HOT SPRINGS -- Even the world's best anglers can struggle on a great bass lake, as was the case Friday and Saturday in the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Ouachita.
You can have the fastest boat, the most advanced electronics, the finest gear and skills honed by nonstop experience, but none of it matters if fish won't bite.
In the first round Friday, Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas -- a three-time FLW Angler of the Year with nearly $3 million in winnings -- did not catch a keeper largemouth bass.
"It was brutally tough," Wendlandt said. "It was one of my toughest days ever in fishing. Some other guys didn't do too well, either, but that doesn't make you feel better. I thought I could do well, but the fish did not bite today."
$1 million advice
We chatted Friday with Hank Parker and Scott Suggs at the FLW Expo at the Hot Springs Convention Center.
Parker, one of only five anglers to win more than one Bassmaster Classic, retired at the peak of his career after winning his second Classic and has been part of the Fishing League Worldwide organization for years.
Suggs, of Bryant, was the first angler to win $1 million in a bass tournament in 2007 on Lake Ouachita at the Forrest Wood Cup. Suggs said he missed most of this season because of back problems.
"My arms started going to sleep," Suggs said. "A couple of times I lost all the feeling in my hands and threw my rods in the lake when I was casting."
Suggs said he regrets not qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup, especially because he said the lake is "set up" for an angler to win it the way he did in 2007. Suggs won that tournament by keying on feeding spurts over deep brush piles.
"Nobody's doing that, either," Suggs said.
Joe Webster of Winfield, Ala., got a whiff of it in the first round. He said he caught five keepers out of one brush pile at a depth of about 40 feet. It was the only consistent pattern he found.
Before he discovered the brush-pile bite, Webster got a taste of Lake Ouachita's world-class crappie fishing.
"I rolled into an area thinking it was going to be good, and fish started breaking all over the place," Webster said. "I thought, 'Here they are!' I started throwing out there, and I must have caught over 100 pounds of crappie. I never saw a largemouth."
Tougher than muskies
Chad Grigsby of Maple Grove, Minn., finished the season strong by winning an FLW Tour event at Lake St. Clair, Mich., but Lake Ouachita was unkind to him Friday.
"I come from Minnesota," Grigsby said. "We have muskie [muskellunge] there. They call it the fish of 10,000 casts because they're so hard to catch. I think we're going to change the name of Lake Ouachita to the 'Lake of 10,000 Casts.' I saw about 50,000 fish today, but I only caught three."
Brandon McMillan of Clewiston, Fla., was looking for additional torture after finishing the first round in 48th place with just one bass for a total weight of 1 pound, 15 ounces.
"Instead of launching my boat tomorrow, I'm going to go out somewhere and get a 'hot wax' because that would be the only thing that would be more painful than going back out on the water tomorrow," McMillan said.
Zack Birge of Blanchard, Okla., who entered the second round in third place, competed in the Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship in 2014 at Beaverfork Lake near Conway, and was 2015 FLW Rookie of the Year.
Birge's competition in the 2014 national championship included Matt Lee, who won the tournament, and Jordan Lee, who finished second. Jordan Lee also won consecutive Bassmaster Classics in 2017-2018.
The anglers that came of age in that era are some of the most formidable in the sport.
"That was a period where a lot of new trends started," Birge said. "We're from a generation that's not really set in our ways, and we were ready to try new techniques that were showing up. It was good timing with stuff like that, but also being open to try it."
That was the beginning of the finesse era, which a generation of young anglers like Aaron Martens and Brandon Palaniuk refined on the clear, deep lakes of the West.
"The West Coast guys started it, and it was trending into the rest of the country," Birge said. "That just happened to be when we were coming through college."
Sports on 08/12/2018
Print Headline: Gear, experience don't matter if fish won't bite