Faulkner County fishermen did quite well in the recent Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza that attracted 2,277 contestants from Fort Smith downstream to the Mississippi River.
Steve Scherrey of Conway was the biggest winner and put $50,000 into his pocket after landing a 6.98 largemouth near Arkansas Post. Scherrey became the first repeat winner of the Big Bass Bonanza.
He also won in 2000 and also fished the lower part of the river then.
William Fitzgerald of Greenbrier brought in a 6.87-pound fish in Lake Dardanelle and was runner-up to Scherrey by about an ounce. Fitzgerald’s prize was $10,000 as one of four other pool winners. Both Scherrey and Fitzgerald also received $650 as hourly winners.
Scherrey, as you could expect, is a Big Bass Bonanza devotee. He has fished it 15 years but has had no other winnings except the two big ones. Scherrey said, "I appreciate everyone involved. The Big Bass Bonanza is absolutely the best tournament for the average fisherman. It is very well run. I am a big proponent of the tournament. It pulls people in from outside the state."
Terry Stewart of Greenbrier had a 5.13-pound bass in the Pine Bluff pool that won him second place for that area.
Scherrey told a reporter that he intends to split the money evenly with Jim Langley, his fishing partner for the past three years. Scherrey said Langley helped him land the bass that hit a chartreuse Booyah buzz bait with a chartreuse "clacker" blade and a chartreuse and white skirt on about the fifth cast of the morning.
The two were fishing in Post Lake, a backwater of the river near Arkansas Post, the original capital of Arkansas Territory and today a national historical monument. This is on the north side of the river, not far from the tournament pool’s weigh-in site at Pendleton.
Post Lake drew a number of Bonanza contestants. It is one of four backwaters in the area that have near-legendary status with bass fisherman. These four are Coal Pile, Post Lake, Moore’s Bayou and Merrisach Lake. The areas are a dozen, to 20 miles north and east of Dumas.
A number of Faulkner County participants in the Big Bass Bonanza took home hourly prizes. These paid $650 for first place, $400 for second place and $300 for third place. In addition, if the hourly winners purchased and were wearing a Big Bass Bonanza T-shirt and cap, they each received an extra $100 in bonus money.
The Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza is open only to amateur anglers. Persons with significant winnings in professional bass tournaments are not eligible. The Bonanza is labeled as the nation’s largest amateur bass competition. Since it is a single fish tournament, any entrant can literally make one cast and win some money.
Some of the aspects and incidents of Big Bass Bonanzas are noteworthy.
The event started in the 1980s as the King Cotton Classic, and the first winning fish, weighing 8.95 pounds, remains the largest bass brought in. But put an asterisk there. A bass of similar size was checked in a few years back, but the angler was disqualified, failing to past a polygraph test.
The polygraphs, lie detectors in common language, are an integral part of the Bonanza. At all five weigh-in sites, a fisherman, usually the hourly winner, is polygraphed. The number of disqualifications over the 16 years can be counted on one hand.
(Outdoor writer Joe Mosby can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)