About two years ago, Montine McNulty traveled to Dumas to pick up registration fees a week before the Big Bass Bonanza tournament was scheduled to begin.
“I drove out to the site and I counted about 14 out-of-state cars in town for the tournament,” McNulty said. “They were pre-fishing, getting ready for the tournament.”
McNulty, the Arkansas Hospitality Associate Executive Director, said there have been people from as many as 24 different states that have participated in the tournament.
“It is not just Arkansas,” McNulty said of the participants. “A lot of other people from other states.”
The tournament, which takes place from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, guarantees $100,000 in prize money including a $50,000 first-place prize to the overall winner.
“It is one of the most popular sports in Arkansas,” McNulty said. “It is like the Super Bowl of fishing.”
Last year’s overall winner, Jonathon Swink, said he is excited about this weekend.
“I have been waiting all year for it,” Swink said. “I have been ready for it basically since last year’s ended.
“Hopefully the water level will stay down.”
Swink, who is from DeValls Bluff, said he plans on dropping in at Dumas again. This weekend will be Swink’s third time competing in the tournament.
“The first year I dropped in at Pine Bluff,” Swink said. “And I caught a lot of fish at Pine Bluff and I fish quite a bit out there, but I have never really found any big fish there.”
Swink, 29, said the Dumas area “always produces big fish.”
Swink, whose winning fish last year weighed 6.63 lbs., did say he is more focused when it is just him on the boat.
“I might take my dad one day or something, but other than that I will be by myself,” Swink said. “Generally, I don’t like to talk a whole lot in the boat but some people do.
“That completely throws me off.”
Swink said he is “500 percent better” when he is by himself.
“I have more ability to stay focused,” Swink said.
Originally, there were only two weigh-in stations: one in Pine Bluff and the other in Dumas. Now the tournament has expanded to include Fort Smith’s Clear Creek Park, Dardanelle State Park (Russellville side) and North Little Rock’s Mariana and Boat Dock in addition to its first weigh-in locations at Regional Park and under the Pendelton Bridge.
The tournament also has an hourly competition at each weigh-in station, but McNulty said she won’t know how much those will be worth until the registration is complete.
“After Sunday, then we will know the hourly payout,” McNulty said. “The hourly is dependent on the registration.”
Last year, it was between $900-$1,000 dollars with payments of $500 for first, $300 for second and $200 for third.
There is also a Willow Leaf award, which hands out $1,000 cash to parent and child or grandparent and grandchild teams with the largest bass. The child must be under 22 years old.
“A lot of people in Southeast Arkansas have fished in this tournament every year since it first started,” McNulty said.
McNulty estimates the average contestant spends $700-$1,000 during the weekend on food, gas, hotel rooms, boat maintenance, bait and other expenditures.
“They certainly spend money here,” McNulty said. “… A lot of them go out there and practice and devise a strategy.”
More than 2,000 fishers sign up every year, she said, earning the state $250,000 solely in registration fees annually.
The registration fee is $80 per day and a $10 late fee is currently enforced.
“Actually we are already a little up from last year,” McNulty said. “So that’s good. A lot of people wait and register on the site.”
— Ryan Smith contributed to this article