NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Conway resident Steve Scherrey hadn’t won any prize money in the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza since winning what was then the $100,000 grand prize in 2000. But that didn’t stop him from trying to become the tournament’s first two-time winner.
“Our strategy was just to go fishing, and the only place that had some lily pads was Post Lake,” the 59-year-old packaging salesman said. “We just go fishing like we go at Lake Conway or anywhere else.”
Scherrey topped the overall leaderboard with a 6.98-pound catch at the 8 a.m. hour Saturday in the Dumas/Pendleton pool of the Arkansas River and sweated through Sunday’s action to take home the $50,000 grand prize. It’s the fifth straight year that the overall-winning fish was caught in the Desha County water.
“I caught my fish in 2000 in Post Lake, and that’s where I caught my fish this year,” said Scherrey, who used a buzz bait.
During the winners’ celebration near the Arkansas River bridge in North Little Rock on Sunday, Scherrey said his fishing partner Jim Langley provided him with the hook. Scherrey said he will split the $50,000 with Langley.
Star City’s Jason Hamilton also had to sweat out Sunday before pocketing $10,000 for winning the Pine Bluff pool. His 5.63-pound winner was the first fish in four years of competing in the Bonanza that he weighed.
“Really by the fight he put up on the line, and then once I got him into the boat, I knew that could possibly be a decent-money fish,” the 32-year-old state penitentiary worker and Woodlawn High alumnus said. “I got to the weigh-in as fast as I could and made sure he stayed alive, and I came out the overall pool winner.
Hamilton did not fish Sunday and went to church instead.
“I really didn’t just hound on it,” he said. “I left it up to the good Lord today. I left it in his hands. If the good Lord insists on something happening, there ain’t going to be anybody who’ll defeat it.”
Hamilton said he’ll pay his tithes with the money, as well as buying his wife a new vehicle and upgrading his boat.
He and Scherrey weighed their winning fish at 8 a.m. Saturday morning. Competition began at 6 a.m. each day of the three-day tournament.
“That’s the best hour for fishing,” Scherrey said. “The fish are the most active for the first two hours of the morning. You got low light, you don’t have a lot of sunlight, and that’s when the fish feed.”
Scherrey credited his friend Vernon Dumond of Jefferson County for introducing him to the Coal Pile area of the Dumas/Pendleton pool, which has produced many winning fish in the Bonanza since the tournament’s 1989 inception. Scherrey has fished in the event every year.
“Pine Bluff is a good pool, but gosh, Dumas has so many big fish and backwater,” Scherrey said.
After his partner receives his $25,000 share, Scherrey will use some of his keep on a vacation to Orange Beach, Ala., and will make improvements to his 1991 BassCat boat. He gave his wife a car after winning the 2000 Bonanza.
The total purse for this year’s Bonanza reached $234,200, with hourly prize money increased to $650 for first place, $400 for second and $300 for third. There were 2,277 fishermen from 13 states who registered for the event, an increase of more than 200 from last year.
Three anglers won Academy Sports and Outdoors gift cards for turning in fish with the exact weight at the particular hour. Pine Bluff’s Kurt Copeland weighed in a 4.00-pound bass during the fourth hour Saturday in his home pool and Little Rock’s Eric Johnson did the same Sunday in the Dumas/Pendleton pool. Morrilton’s Steve Squires had a 3.00-pounder in the third hour Saturday in Dardanelle.