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Big Bass For Big Bucks

Big payouts for fortunate few

By: Mike Suchan

Even for experienced amateur bass anglers, putting down part of their hard-earned paychecks for a chance to win 50 times that amount still comes down to luck.

Big fish tournaments are a staple in many states, where organizers rake in entry fees and pay out big chunks to the fortunate few -- the ones who bring in the biggest fish.

“A five-fish tournament, you’ve got to have a lot of skill,” said Eric Green of Pine Bluff, Ark. “Big bass -- it’s luck.”

Fishing over brushpiles he and his father sunk, Green found some luck in a 5.49 largemouth. He took away $10,000 in the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza, a statewide tournament paying out a guaranteed $100,000. Green won his pool on the Arkansas River, while his dad suffered the fate of most.

In the running for an hourly cash prize, Phil Green was knocked him out in the final seconds by a scant .03 pounds. But he’s been there, had that happen to him before, and took it in stride.

“It’s one lucky cast, that’s all it is,” Phil Green said. “We’ve done pretty good. If it would have been a five-fish tournament, we would have ended up with a good stringer.”

It’s all good, many said, especially since they weren’t at work and were out on the water fishing. It’s not always about the means in the end, but the competitive nature rears itself.

The winner of the event, which had 1,681 entrants over three days fishing 300 miles of the Arkansas River, summed up the situation well.

“Ounces is money,” said Patrick Chapman of Parkdale, who took the grand prize of $50,000 for a 6.81-pound largemouth caught on the final day. Not bad for his entry fee of $90. He’d won hourly prizes, “$1,000 here, $500 there,” but the big payoff was what kept the lumber industry worker coming back.

“It’s not to where me quitting working or nothing,” said the longtime competitor in the tournament. “It’ll help pay off our bills. Give us some breathing room. We’re probably not going to have no money a week after this, but when we go out to the mailbox, there won’t be nothing but the water bill.”

These men were the norm for amateurs anglers; Blue-collar workers who fish in local bass clubs and regional circuits. The money lure attracted some from as far as California and New Hampshire. Registrants also came from Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas.

For Daniel Shults, 17, it was his first time to fish the tournament. He led for two days before Chapman eclipsed him. Going with his dad, he did win his hour and $1,000 for largest fish from a father and son team.

Run by the Arkansas Hospitality Association, the event has a variety of sponsors, including many of the host cities’ tourist bureaus. Academy Sports and Outdoors offered gift cards and tackle companies provided gear as door prizes. Radio stations even broadcast results during fishing hours, allowing anglers listening in their boat to assess and plan when to bring in their fish.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has played big role in such tournaments. Colton Dennis, the Black bass program supervisor, watched over the weigh-in at Pine Bluff Regional Park. He brought one of the rolling AGFC release tanks as well as some of the 100,000 fingerling bass he handed competitors by the bagful to release when they went back out.

“The anglers are actually helping us stock fish,” Dennis said. “This helps recover the fish. They’re bagged up and provided to the anglers, who get the fish spread out and increase the survival rate. They get them in good habitat.”

Click HERE to view the Big Bass Bonanza photo gallery!

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