NORTH LITTLE ROCK — For two more days, men and women all along the 300-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Fort Smith and Dumas will compete to land the biggest bass and the $50,000 prize that comes with it. For those falling just short, a $10,000 prize for winning their pool will have to suffice. In all, a total of $100,000 in guaranteed prize money plus hourly payouts at each pool will be awarded.

After the first day of action, Billy Holeman, Jr. of Camden leads all competitors with a 6.03 pound bass out of the Pine Bluff pool. Last year, Dumas police officer Ricky Cantrell caught the winning fish in the opening hours of the tournament. Whether Holeman can hold on to claim his own victory will depend on Saturday and Sunday’s weigh-ins, but a solid six-pound bass is a strong contender to win big bucks at the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza.

The tournament continues Saturday and Sunday, and anglers may register each morning at any of the five weigh-in sites for $90 per day. This year’s tournament includes a special youth division with impressive prizes like fishing rods, lures, and marine electronics. a $1,000 Willow Leaf Award will go to the parent and child team or grandparent and grandchild team that weighs in the largest bass. The child or grandchild must be under 21 to qualify.

Individual pool leaders after Day One are Ashley Whitman, 5.28lbs out of Fort Smith; William Keller, 5.73lbs out of Russellville; Bill McCutcheon, 5.37lbs out of North Little Rock; and Blake Anschultz, 5.95lbs out of Dumas. In youth competition, Scout Echols leads competition for grades 9-12 with 5.54lbs, followed by Jesse Mosley with 4.33lbs, and Mat Higby with 4.18lbs. Echols is also the leader for this year’s Willow Leaf Award. The 6-8th grade leaders are Bryson Ridenour with 2.3lbs and Peyton Sterling with 1.52lbs.

Day One of the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza brought temperatures in the high 90’s, but anglers are beating the heat to win big bucks.

Ross Spurlock has spent 29 years on Arkansas’ rivers and lakes. The Senior Corporal with Arkansas Game & Fish knows a thing or two about hot, summer days on state waterways, and just as he’s done for dozens of Big Bass Bonanza’s before, Spurlock spent Friday morning patrolling the Arkansas River while bass anglers fish for prize money.

Spurlock and his partner, wildlife officer Rick Fields, know that fishermen aren’t just battling each other for prizes—they’re also battling the sun.

“I just got stitches out from a melanoma,” Spurlock said. “It was on the front of my leg, where it hangs outside of the boat console.”

One eight-inch incision and 16 stitches later, Spurlock is right back on the water sharing some practical advice for fishermen vying for a $50,000 grand prize in the summer sun. 

“At about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., it starts to get really hot,” he said. “Our trick is to stay moving. It’s breezy this weekend, so it’s not going to be that bad. On the water, the temperature is a little difference because water doesn’t conduct heat like concrete or pavement. Plus, we equip our boats with covers so we can put a top up to stay in the shade.”

“Stay hydrated,” Fields added from the deck of an Arkansas Game & Fish bass boat. “That’s the key.”

The pair of Game & Fish officers know bass anglers aren’t likely to put their own cover-up— that would get in the way of fishing, but, they say today’s anglers are more savvy than ever about sun and heat protection.

“They’re wearing long sleeve shirts, performance clothes and gloves and hats with sun protection,” Spurlock said. “After that, it really comes down to being hydrated.”

This year’s pool locations are at Fort Smith, Russellville, Pine Bluff, North Little Rock, and Dumas. Anglers looking for lake maps can visit ArkansasBigBass.com for free Navionics charts of each pool that are viewable on mobile devices.

For more information on the tournament, registration sites and complete results, visit www.arkansasbigbass.com.