It is not an exaggeration to say one cast of a fishing rod can win someone a year’s income.

This is the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza, coming up June 24-26 on the Arkansas River — all of the Arkansas River in the state.

Top prize is a guaranteed $50,000. This was reduced last year from the previous $100,000 so significant prizes could be guaranteed for winners of the four other pools in the competition. The river is divided into five pools for the tournament.

One fish is all it takes to win a prize, and there are a lot of them, including three each hour. One cast, one fish — that is the appeal to many anglers who otherwise would not be competitors in bass fishing tournaments. Professional bass fishermen are not allowed to enter Big Bass Bonanza.

As has been the case in some earlier years, current high water conditions on the river are a concern to tournament officials and to the anglers. Without additional heavy rains, the river’s flow may be within safety margins by the time the tournament opens, but it is iffy at this date. High water, though, can restrict practice fishing as well as altering patterns of the bass.

Big Bass Bonanza is an undertaking of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, which took it over in 2000 from the King Cotton Classic, headquartered in Pine Bluff.

The tournament has run into some obstacles in recent years. Flooding on the Arkansas River caused postponements and lowered participation a couple of times, and the nation’s lagging economy kept away some participants who didn’t feel able to spend the entry fee money. But most fishermen liked the restructuring of the top prize money last year. The five pool winners will each get a guaranteed $10,000, with the overall winner receiving $40,000 more.

Hourly first, second and third place winners in each of the five pools will get $500, $300 and $200. There is an extra $100 for wearing Big Bass Bonanza caps and T-shirts at the weigh-in.

In 22 years, Big Bass Bonanza has not had a repeat winner. The biggest bass of the tournament came in its first year, an 8.95-pound lunker brought in by Steve Hardin of Dexter, Mo. Seven of the 22 champions have been fishermen from outside of Arkansas.

Again this year, anglers can choose to fish one, two or all three days of the tournament. Entry fee to fish is $80 per day, through June 9. After that, the fee will be $90 each day. Additional prizes awarded in various categories. For more information contact the Arkansas Hospitality Association at or 501-376-2323. Go to for online registration and other details. 

The five weigh-in sites are Clear Creek Park, Fort Smith; Dardanelle State Park, Russellville side; Alltel Ramp, North Little Rock; Regional Park, Pine Bluff; and Pendleton Bridge, east of Dumas.

Fishermen can choose to fish any of the five pools and can fish different pools during the three-day event. However, 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.

Past Big Bass Bonanza Champions:

• 1989 Steve Hardin, Dexter, Mo. (8.95 pounds)

• 1990 Larry Franks, Lufkin, Tex. (7.36 pounds)

• 1991 Alvin Johnson, Pine Bluff (7.71 pounds)

• 1992 William Jasper, Memphis, Tenn. (6.78 pounds)

• 1993 Don Botsford, Portland (7.91 pounds)

• 1994 Charlie Brotherton, Wappapallo, Mo. (7.12 pounds)

• 1995 Tony Nesterenko, Little Rock (7.07 pounds)

• 1996 Jerry Propst, Fernley, Nev. (6.87 pounds)

• 1997 Sidney Sullivant, Star City (8.12 pounds)

• 1998 Ronnie Rogers, Rison (8.29 pounds)

• 1999 Donnie Colvard, Murfreesboro, Tenn. (6.76 pounds)

• 2000 Steve Scherrey, Conway (6.76 pounds)

• 2001 Jim Quillman, Plano, Tex.  (5.89 pounds)

• 2002 Clay Guinn, Conway  (6.21 pounds)

• 2003 Earl Wilson, Plumerville (6.9 pounds)

• 2004 Brian Gorman, Hampton (6.68 pounds)

• 2005 Eric Andrews, London (6.59 pounds)

• 2006 Darby Stiles, Royal (8.51 pounds)

• 2007 Johnny Holder, Hot Springs (6.33 pounds)

• 2008 Duke Gunnell, Benton (8.14 pounds)

• 2009 John Higman, Evansville (7.30 pounds)

• 2010 Nicholas Warden, Beebe (6.62 pounds)

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 e-mail at