Options plentiful for Bassmaster Opens anglers on Lake Ouachita

Winter is nearing its end in western Arkansas, which means there will be plenty of opportunities to catch big bags during the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Ouachita presented by SEVIIN, according to Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stetson Blaylock.

“When you think of a premier, early prespawn tournament, Lake Ouachita has it all. It is a really good fishery,” the Arkansas pro said.

Tournament days are scheduled for Feb. 15-17, with daily takeoffs set for 6:45 a.m. CT from the Brady Mountain Rec A ramp. Anglers will return for weigh-in each day at 2:45 p.m. The full field of pros and co-anglers will fish the first two days before the field is cut to the Top 10 pros on the final day.

The winner will punch a ticket to the 2025 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors, given that they have fished every event in Division II. Anglers signed up for all nine Opens will earn points towards the Tackle Warehouse Bassmaster Elite Qualifiers race.

Early forecasts are calling for warm and rainy conditions to begin the practice period, while sunny and slightly cooler conditions will take over during the tournament.

Covering over 40,000 acres, Ouachita is Arkansas’ largest lake and is one of the most popular fisheries in the state. While it has been more than 20 years since B.A.S.S. visited the lake for a major event, it has hosted four Forrest Wood Cups in the past, all of which were in the late summer.

Now, the Bassmaster Opens anglers will give it a chance to shine in the prespawn. EQ angler Jacob Bigelow caught an 11-pounder while scouting for the event in December, highlighting the potential size anglers will find come tournament time.

As a highland reservoir, Ouachita is generally deep with plenty of clean water. If a major rain comes through, however, Blaylock said some of the best water tends to muddy up.

Ouachita has also risen several feet thanks to a soaking rainstorm that moved through during the middle of January. It has stabilized some in recent days, but the rise in water could affect the grass that has recently returned to the lake. Several different types of grass are prominent in Ouachita right now, including hydrilla and milfoil.

“It has really been strong recently in some areas of the lake,” Blaylock said. “That will be one of the main players. A lot of the bigger fish hang around that grass.”

Along with the grass, standing timber is a prominent piece of cover in the lake. That is what Blaylock believes will be the X factor.

“There’s so much standing timber out in 50, 60 and 70 feet of water, and those bass can be in a lot of different depth ranges. And they use them all,” Blaylock said. “The closer we get to March, the more those bass will be in a prespawn mode. But there are always deep bass.”

Anglers who are adept with their forward-facing sonar will find success throwing shad-style baits like a Damiki rig or a swimbait. Forward-facing sonar will also be key for fishing brushpiles and catching bass around balls of baitfish.

While bass will be caught deep, Blaylock says that there is always a population of bass that stay shallow. Rock banks will be the key here, and the bass in this zone will likely be targeting crawfish.

“We’ve had some really cold weather, but around here that doesn’t hurt too bad,” Blaylock said. “There will be a lot of fish caught super-shallow. It is that time of year. It is closer to spring than winter in my opinion, and that alone puts a lot of those bass moving toward the bank.

“That lake has always been really good for crawfish-eating bass,” he added. “Jigs and crankbaits with some reds and natural greens and browns are always good there.”

While there is plenty of water in the lake, Blaylock believes the lake will fish relatively small in this tournament.

“Everyone isn’t going to be fishing on top of each other, but if you put 200 boats on that body of water it is going to make the fishing more challenging,” Blaylock said. “It is a good lake, but when you put a lot of pressure on it, it gets tough really quickly.”

With that said, however, Blaylock anticipates bags around 22 to 23 pounds will be caught and an angler will have to average 17 to 18 pounds a day to claim the trophy.

Alabama’s Tucker Smith leads the EQ race after the first event at Lake Okeechobee with 199 points. Florida pro Randall Tharp is second with 198 points, followed by Paul Marks in third with 197, Matt Adams in fourth with 196 and Austin Cranford in fifth with 195 points. Easton Fothergill is sixth with 194 points, Sam George is seventh with 193 points, Beau Browning is eighth with 192 points and Brandon McMillan is ninth with 191 points.

The final day of competition will be broadcast live on FS1 Saturday morning beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET, with streaming available on Bassmaster.com, as well as FS2 and the FOX Sports digital platforms.

The tournament is being hosted by Visit Hot Springs.