All across the country, fishermen are grabbing their favorite rod and heading to the Arkansas River for the annual Big Bass Bonanza that kicks off Friday and runs through Sunday.

It’s the state’s largest amateur fishing competition and is open to all ages.

“Anyone can win — all it takes is one big fish,” Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza director Jill Thiel said.

Participants will notice a few new prizes this year, including a chance to fish in the 2012 Bassmaster Open, thanks to BASS.

“We’re thrilled to announce that the overall largest fish winner has the option of participating in the next Bassmaster Open to be held in Oklahoma. It’s a great prize, as well as a big bonus for Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza participants,” Thiel said.

In addition the winner nets $50,000 for the largest fish caught in the tournament, with four $10,000 prizes awarded for the largest fish caught in each of the remaining pools. The winners will be announced at 4 p.m. Sunday.

According to Colton Dennis, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Black Bass Program Coordinator, the participants who are going after the big prize generally head to Dardanelle or Dumas. Still, he says, don’t discount the areas near the weigh-in sites at Fort Smith, Little Rock/North Little Rock and Pine Bluff.

Big Bass Bonanza Pool 4 Weigh Master Richard Metcalf has worked the competition for the last 13 years from a spot just off the Arkansas River at the Pine Bluff Harbor.

Pool 4 has had a $50,000 overall winner in the past, but the area is also famous as the place where Rick Clunn won the 1984 Bassmaster Classic with a record three-day total of 21 bass weighing in at 75 pounds, 9 ounces, Metcalf said.

Besides the fish, Metcalf said about the area, “It’s convenient and we’ve got good ramps and a beautiful park nearby.”

Like other spots on the Arkansas River, maneuvering can be tricky for those unfamiliar with the area, and he recommends wearing lifejackets, using the boat’s kill switches and staying between the channel markers.

Nonetheless, he said, “Anyone can fish. A 70-year-old has as a good a chance of winning as a 20-year-old — you’re only looking for that one big bite.”

Overall Pool 4 winner Eric Green of Rison won last year’s $10,000 purse with one such bite. His bass weighed in at 5.49 pounds; however, this wasn’t his first Big Bass Bonanza win.

Over the last five years, he won an hourly prize each year. The amount awarded depends on the number of tournament entries.

He put last year’s big win into the bank.

His advice for this year’s participants? “Just get out and fish.”

For more information on tournament rules or to register for the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza, go to: www.arkansasbigbass.com.