ima Square Bill crank bait, the Gene Larew salt flicker, and the Biffle Bug. With the Biffle Bug, you can do a combination of things. You can rig it Texas rigged and flip it, or you can actually put it on a Biffle head and theres a lot of gravel bars, especially up some of these creeks, and there’s a lot of fish stacked on those as well – so, you know, typical Biffle Bug fishing” laughs Roumbanis. “I’ll also be throwing the Pepper Custom Baits Commando Roumbler – that’s gonna be a key deal on here, as well as my ‘Fred’s Swim Jig’ from Pepper.” Roumbanis cites that both of those baits perform well during changing weather conditions, which are expected during the first day of the tournament.
The last event of the year always bring out the best in top-level anglers, and with so much of the story left to be written in the next three days, the final Bassmaster Central Open of 2015 on the Arkansas River is shaping up to be a dramatic conclusion to a fine year.