Ouachita River Wrap Up


When the forty-nine teams launched their boats at Lazarre Park on the Ouachita River for the fourth stop of the Ark-La Team Trail, the general consensus was that a limit of fish would put you in contention and a ten pound bag would most likely win. In the past few years, the Ouachita River has proven to be a tough fishery, even to the most dedicated river rats, and this event proved to be just that.

When speaking to several of the anglers at the weigh-in, the general statement was, “we caught a lot of fish but we just couldn’t catch any size.” If the river had a theme song that would easily be the opening line and the last of the final stanza. But as usual, when the fishing gets tough, a bit of luck, good decisions and key fish catches will usually play a huge role in the final outcome. This tournament was no different.

The first-place team of Jared Fitch and Curtis Goodling wowed the spectators and anglers alike when they weighed in an impressive five bass limit weighing 17.05 lbs. According to Fitch, the main key to the victory was timing, burning a lot of gas, and having patience.

“We probably burned about 40 gallons of gas all day because we kept moving around and hitting as many places are we could. It was all about the current and shad and while we caught fish on several baits, all of our five came on a topwater of some sort. Luckily, we caught some decent fish,” Fitch explained.

The betting money at the beginning of the day was that a ten pound stringer would win the event easily and if not for the heroics of Fitch and Goodling, the second place team of Blake Eppinette and Patrick Daniel, with a weight of 10.93, would have walked away with the top prize. When asked to explain their day, Eppinette stated, “After 12, it was a swing for the fence for us. The river had been a big disappointment because nothing was working for us on our typical run of things. With only about 5-6 lbs. in the livewell around noon, we decided to try something new, and it paid off. By 1:00 we found a different pattern, allowing us to cull four fish and still give us time to make our run back in to weigh.”

Zach Johnston and JR Grubb continued their year long hot streak by placing third with a solid limit weighing in at 9.36. With the “put our heads down and grind it out mentality” Grubb and Johnston were able to use a late day decision to make some noise at the top of the final leaderboard. In their post tournament interview, both anglers acknowledged the river’s difficult conditions and were elated at being able to get key bites late in the day. They started their day fishing topwater but once the morning bite slowed they were able to switch to soft plastics and catch fish throughout the day.

Todd Wolff and Robert Massey had another strong event and placed fourth with a weight of 9.27 lbs. According to Massey, the team stayed in one area most of the day, flipping 6-8 foot deep bushes with a Strike King Punch Bug. “Rate of fall was critical and I believe it was more of a reaction bite than anything else”, Massey concluded.

The fifth place slot went to Brandon Russell and Dylan Spain with a weight of 7.98 lbs. “Neither of us have been on the river, so we just picked some stuff we saw on the map and, even though most of them were small, we were able to start catching fish pretty early. Dylan kept one bait in his hand pretty much

all day while I tried to get a bigger bite using other stuff. We were just happy to be able to put something together that allowed us to be competitive”, Russell explained when asked about their tournament day.

Late season, tough events usually go a long way in determining the Angler of the Year race and this event was no different. Going into the final event at Felsenthal, the team of Zach Johnston and JR Grubb sit in the late season catbird seat and have a bit of breathing room in the standings. However, by no means do they believe the last event will be a cake walk. “Felsenthal, like the rest of the Ouachita River system, is fishing super tough right now, so by no means do I believe this thing (AOY) will come easy. It promises to be a grind.” Grubb said when asked about fishing Felsenthal for the last event.

The next Ark-La Team Trail event will be at Felsenthal, June 24th out of Crossett Harbor in Crossett, Arkansas.

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