Johnson Still Leads B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier Tournament at Arkansas River

April 4, 2024
B.A.S.S. News

MUSKOGEE, Okla. —  After Wednesday’s weigh-in, Day 1 leader Chris Johnson expressed concerns about his ability to replicate his opening-round success. Thankfully, his doubts were erased with a five-bass limit of 17 pounds, 15 ounces, which kept him on top of the Mercury B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier tournament at the Arkansas River. Hailing from Farmington, Ark., Johnson bolstered his first-round limit of 19-6 and tallied 37-5. He heads into Championship Friday with a lead of 4-8 over Blake Capps of Muskogee, Okla.

“Everything went very well today,” Johnson said. “It was actually better than I expected.” 

Johnson has been running a few miles upriver and fishing a backwater pond tucked behind the rock levee. After his Day 1 success, he was worried he’d find the relatively shallow area attracting more fishing pressure and ultimately shutting down. Much to his delight, Johnson not only found the spot largely untouched, but changing conditions allowed him to expand into an adjacent pond.

“Actually, the river came up a little more and I was able to get to (the Day 1 pond) and another spot,” Johnson said. “They’re very close together.

“They’re connected, but I’m cutting through the rock wall and then coming out and going through the rock wall again to reach the next spot. You can idle between (openings in the levee).”

While Johnson caught his Day 1 fish in 1 to 3 1/2 feet, he found them a little deeper today. He believes the day’s favorable conditions likely influenced the area.

“The sun was out all day, the wind was light and variable — it was about the right amount of wind for fishing,” Johnson said. “I had to totally change my pattern today. The (slow bait) I caught them on yesterday, I had one bite on today.”

Johnson said he’s targeting prespawn bass and he suspects a new and more enthusiastic group may have moved into his area.

“I had to totally shift gears today; the fish were a lot more active,” he said. “I think these fish are coming out of deep water, moving up and getting ready to spawn.

“I was catching most of them on moving baits today. I also caught some on a pitching bait, but even with the moving bait, I had to fish very slowly and precisely. When I tried to speed up, I wouldn’t get bit.”

Despite the requisite changes, Johnson said his Day 2 bag was remarkably similar to his opening-round limit. Wednesday saw him lead the Big Bass standings with a 5-15, which anchored a sack that included three fish in the 3-pound range and one 15- to 16-incher.

Day 2 found him with a kicker that went 4-12, another trio of 3-somethings and one small fish. While Day 1 made him wait several hours to start populating his livewell, the second-round action started promptly.

“I lost a decent one early, but by 9 o’clock, I had two really good fish and one keeper,” Johnson said. “After that, it was a grind. It took me the rest of the day to get my limit.”

Not surprisingly, Johnson plans on spending the final round in his backwater ponds. He’s optimistic the area can produce a final competitive limit.

“There seems to be a lot more fish in there than I thought and there was only one other boat in there today,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to go fish tomorrow and let it play out. I’m not going to stress over it.”

Turning in a consistent performance, Capps added 16-12 to his Day 1 limit of 16-1. He sits in second place with 32-13. Jeremy Norris of Ama, La., is in third place with 32-11. His daily weights were 14-5 and 18-6. Jeff Clark of Van Buren, Ark., is in the lead for Big Bass honors with his 6-9. Chad Nolan or Muldrow, Okla., leads the co-angler division with 16-0. On Day 1, he caught a three-fish limit of 8-4 and added two more on Thursday for 7-12. Shayne Dupree of Haslet, Texas, holds the Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 5-8.

The Top 20 remaining boaters and nonboaters will take off at 7 a.m. CT Friday from Three Forks Harbor. The final weigh-in will be held at the harbor at 3 p.m.