Most of the contestants in the annual Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza don’t dress in the logo-encrusted togs of the bass tournament professionals. Instead, they tend to look like fishermen you’ll meet at boat launching ramps and bait shops.
This is a hint at the success of this competition which dates back to 1989. It is for the everyday anglers, not the pros.
This year’s Big Bass Bonanza is Friday through Sunday, June 28-30. All of the Arkansas River in the state is the fishing water. Entry fee is $90 per day.
Big Bass Bonanza is an undertaking of Arkansas Hospitality Association. All the entry money is returned in prizes except for the costs of the tournament, and sponsors help with these expenses.
Big Bass Bonanza draws about 2,000 contestants each year — more when economic times are good, less when things are tight. Anglers from many other states in addition to Arkansas compete in it. Last year, 21 states were represented. In the 24 years of the tournament, there has not been a repeat overall winner. The 2012 winner was David Shopher of McGehee with a 6.27-pound largemouth. He was fishing from a 14-foot flatbottom boat.
The angler with the overall biggest bass gets a guaranteed $50,000. The river is divided into five pools for the tournament, and winners of the other four pools are guaranteed $10,000 each.
Hourly first-, second- and third-place winners in each of the five pools will receive money based on the number of entries in the tournament. Last year the hourly prizes were $500 for first, $250 for second and $125 for third. A total of $188,850 in prize money was awarded in 2012.
There is an extra $100 for wearing Big Bass Bonanza caps and T-shirts at the weigh-in for each of the hourly first-, second- and third-place anglers. Additional prizes include one competition that always draws interest, the Willow Leaf Award, going to the parent-child combination or grandparent-grandchild weighing in the largest bass for the tournament.
Fishermen can choose to fish any of the five pools and can fish different pools during the three-day event. But, all fish must be weighed in the pool in which they were caught. Eligible fish species include largemouth, smallmouth and spotted or Kentucky bass.
The tournament begins at 6 a.m. on all three days, with the first hourly weigh-in at 8 a.m. and subsequent weigh-ins at the top of each hour until the final 1 p.m. weigh-in. The five weigh-in sites are Clear Creek Park near Fort Smith, Dardanelle State Park at Russellville, Alltel Ramp at North Little Rock, Regional Park at Pine Bluff and Pendleton Bridge east of Dumas.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission asks Big Bass Bonanza participants to help stock more than 100,000 largemouth bass fingerlings in the Arkansas River on the first day of the tournament, Friday, June 25.
"Instead of dumping all the fingerlings into a few locations, we will let anglers spread them throughout the entire river. This way, the fingerlings will have a better chance of finding food and cover with less competition," AGFC Black Bass Program Coordinator Colton Dennis said.
Tournament anglers can pick up bags of jumbo fingerlings at their hourly weigh-in sites as they head out for the day and distribute the fish where they are searching for their big bite. The oxygenated bags will contain 100 to 150 fingerlings each, for an estimated 20,000 fingerlings per site.
Contestants can register in person at these locations:
Fort Smith — Academy Sports and Outdoors, 5001 Old Phoenix Ave.; Barling Boat Sales, 6401 S. Zero St.; and Tackle Box, 3001 Zero St.
Russellville — Wilkins Brothers Outdoors, 815 N. Arkansas.
Sherwood — Academy Sports and Outdoors, 6100 Warden Rd., and Fish ‘N Stuff, 6506 Warden Rd.
Little Rock — Academy Sports and Outdoors, 1140 West Markham St.; Arkansas Rod and Reel, 10301 N. Rodney Parham; and Arkansas Hospitality Association, 603 S. Pulaski.
Redfield — Terri Foods, Inc., 902 River Rd.
White Hall — Spencer’s Marine, 6813 Princeton Pike.
Hot Springs — Trader Bill’s, 1530 Albert Pike.
Dumas — Back Gate One Stop and Motel, U.S. 165 east Of Dumas.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.