August 15, 2018

FLW anglers can expect tournament heat on Ouachita

By Bob Wisener
This article was published August 5, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

August in Arkansas is an ideal time for practicing football, holding family cookouts (preferably shaded) and going back to school.

August in Arkansas is not necessarily the best of times for competitive bass fishing, the combination of intense heat and clear skies contributing to a slow bite. Ramp up the pressure for a major tournament and the pressure can become stifling.

The 56 professional anglers in the Forrest Wood Cup can expect such an ordeal. Lake Ouachita is host to Fishing League Worldwide's premier event for a fourth time this week, one that draws national attention and offers $300,000 to the winning angler.

The three-day tournament is apt to reward versatility and patience, especially if typical summertime conditions persist. Anglers launch from Brady Mountain Resort & Marina at 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday with the top 10 finalists back in action Aug. 12. Daily weigh-ins are 5 p.m. at Bank OZK Arena in downtown Hot Springs.

"You can't win it unless you're in it," said Greg Bohannan, of Bentonville, one of two Arkansas contestants. "The awesome thing is we all put the work in. ... I'm just going to try to have fun and enjoy it."

Fellow Arkansan Mark Rose is the unofficial pre-tournament favorite as 2018 Pennzoil Marine Angler of the Year. Rose totaled 1,074 points in seven qualifying events, posting top-five finishes on Lake Okeechobee (third) and Kentucky Lake (fifth). The West Memphis angler seeks a career-defining triumph in his 20th professional season.

One outdoors writer, previewing the tournament, anticipated a "big Easter Egg hunt" on Lake Ouachita.

"If you get on the right deal at Lake Ouachita, you can win. There are so many things that can be successful, but there will be one thing at the Forrest Wood Cup that will be a difference maker," Rose said. "Nobody knows what that is right now, but you put 50 of the best anglers in the world out there and they'll find it. Somebody will find that one little thing that's different, and that will be your champion."

One question likely to face anglers is whether to go deep or shallow. Tennessee pro Brad Knight, the 2015 Cup winner on Ouachita, camped in one area in back of a creek and caught the winning fish shallow. Two other Cup winners on Ouachita, Bryant's Scott Suggs in 2007 and Floridian Scott Martin in 2011, went deep around standing timber, brush piles and other shad-filled areas.

Defending Cup champion Justin Atkins calls Ouachita "a really good fishery and a perfect venue to host the Forrest Wood Cup. I've been there twice and caught quite a few big fish. This event should be a little tougher, but it's during the dog days of summer. Fishing is tough right now all over the country. I love a good slugfest, but I really enjoy the tough tournaments for our championship event."

So much has changed for the Florence, Ala., angler since he entered last year's Cup on South Carolina's Lake Murray as an FLW Tour rookie. Now, he hopes to become the first two-time Cup winner.

"I was just a kid who showed up and fished the tour, and that's all I focused on," Atkins said. "I didn't have any sponsor obligations ... but I went from zero to 100 in a matter of moments. I had to learn how to balance all of this and grow up in my fishing career overnight."

Early success, he said, "gives me a place in the sport that I feel like I can ride for a couple of years and focus on developing my game as a whole."

Tournament waters went off limits July 23 through Saturday with restricted access also scheduled Thursday, on the eve of competition.

Each day of the tournament includes an outdoors exposition in Hot Springs Convention Center starting at 10 a.m. A free Justin Moore concert at 4 p.m. precedes the final ceremony. Visit of Hot Springs and the state of Arkansas join FLW as tournament hosts.

"The Hot Springs community is extremely passionate about bass fishing," says Kathy Fennel, FLW president of operations, "and the great attendance makes it the perfect destination for an exciting and memorable championship event."

Sports on 08/05/2018
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