Posted by TEAM Z3 on 05/18/2014

Story by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush- Photos by Dave Rush

Russellville, AR –  Entering the final day of competition at the Elite Series tournament on Lake Dardanelle, the majority of the focus was the two anglers at the top of the leaderboard, Greg Hackney and Rick Clunn.

Both competitors had compelling stories and a connection with the Arkansas fishery.  Hackney, an Arkansas native now living in Louisiana, entered championship Sunday with a lead of less than a pound and was looking for his first Elite Series victory since 2006 on a fishery where he had previously recorded two Top 10 finishes in B.A.S.S. competition.   

Clunn began the day in 2nd place and was looking for his first victory since 2002.  Like Hackney, Clunn entered the tournament with a rich tournament history on Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River, having won the 1984 Bassmaster Classic on the Arkansas River out of Pine Bluff, roughly 100 miles down the road from Dardanelle.  

In the end, both Hackney and Clunn were overtaken by Oklahoma’s Jason Christie, who quietly lurked in the shadows during the opening two rounds of competition before making his move on the weekend with back-to-back limits weighing 20-0 and 19-2 to claim the second Elite Series title of his career with a total weight of 72-3.    

Christie’s victory solidified his recent dominance on Arkansas fisheries.  In 2013, he won the FLW Tour tournament on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake and then proceeded to win the Elite Series tournament on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas the following week.  In total, Christie has now won three tour level tournaments in the state of Arkansas over the past 13 months. The victory on Dardanelle is Christie’s fifth tour level victory since 2011 (three FLW Tour wins and two Elite Series wins).    

Finishing in 2nd place was Gerald Swindle, who made an impressive run at the title on Sunday with a limit weighing 20-1 after starting the day nearly 5-pounds off the pace.  With a total weight of 71-15, Swindle’s bid for his first Elite Series win ended up falling just 5-ounces short.  

Greg Hackney, who led the tournament on Friday and Saturday, settled in 3rd place with a total weight of 71-11 after weighing-in a 15-3 limit on Sunday, and Rick Clunn finished in 4th with a Sunday limit weighing 15-4 and a final weight of 70-15.  

Fresh off a victory last week at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, Keith Combs rounded out the Top 5 on Sunday with a total weight of 68-3.  

In total, seven of the 12 anglers fishing on Sunday weighed-in limits surpassing the 15-pound mark and all 12 anglers weighed-in a five bass limit.

In the Toyota Angler Of the Year race, Mark Davis regained a two point lead on Sunday after Greg Hackney dropped to 3rd place in the tournament.    

Tournament: Bassmaster Elite Series (Stop #5)
Location: Lake Dardanelle – Russellville, Arkansas
Winner: Jason Christie (16-7, 16-10, 20-0, 19-2: 72-3)
2nd Place: Gerald Swindle (71-15)
Total weight separating 1st from 12th Place:  12-6

1st Place: Jason Christie (16-7, 16-10, 20-0, 19-2: 72-3)
Christie on his primary pattern:
“I picked an area that was in Illinois Bayou, and I stayed there all four days. Every fish that I caught, I saw them eat it. These fish were all coming horizontally out of the weeds.  I knew that because I’d try to flip and let my jig go to the bottom and I couldn’t catch them that way.  It had to be up high. For what reason, I don’t know – that’s the way that they wanted it.  

“When I win a tournament, I have one rod in my hand all day and I’m in one area.  I try to catch every bass that lives in the area and I don’t move around.  That’s what I did this week – I had one jig and I had one area.  I never left.  I didn’t burn 20 gallons of gas all week.  Every time that I got ready to leave, I’d catch one.  In my mind, I knew that the closer it got to 3:00, the better the fish were going to bite. I knew that I felt the most comfortable in the area where the water was the dirtiest and the current was the strongest.”

Christie on triggering a reaction strike with his jig:
“I don’t know if this comparison is good, but it’s kind of like jerkbait fishing where you kind of picture in your mind where these fish are.  I’d swim my jig, and when I got close (to the cover), I’d kind of let my jig sink a little bit and then I’d rip it really hard.  I’d get them to come up and that would get (the fish) to react.

Christie on how he identified the winning pattern:
“This is just the Arkansas River, and the pool that I live on, it’s just what we do.  When the water is in the weeds after the spawn, you swim a jig.  I actually thought that I was going to fish this tournament throwing a frog and a spook.  With the weather that we had come in, the water temperature dropped 20 degrees and they just wouldn’t come up and get it.”

Christie on his execution throughout the week:
“Yesterday I needed one more and a 7-pounder got it.  The water was so dirty that I didn’t think the fish was that big.  I went to swing it (into the boat) thinking that it was a 4- or 5-pounder, and once she came out of the water, she was a lot bigger.  You can’t hardly swing a 7-pounder, so something has to give.  She came off in the air.  

“I had a big one today that I didn’t get hooked up on, and on the second day, I weighed a 1 ½-pound fish and I felt like that probably cost me. I just felt like I was giving the tournament away.”

Christie’s primary baits and equipment:
- ½-ounce BOOYAH Jig (Black/Blue)
- YUM Craw Chunk (Black/Blue)
- 25 lb. test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line
- 7’3” Falcon Rods Jason Christie Signature Series
- Lew’s 7.1:1 BB1 Pro baitcasting reel

Christie on his primary bait:
“I was fishing pretty dirty water, and that jig has really loud rattles.  I would try to get those fish to react, and I would stroke that jig to try to get the bigger ones to react. Whenever I came out and fished clearer water, I took the rattles off.  I think that gave it more of a finesse presentation and allowed me to get a few bites that I wouldn’t have gotten with the rattles.”

Christie on when he first thought he had a chance to win the tournament:
“It wasn’t until they announced it on the stage.  When you’re 3-pounds back, and Clunn hadn’t weighed-in less than 18-pounds all week and Hackney can catch them out of a bathtub, I was just hoping to move up a couple spots.”

Christie on his fourth Tour level victory since 2013:
“Last year, a lot of people could say, ‘Well, he got a lot of momentum, he got hot, he won, and now it’s over with.’ To be able to come back and win another one, maybe it wasn’t just a little hot streak and maybe I can be in contention to win a few of these things in the years to come.”    

Christie on his success in Arkansas over the past year:
“I just feel comfortable fishing this stuff.”

2nd Place: Gerald Swindle (18-12, 14-2, 19-0, 20-1: 71-15)
Swindle on his overall thoughts on Lake Dardanelle this week:
“I felt coming into this thing that if you kept yourself in position in this tournament that anything could happen.  If you can get to the final day close to the top on the Arkansas River, you have a chance to win. You can't say that about many places we go anymore, because it seems like there are usually only three or four guys with a shot to win going into the last day - that wasn't the case here this week.  I like this style tournament where I know that when I idle out in the morning I have a chance to win."

Swindle on his final day on Lake Dardanelle:
"Today I really never got in much of a hurry, because I knew that the fish had been biting better in the afternoon for me than in the morning.  I just sat in a pocket and waited patiently today until they started biting.  

“When the bite finally started, it was fire and chaos for about the last 45 minutes.  I think I caught about 12 keepers in that last little stretch, and I was having to cull during all of that as well.  Even with all that going on I was able to stay calm and not work my bait to fast.  I feel like the fish were there all along, you just had to stay focused and be ready when they decided to bite."

Swindle on his final primary pattern:
"I had a couple of key patterns this week.  I’d fish anywhere I would find water willow grass and particularly a point in the grass. I was fishing way out in front of the grass where most of the other guys’ boats were sitting.  It was important to stay out in front of that grass and make sure not to speed your bait up.  

“I was slow rolling a Chatterbait and also flipping a big jig.  When I would come across a little area where the channel would swing by the grass, that’s when I would switch up to the jig.  I concentrated on not getting my baits buried up in the grass this week. The whole deal was staying on that outside edge and focusing on the stuff away from the main grass line."

Swindle's primary baits and equipment:
-3/8 oz Chatterbait
-Zoom Z -Hog Jr. Trailer (Sapphire Blue)
-1/2 oz BOOYAH Jig (Black/Blue)
-Zoom Big Salty Chunk Trailer (Sapphire Blue)
-Quantum EXO Rod 7'6"
-Quantum Tour MG Reel (6:3:1)
-Quantum EXO Tour Pt Rod 7'2"

3rd Place: Greg Hackney (21-13, 18-1, 16-10, 15-3: 71-11)
Hackney on his primary pattern:
“The main two deals I was doing were pretty good to me this week.  In the morning, I would run some little shelf rock banks that I think had some fish that were still spawning or maybe guarding fry.

“Once I finished doing that, I would start running little grass mats that were in pockets with the dirty water.  That is how I was catching my better fish here this week.  It was a fun week for me. I was able to fish my style and I really don’t think that I could have fished any better."

Hackney on his execution this week at Lake Dardanelle:
"I had one little mishap today that cost me.  All week long I haven't looked away from my bait or lost concentration while I was fishing.  There was a boat fishing down the bank from me, and I looked up for just a second and lost my concentration.  A fish smoked my bait on the surface and I swung and just porpoised him over the boat and lost it.  I guess I could look back on that and say it might have cost me, but I also lost a 5-pounder earlier in the week – that is just fishing."

Hackney's primary baits:
-Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig (1/2 oz, Black&Blue)
-Strike King Hack Attack Jig (1/2 oz. Black&Blue)

4th Place: Rick Clunn (18-5, 17-14, 19-8, 15-4: 70-15)
Clunn on his primary pattern:
“You wish that every tournament would go like this one did.  Practice went really well for me, and I was able to pattern the fish pretty quickly.  I was able to expand on the pattern and key in on one area that seemed to have more big fish in it, and that is what I stuck with.  

“When it comes to fishing a square bill, there are two things that I prefer - one would be a river system and the other is dirty water.  We had both of those elements here, and I really feel that is why the bite came together for me this week.  I also caught some key fish in practice on the Trickster spinnerbait, which is really what keyed me in on the bite and the right areas to fish."

Clunn on his key to success on Lake Dardanelle:
"I was fishing on the outside edges of the grass, keying on the little ledge.  My bait was paralleling the ledge, and I was trying to stay in contact with that zone.  If a little creek channel came in and cut up near the weeds it made it even better.  The locals and other competitors would think I was fishing the weeds, when, in fact, I wasn't. That was an advantage to the pattern."

Clunn's primary baits:
-Luck E Strike Series 4 Crankbait (Copper Shad)
-Luck E Strike Trickster Spinnerbait

5th Place: Keith Combs (19-14, 16-10, 17-11, 14-0: 68-3)
Combs on his primary pattern:
“I was primarily focusing on little rock points that were creating current breaks. I was having to come back and forth on the same stretches and hit the exact angles to make the fish bite.  Once you caught one and figured out the right cast for that particular stretch, you might catch three or four in a row.  

“It had a lot to do with timing, but more so I think it was the angles of your casts and how those fish happened to be set up based on how much current or wind was on the stretch at that time."

Comb's primary baits:
-Strike King KVD 2.5 (Sexy Shad, Chartreuse/Black)

Comb's thoughts about being in the zone:
“It has been a good year for me so far.  We have fished a lot of lakes that set up to my strengths so far, and that has helped.”  

6th Place: Mike Iaconelli (12-9, 18-5, 17-12, 18-8: 67-2)
Iaconelli on how important this tournament was for his season:
“This was an important event for me because it was a turning point for me.  Either I left this tournament with no chance at all to qualify for the Classic through the points, or I gave myself a chance and used it as a building block for the rest of my season.  Obviously, I would still like to win one so I don’t have to worry at all about it, but at least I have given myself a chance with my finish here."

Iaconelli on his primary pattern:
“I had two patterns going on here this week at Dardanelle.  My main deal was throwing a vibrating jig in submerged grass.  This wasn't the bank grass, but coontail and milfoil off of the bank that was harder to find and that was submerged.  I was concentrating on 2- to 4-feet of water, and stutter stepping the bait through the grass.  It is a technique that is very similar to ripping a trap out of the grass.  The other deal I had going on was fishing around some bridges with a Rapala DT 6 – it was pretty basic stuff.  "

Iaconelli's primary baits and equipment:
-Molix Lover Vibrating Jig
-Berkley Havoc Devil Spear (jig trailer)
-Rapala DT 6 (Disco Shad)
- 15 lb Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon
-7’ Abu Garcia Veracity Rod
-7:1 Abu Garcia Revo MGX reel


PlaceNameDay 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Total FishTotal Weight
1 Jason Christie 5 16- 7 5 16-10 5 20- 0 5 19- 2 20 72- 3
2 Gerald Swindle 5 18-12 5 14- 2 5 19- 0 5 20- 1 20 71-15
3 Greg Hackney 5 21-13 5 18- 1 5 16-10 5 15- 3 20 71-11
4 Rick Clunn 5 18- 5 5 17-14 5 19- 8 5 15- 4 20 70-15
5 Keith Combs 5 19-14 5 16-10 5 17-11 5 14- 0 20 68- 3
6 Michael Iaconelli 5 12- 9 5 18- 5 5 17-12 5 18- 8 20 67- 2
7 Cliff Crochet 5 13- 4 5 19-15 5 19- 2 5 14- 9 20 66-14
8 Chris Zaldain 5 17- 9 5 15- 3 5 16- 8 5 17- 6 20 66-10
9 John Crews 5 22- 9 5 16-12 5 11-11 5 14-14 20 65-14
10 Paul Elias 5 14- 9 5 13- 9 5 20- 7 5 16- 3 20 64-12
11 Takahiro Omori 5 16- 0 5 13- 2 5 20- 7 5 13-13 20 63- 6
12 Skeet Reese 5 16-14 5 13- 7 5 18- 7 5 11- 1 20 59-13