“Pins and needles.”

That’s how 55-year old Billy Holeman, Jr. described his weekend after catching the winning fish of the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza on the very first day of competition. Just after noon on Friday, Holeman Jr. pitched a Texas-rigged worm towards the end of a dock on the Arkansas River. With a thump on the other end of his line, the FedEx Freight driver would win $50,000.

“I wasn’t really even paying attention,” the Camden native recalled. “It just hit, and I set the hook and caught it.”

Holeman’s catch tipped the scales at the tournament’s Pine Bluff weigh-in station at 6.03lbs — significantly less than the 6.76lb fish netted by last year’s winner, Dumas police officer Ricky Cantrell.

“I wasn’t that excited about it at the weigh-in,” said Holeman. “I figured I would get beat, because usually, fish out of Dumas or Dardanelle seem to win it.”

For three days, weighmasters, anglers and onlookers watched bass after bass come to the scales at each of the tournament’s five pools with a fighting chance to take Holeman’s lead. A 6.00lb fish came out of Dumas, 6.01lb fish came from Lake Dardanelle, a 5.39lb fish came from North Little Rock, but none could top the narrow lead held by Holeman’s bass. “Someone texted me and told me I dodged a bullet,” Holeman added.

They were absolutely right.

Now, Holeman will share the $50,000 Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza grand prize with his lifelong fishing partner.

“I’m really excited, and I’m going to split the winnings with my partner,” he added.

That man, 81-year old Billy Holeman, Sr., was beside his son for the duration of this year’s Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza. Together, the pair have been fishing the tournament for more than a decade.

Their final plan for their winnings?

“Ten percent to the church, and pay off some bills,” Holeman Jr. said.

The Holemans, however, were not the only anglers to win big money this weekend. Four other pool winners took home checks for $10,000 each. They are, Ashley Whitman with a 5.28lb fish out of Fort Smith; Chris Tucker with a 6.01lb fish out of Russellville; John Faucett with a 5.39lb fish out of North Little Rock; and Steven Nicks with a 6.00lb fish out of Dumas.

The $1,000 Willow Leaf Award, presented to the parent-child or parent-grandchild duo with the largest catch was won by Scout Echols, with a 5.54lb-fish. Echols also won the high school division, notching out Jason Faucett, 4.38lbs, and Jesse Mosely, 4.33lbs for the win.

Middle school anglers Bryson Ridenour, 2.3lbs, Marcellous Powe, Jr., 2.00lbs, and Peyton Sterling, 1.52lbs also took home prizes from Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza partners.

In total, more than $100,000 was awarded to anglers hailing from all corners of the Natural State, with hourly payouts of $400 for first place, $200 for second place, and $150 for third place going to dozens of fishermen at each pool.

Event organizers at the Arkansas Hospitality Association say the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza will return again next year. Follow their Facebook page to stay up-to-date on registration for next year’s derby.

Major sponsors of the tournament are Simmons Bank, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and Hardee’s Saddle Peak. Other sponsors include Aqua-Vu,

Raymarine, St. Croix Rod, BUFF®, Z-Man Fishing, LIVETARGET Lures, Flambeau Outdoors, Seaguar, Heart of Arkansas, North Little Rock Visitors Bureau, Pine Bluff Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Russellville Advertising & Promotions.