This weekend is one that local anglers look forward to all year as the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza will be in full swing along the Arkansas River.
The tournament, which runs from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day Friday through Sunday, is held in five pools along the river, including one in Pine Bluff and one near Dumas.
Weigh-in sites for each pool are located in the following places: Regional Park at Pine Bluff, Pendleton Bridge near Dumas, Clear Creek Park at Fort Smith, Dardanelle State Park and Verizon Ramp at North Little Rock.
According to the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza website, 21 states were represented last year. Pine Bluff resident Montine McNulty, who is the executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said as many as 23 states have been represented in past tournaments.
The tournament has a total of $100,000 in guaranteed prize money divided between an overall champion ($50,000), each of four pool winners not deemed overall champion ($10,000 each) and $10,000 total going to the first three runners-up in each pool.
Last year’s $50,000 grand prize winner was David Shopher, of McGehee, who reeled in a 6.27-pound largemouth bass in the Dumas/Pendleton pool on the final day of the tournament.
Hourly weigh-ins will occur at the top of each hour from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day.
Prize money will be awarded for the top three fish, limit one per angler, caught each hour at each pool.
“The amount of hourly prize money will be dependent on the number of fishermen who enter,” McNulty said.
Last year, the total prize money given out was $188,850 with hourly payouts being $500 for first place, $250 for second place and $125 for third place.
Other prizes anglers could win include the Willow Leaf Award, a $1,000 prize given out to the parent-child or grandparent-grandchild with the largest bass, and Academy Sports and Outdoors gift cards.
The gift cards are won in the following way: A $300 gift card is given for any exactly 3-pound fish caught during the third payout hour from 9:01-10 a.m., a $400 gift card for any exactly 4-pound fish caught during the fourth payout hour from 10:01-11 a.m., and a $500 gift card for any exactly 5-pound fish caught during the fifth payout hour from 11:01-noon.
That might seem like an impossible thing, but last year Jarrod Thompson, of Vilonia, caught an exactly 3-pound fish at the Dumas/Pendleton pool to take home a $300 gift certificate.
“We expect a big group,” McNulty said. “River conditions haven’t been this good in a long time.
“We’ve already had several fishermen out here pre-fishing the river.”
One of those fishermen is White Hall resident Jess Everette.
“I’ve been pre-fishing and scouting some locations,” Everette said. “I haven’t been fishing any more than I normally would, but when I’m out there (the tournament) is in the back of mind.”
In last year’s tournament, Everette brought in the biggest fish he’s ever weighed-in with in the nine or 10 years he guesses he has entered.
Everette’s 5.38-pound catch during the tournament’s second day earned him the $10,000 top prize for the Pine Bluff pool.
“I expect the big fish to be caught early in the morning,” Everette said. “I think it will take on the heavy side of six (pounds) to win the $50,000.”
To pre-register in Southeast Arkansas, go to Spencer’s Marine, 6813 Princeton Road, Pine Bluff, or Z’s Gear Sports, Highway 165 South, Dumas.
According to the tournament’s website, some registration sites will be closed starting today, so interested registrants are encouraged to call ahead.
Registration is also available every morning of the tournament at each pool’s weigh-in site.