Mark Menendez – Winning $100,000 in an Aluminum Boat at Bassmaster’s Lake Dardanelle Tournament
The Game Plan for Bass Fishing Lake Dardanelle
Editor’s Note: The third day of competition at Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Arkansas, for the Bassmaster Elite Series was cancelled because of wind and rain. Therefore, instead of cutting the field to 50, the field was cut to the final 12. The last day of the competition was with the final 12, who would compete on the final day for the $100,000.
Question: Mark, what did you think you’d have to do to win at Lake Dardanelle, and why did you decide to fish out of an aluminum johnboat?
Menendez: I had fished at Dardanelle a few years ago at the first Elite 50 Series tournament, and I knew the lake had some backwater areas that would be accessible only with an aluminum boat. I did more research and discovered that some of these hard-to-reach places would be perfect for catching a big bag of bass. For me, the decision to take an aluminum boat to a major bass tournament was a hard one to make. But I knew there were sections of the lake I would want to fish that might destroy a fiberglass boat. In the final evaluation, I decided that the boat I would use in the tournament would only be a means of transportation to the places I wanted to fish. I knew I needed a boat that could handle some really-bad terrain. I realized the boat probably would get skinned-up a little, but I also knew an aluminum boat would be light, and I could push-pole it to some of the places I wanted to fish.
Question: Mark, did you fish the practice days in the aluminum boat?
Menendez: Yes, I did. I was using a 17-foot G3 with a 90-horsepower Yamaha.
Question: Where did you get the boat, Mark?
Menendez: I borrowed it from Luke Estel’s brother. Luke is a good friend, and I helped him find and get that boat through a dealer I knew. We’ve been friends for many years.
Question: During practice, what did you learn about the G3?
Menendez: Since the water level was stable, I could cross the two wing dams that I needed to cross, go through a culvert and reach the place I wanted to fish fairly easy. I did bump and scratch a few rocks on the way in, but I could get to where I wanted to fish. The first day I went in to this area, I was amazed at how many fish were there. The first time I went down the bank I got 25 bites in about 30 minutes.
Question: Mark, what made this region so good?
Menendez: Very-few serious bass fishermen had fished in this area over the years. The area was shallow and flat with a hard bottom, rocks, lay-downs, buck brush and grass. It had every type of habitat bass would need to live in, and it was a pretty-big place. I believe that the bass were born, grew, lived and died in there without ever leaving.
Question: Why were other bass fishermen not going into this area?
Menendez: I believe most bass fishermen knew that to get through the rocks and the culvert, they’d more than likely damage their boats, motors and other equipment. I believe the rocks you had to cross to get into the region were the guard dog that kept other fishermen out.
Question: Mark, when you finally got into that section of water on the practice days, what lures were you fishing?
Menendez: I started off with the Strike King Compact Silhouette spinner bait, and when I realized how shallow the water was, I knew I needed to find the deepest water in that bay. When I located that deeper water, I made a cast with a spinner bait and caught a 3 pounder beside a lay-down log. I went to the next piece of wood cover and caught another 3 pounder. Then I put the spinner bait down and picked-up a Game Hawg in a June bug color and got 25 bites. However, I never set the hook on any of those bass, because I didn’t want to catch them. I just wanted to know they were there, and what baits they’d eat.
Question: Mark, when you were fishing the spinner bait, what size and what color were you using?
Menendez: I was fishing the 1/2-ounce Compact Silhouette in the sun-perch color.
Question: After you’d already caught two bass on the spinner bait, why did you switch to the Game Hawg, a soft-plastic flipping-and-pitching lure?
Menendez: I wanted to see how many bites I could get without hooking a fish. With a spinner bait, you will hook the bass. But by burying the hook deep in the Game Hawg, I could let a bass take the bait and try to get the fish to spit out the lure without my setting the hook. Every bite I had, I simply lifted my rod tip up to feel the fish and try and take the Game Hawg away from them. However, I had a problem because the bass didn’t want to turn loose of the Game Hawg, which would be a good thing if I was trying to hook the fish. I was able to see almost every fish that took the Game Hawg, and they were all 3 to 3-1/2 pounders. So I knew that I could produce 15 to 15-1/2 pounds of bass every day in this area.
Tomorrow: The First Day of Competition at Lake Dardanelle