BFL Regional Recon
Ouachita: Deep Grass In Major Creeks

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Photo: BassFan
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning says an approaching cold front could work Ouachita's green fish into a frenzy.

The state of Arkansas usually wouldn't come up on a list of places you'd expect to feel many effects from tropical weather. But after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike made landfall along the Gulf Coast earlier this year, the two storms trailed northward and dumped buckets of rain over the state, filling the banks of several impoundments along the way.

One of those impoundments is Lake Ouachita, the site of next weekend's BFL regional event. According to Arkansas resident and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning, Ouachita is currently about 8 feet higher than what it'd normally be this time of year, and that makes a huge difference in the way the BFL competitors should attack the lake.

Goodbye Grass

"Usually this time of year I'd say to grab a frog or a big jig and go concentrate on the matted grass, but there isn't any matted grass right now," Browning said. "With the lake being so high all our good frogging and punching grass is under water, and our milfoil is submerged, too. So if these guys are thinking they're going to come up here and work mats, they'll have to change their plans.

"If I were fishing I'd focus on two or three of the well-known creeks like Blakeley or Cedar Fouche. Those are both good fall-time creeks, but they'll probably be crowded."

His strategy in the creeks is to simply "start at the front end and go, go, go."

If you're not stoked about playing bumper boats in the major creeks, Browning said he'd limit himself to the lower end of the lake. "You can get caught up catching numbers of fish up in the rivers, but if you want a chance at a high finish you need to be on the lower end. The better quality fish just seem to be more abundant down there."

Deep Edges

Browning said his go-to technique would be to find the edges of some "deeper grass in the 18- to 20-foot range" and work it over with heavy artillery.

"I'd take a big 1-ounce Rattleback jig or a Paca Craw with a 1-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight and get down in that submerged grass. I'd probably keep the colors simple to match the bluegill. Green-pumpkin and watermelon are good choices."

Tossing heavyweight tackle around deep grass edges hardly sounds like your typical fall pattern, and Browning agrees. "That's definitely not a fall deal, but when you're on a lake like Ouachita that has really healthy grass in it, that grass will trump a seasonal bite. It sort of overrides the pattern deal. I don't care where you go, if a lake has good grass in it, the fish will be (in the grass)."

But he pointed out that weather should be the determining factor in how you attack the grass. A noticeable cold front is pushing its way through the area, and he expects water temperatures to drop throughout the week.

"That's going to help the fishing out a lot," he said. "It wouldn't move me off the grass, but it might change the way I fished it. If the fish get more active you could probably go in there with a Zara Spook or a Sammy and pull some fish up on top. A War Eagle spinnerbait would be a good choice, too.

"You need to keep an open mind and let the weather tell you how to fish. If it's cloudy and windy, then I'd definitely start off with a topwater or a spinnerbait. The key is to get to the grass, and then let the weather tell you how to fish it.

"Now, if the lake comes down, then it's a totally different ballgame," he added. "If that grass gets to where it mats on top then you need to be throwing Snag Proof frog or punching through it with a big jig or Texas-rig."

Wildcard on Wood?

Browning obviously puts a lot of stock in Ouachita's abundant grass beds, but he pointed that there's also a fair amount of deep timber in the lake that holds some resident fish.

"I think the grass is going to be the main deal, but if there's a guy who's really good with his electronics he might be able to get out on that deep timber and put something together. Those fish live in that timber all year long, but they're not easy to catch.

"The key to that timber bite is going to be a vertical deal like with a jigging spoon or a dropshot. You can't just go out there and start casting around. You have to see what you're fishing on your graph."


> Browning said a 3-pound average should be plenty for a win, which puts the winning weight somewhere around 42 to 45 pounds for 3 days.

> "Everyone should be really careful out there," he noted. "With the water high there's a lot of timber just barely under the water right at lower unit depth. The lake looks a lot different than what most people are used to."

> He said current water temperatures are running in the low 70s and noted that the fish seem to really turn on once it hits the mid-60s. He thinks the approaching cold front might get the lake down to that magical mark.

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