Preview: Water Level Woes on Ouachita

Eight more anglers head out for Elimination Round 2

By Rob Newell - December 7, 2017

Day two of the MLF Summit Select dawns at Tompkins Bend Recreational Area on the South Fork of Lake Ouachita. The official zone for the day begins where the South Fork enters the main lake and includes the entire South – a 12-mile long arm that encompasses about 5200 acres of water. Of the eight pros arriving at Tompkins Bend for the second day of the Elimination Round, four will move on to Sudden Death and four will be removed from competition.

As anglers receive their zone maps, the day begins with a history lesson provided by the always-humorous Wesley Strader of Tennessee.

“About three decades ago I won an FLW Tour event up here in this part of the lake,” Strader recounted. “I actually beat Kevin VanDam to win that tournament – he finished second. It’s been the highlight of my fishing career ever since – that one time I beat KVD.”

Strader’s win actually happened in 2002, back when Lake Ouachita had been stricken with the largemouth bass virus and fishing was pretty poor.

These days Ouachita is back to being a healthy fishery and anglers are hoping the higher water levels from recent rains are going to help the cause at the Summit Select.

“I’d rather have it high than low,” Strader added after seeing the water level. “This way I can just go down the bank fishing visible stuff. When it’s low you feel like you have to get out there and search for that more submerged stuff, which takes time. It looks like there is enough water in the bushes where I won’t have to fool with fishing out.”

Fellow Tennessean Ott DeFoe liked what he was seeing at the Tompkins Bend ramp as well.

“I’ve fished here a couple of times with FLW but nothing really special stands out in my mind as to where we are here on the zone map,” Defoe offered. “The water looks a little elevated and I’m good with that. Anytime you have a lot of shallow, visible targets to work with in this format, it’s a good thing; it eliminates some of the guesswork.”

One angler in the day-two field who has never laid eyes on Lake Ouachita before is Brandon Palaniuk of Idaho. He says if there was one piece of information he could have about the lake right now it would be a look at a water level chart for Lake Ouachita.

“They cut us off from all information, which is understandable,” Palaniuk explained. “It’s the best way to make sure no one gets any local help of any kind. But there are a lot of publicly available pieces of information that we as pros rely on such as satellite imagery and water level history that gets taken away from us with that rule. Water level history is one of those critical pieces of info that helps build a plan on how to attack a lake.”

“Yes, I can look and see that the water is in the bushes,” he continued. “But what I’d really like to know right now is the water rising or is it falling? If it’s falling, how long has it been falling? What’s considered really high water here? What’s flood stage? What’s considered really low water here? These are all little pieces of publicly available information that would be a huge help in figuring out where the fish are, but we can’t look at it.”

Despite not having that information at his fingertips, Palaniuk does reveal that there are certain real-time clues anglers can use on the water to make some ballpark water level determinations.

“I’ll be looking for dry debris lines up on the bank,” he said. “That’s usually a good indication that the water has peaked and is now going down.”

“Also, I’ll probably run into the backs of some of these side creeks off the main arm and see what the water color is in the very backs. Generally, if the water is muddy in the backs, the water is still pouring in, but if it’s clearing up in the backs, the water has likely stabilized or is falling. How far that clearer water has been pulled from the back end can give an indication of how long it’s been falling, too.”

“But all of that is just guesswork on a lake I’ve never been to before,” he added. “Which is why it would be really nice just to pull it up on a website and get an accurate snapshot of what the water has been doing.”

Arkansas angler Kevin Short feels Palaniuk’s pain. He, too, is immediately curious as to how the water has fluctuated on Ouachita since all the rains inundated Arkansas a couple of weeks ago.

“I’m sure it probably came up when we had so much rain across the state,” Short said. “But it’s been a week or so since the rain has quit and I really don’t how high it got or if it’s still rising or falling or what. Obviously there is still some water in the bushes, but it’s been years since I fished over here so I couldn’t tell you how much water has come or gone. And that would be a pretty handy piece of information right about now.”

“But hey, no one else knows either and that’s why MLF is so unique,” he added. “We will all figure it out as we go.”

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