Preview: 2018 Summit Select – Welcome to Ouachita

Anglers head out for Elimination Round 1

By Rob Newell - December 6, 2017

In the world of professional bass fishing, the town of Hot Springs, Ark., is synonymous with two things: Lake Ouachita and Lake Hamilton. Both lakes in the “Diamond Chain of Lakes” have been top bass tournament lakes for various tours.

So when MLF Select anglers were told they were going to Hot Springs, Ark., in early May for the Summit Select, many of them figured the chances of fishing either Ouachita or Hamilton were pretty good.

And they were right.

In fact, on the first morning of competition the first group of eight anglers found themselves at the well-known Mountain Harbor Resort boat ramp on the shores of Lake Ouachita for day one of the Elimination Round.

If you’re wondering why day one in the Selects is now called an “Elimination Round” and not the usual “Qualifying Round” it’s because starting this season the MLF Selects will have the same format as the MLF Cups, which includes three days of Elimination Round, two days of the Sudden Death Round and then a final day of the Championship Round – no more daily winners as in years past. Only four anglers per day from the Elimination Round advance to Sudden Death, the other four go home.

Also noteworthy in the 2018 MLF season is a new rule that requires a bass to weigh at least a pound to be a scoreable bass. Legal 12-inch keeper bass can be weighed, but if they weigh less than 16 ounces, they will not count.

Per usual, MLF competitors are still not allowed to gather any information about any of the lakes around the host town. But even the MLF rulebook can’t hide the fact that high water has been a big story in Arkansas this spring. A deluge of rain throughout the Ozarks region over the last few weeks made the National headlines and most all Arkansas impoundments are pushed beyond full capacity levels. As a result, Lake Ouachita is some 2 to 3 feet above full pool.

As daylight peeked over the mountains surrounding Ouachita, flooded bushes could be seen along the bank – and Select pros immediately began licking their chops.

“Dude, I see flooded bushes so I’m already pumped,” said Fletcher Shryock as he exited the truck. “If I’ve got cover in the water, I’m a happy camper. I’ve seen all I need to know, let’s go fishing!”

When asked if he had ever fished Lake Ouachita before, Shryock looked puzzled and asked, “This is Lake Ouachita?”

It was a moment of candidness that is quintessential Shryock.

“I guess that answers your question,” he laughed. “I have no idea where I am so I guess I’ve never fished here before. I’m sure some of these other guys have; I know FLW has been here for Championships before. But whatever dude – look at those flooded bushes! Can we put the boats in right now?”

Oklahoman Zack Birge was also fired up about what the first light of day was revealing at Ouachita.

“Oh yeah, I see water in the bushes and I like it already,” smirked Birge. “The last time I fished this lake it was hot and the water was low. I remember thinking: I’d like to come here and fish when the water is up the bushes to see what this place really has to offer. And now I’m going to get my chance.”

Birge had previous experience on Lake Ouachita from an FLW Forrest Wood Cup he fished in 2015 and finished 8th. In fact, all the anglers from the FLW side of the fence who are fishing the Selects have fished Ouachita before thanks to Forrest Wood Cups and Tour events held here in the past.

Common logic would seem to favor those with previous experience on the lake, like MLF Select rookie Cody Meyer of California who has forged a solid career on the FLW Tour.

“I’ve fished an FLW Tour event and two Forrest Wood Cups here,” Meyer said. “I think I’ve even fished in this area we’re putting in at.”

But just as Meyer was trying to recollect his previous experience on Ouachita, MLF officials had a little change in venues for them. As anglers received their zone maps, it was revealed that the zone they would be fishing on day one would be nowhere near Mountain Harbor Resort. Instead, they were to travel by boat over into Ouachita’s North Fork, which would be the official zone, starting where the North Fork Arm meets the main lake and extending north some 6 miles.

“Well, never mind,” Meyer laughed. “I’ve never fished up that arm of the lake anyway, so my experience here really doesn’t matter now. Welcome to MLF I guess, huh?”

In a way, Meyer was impressed with the zone location.

“This is exactly why I wanted to come fish MLF,” he explained. “It’s the purest form of tournament fishing. No information. No practice. No one has any waypoints in their machine right now. I’ve fished two Cups here in August and that knowledge is of little use to me because the water is high and we’re now going to a part of the lake I’ve never been to before. It’s as equal of a playing field as you can get.”

Birge was amused by Meyer’s greenhorn enthusiasm for the format.

“I hope you got plenty of sleep last night,” Birge advised. “Because by the third period of fishing in this format, you will be completely exhausted. It’s like no other tournament you’ve ever fished.”

“Really?” Meyer responded.

“Just wait and see,” Birge added.

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