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Lake life

Robert Carlile: A river lesson

Robert Carlile caught this monster pre-hurricane Ouachita River SLAB crappie in practice last week for the ACT pro crappie tournament

If you’ve got your eyes open, every new day brings new lessons in life, whether you are dealing with politics, food, fishing or just about anything. This past weekend, Ouachita River anglers got a lesson in perseverance, patience and confidence from a visiting Oklahoma fisherman.

Robert Carlile won the American Crappie Trail Ouachita River National Qualifier and took home a $26,000 Ranger boat for his efforts. But he also took home the respect of his fellow competitors for his grit and determination — and fishing ability. Before we go any further, let me tell you, this story could have been about just about anybody in that 130-angler field. The folks that fish in the evolving pro crappie tournaments have taken the sport to a new level. They are amazing at what they do. And they are good folks. They’ve raised awareness and interest in crappie fishing out the roof. And they’d give you the shirt off their back, but maybe not their favorite fishing jig. No, most of them would do that, too.

This past weekend, it was just Carlile’s time. We had the chance to visit with him after the win before he headed home to Pryor, Oklahoma, where he owns and operates a machine shop. We can learn a lot from what he did. Here’s the story on how his winning ways led to the “winning weighs”…

A broken trolling motor lead Robert Carlile to a unique discovery up Bayou D’Arbonne last week in the Ouachita River ACT tournament just minutes before Hurricane Laura blew through here. And here’s the rest of the story as Robert tells it:

“I was having problems Wednesday with my trolling motor and couldn’t get a replacement shipped in from the manufacturer quickly, but the BASS Tank folks brought me one. I had to install it overnight. Thursday morning, it looked like the really bad weather from the hurricane would hold off until 8:30 or 9 a.m., so I got up and got on the water by 6:30. I went up Bayou D’Arbonne and was calibrating everything when I just happened up this creek. I just saw those fish and the rest is history. I have been in this position before. I recognized that what I was seeing on my screen was what it would take to win it if I could catch them. It was a great feeling when I saw those fish. Wow. You never get used to that feeling. But when you see it you just know that you know that you know. I knew.

I tried minnows on the fish, but they just swim up to it and maybe gum it, but never take it. I got on the hair jig and I think the key was the presentation. They just would not touch it if the jig was was moving at all. It had to be perfectly still and perfectly placed. At times, I had to make 20-30 pitches to a fish just to get it to react. Then when it reacted and came to look, it was only 50 percent of the time they would go ahead and actually bite. The storm had messed them up. There was a good bite the day after the storm, but by Saturday they had gone into a typical summer pattern after a cold front. Late summer is already one of the toughest times of the year, then you have this weather front and on top of that, there were just bait fish everywhere. The shad spawn has been huge and they didn’t have to go anywhere to eat. All they had to do was reach over and grab a snack anytime they wanted. They didn’t need to chase any baits.

I have a little white and silver jig that is tied for me by MCM tackle that works in these situations. I tied it on and it was successful. I really felt good and I knew Saturday coming in to the weigh in that I had a catch that should give me the win.”

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I asked Robert what advice he would give to someone about to go fish the river.

“It’s funny, but to be honest, I wouldn’t have a clue. I’m sure that what I was doing has already changed. The fish have probably scattered. And I know the river is still changing with water flowing out of the lake and current increased in the river, too. That sounds terrible, but it’s true. I can tell you this, the fish that I saw where hanging around in 6-12 feet of water and they were suspending. They would not turn on very often, so you just have to stick with it. Look for an area and find fish somewhere there is some timber nearby. These fish were near timber, but not on it. And if there was a slick bank, there were no fish. But again, with all that’s going on down there, who really knows. You’ll just have to go find out.”

Carlile wouldn’t be able to do what he does without sponsors like The Bass Tank, Power Crappie LLC (Todd Huckabee Rods), Grenada Lake Tackle, MCM Tackle, Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, Garmin Marine, Power Pole and Nichols Marine, Tulsa. It was an MCM Tackle jig that Robert caught his river fish on. MCM is a custom bait company in Camp Wood, Texas.

Other notes and quotes from the final day’s weigh-in:

Two recurring themes from the anglers as they weighed in were 1) thank you’s to their wives for letting them spend so much time fishing and 2) the fact that there were loads of big crappie showing up on the electronics, but they just didn’t want to bite.

For local fishermen, there was another theme: “We’re glad we got to fish, but now we’ve got to go home and do a lot of cleanup. It’s a disaster around here.”

Local Dusty McGehee and partner John Harrison usually hammer the good ones, but struggled to catch big fish this time, but had the best one liner comment of the weighin. When asked “how did you catch them?”, McGehee simply answered: “Barely”.

Boisterous Oklahoma pro guide Josh Jones went viral on Thursday when he went out and tried to practice as Hurricane Laura hit. His Facebook video (you can check it out on Josh Jones Fishing – Facebook) drew thousands of views. As he struggled to hold on to his seat at the end of the video, the wind blew his rod and reel right out of his hands).

And oh yes, Jones and his partner led the tournament on Day One with an impressive 14 pound stringer. The second day didn’t go well, or as Josh said,
“Today was tough. It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had in my life. We were on the fish, but the bite just would not turn on for us. Early on, the Asian carp moved in the spot and it was over.”

Several fishermen got “schooled” in the tournament, but none like Drew Morgan and Kent Watson.

“I didn’t like English composition when I was in school and I sure didn’t like having to learn about it again this week along with math and science,” Watson said jokingly. Partner Drew Morgan is still in high school and used his computer to view Zoom classes from school while they were fishing in practice and the event. Almost always in the money, the duo finished 15th in the tournament. No word yet on Drew’s grades for the week…

And in the “ouch” department, highly successful anglers Tim Blackley and Daniel Porter were in sixth place after day one and had a huge bag of fish that would have put them in good shape to challenge the winner on Saturday. But when they got to the weigh-in, they discovered they had an eighth fish in their livewell, not just the limit of seven. Tournament rules say that is an automatic disqualification whether you try to weigh them or not.

They reported it and went on stage to tell folks what happened, a courageous thing to do. They both counted their fish multiple times, but somehow the “phantom” fish hid out in the livewell.

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The Ouachita River is gaining in popularity as a landing spot for top tournaments and tourism folks are working hard to get them here. An average event like this brings in a half million dollars to the host economy, sometimes even more.

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