Threatened by the aftermath of Tropical Storm Cindy, the 2017 Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza may have been in question by some. However, the storm actually produced comfortable river conditions for the anglers, and fortunately the weather hardly effected the tournament.
On Friday, Pine Bluff’s weigh-master Richard Metcalf explained the positive effects of the tropical storm.
“The conditions are different because it’s right behind a rain storm, and it’s cool outside,” Metcalf said. “It’s comfortable for the fishermen, but it tends to scatter the fish out. The catch is going pretty good.”
The Big Bass Bonanza features five total pools, and Pine Bluff represents pool four. The other pools are located in Fort Smith, Lake Dardanelle, North Little Rock, and Dumas.
The overall winner of all five pools will take home the grand prize of $50,000, and winners for each of the other four pools will take home $10,000.
After day one, the front-runner from all five pools combined was Ricky Cantrell of Dumas, Arkansas. Cantrell landed a 6.76 pound bass in the early hours on Friday.
In addition to the big money prizes, anglers have chances to win hourly contest. At the top of each hour, fish are weighed, and which ever angler has the biggest fish qualifies for an hourly pay out. The hourly amount depends on the number of anglers who participated, and that won’t be determined until this evening.
Friday at noon, Carlisle’s Dustin Hart weighed in a 4.78 pounder to win the hour in pool four. When catching up with Hart, he detailed his morning on the opening day of the Bonanza.
“Things went well for me this morning,” Hart said. “The fish were biting good, I caught a big one early, and I had to drive down here to weigh him in. The water seems to be getting better each day. I’ve been fishing mostly around rock walls and grass beds. I caught this one on a 6-pound test line, and it took me about five minutes to reel him all the way in.”
Although Hart had a nice catch, the pool four leader after day one was Brandon Ward, a Watson Chapel High School rising senior from Pine Bluff. At 8am Friday morning, Brandon Ward weighed in a 5.53 pounder, recording the best catch of Friday in pool four. Brandon is fishing with his father Brent Ward. While catching up with the Watson Chapel senior on day two, he gave insight on his experience.
“I was so excited,” Brandon Ward said. “I caught that fish first thing in the morning, and I led all yesterday and through 8am this morning. It’s a great feeling, and we’re catching a lot of fish. Yesterday they dropped the water on us and it kind of went downhill from there, but today we’ve had a good day as far as catching fish.”
Brandon Ward leads the entire 9th-12th grade youth division heading into the final day of the Bonanza.
During Saturday’s 8am weigh-in, Ward’s pool four lead was diminished by White Hall’s Steven Henderson as he weighed in a 6.05 pounder. Henderson was the only angler of the Pine Bluff pool to weigh-in a six pound bass through the first two days of the Bonanza.
Another White Hall angler, Hunter Hale came close to Henderson during Saturday’s noon weigh-in. Hale reeled in a 5.77 pounder to put him in second place atop the leader board for the Pine Bluff pool.
“Friday was tough, and this morning was tough,” Hale said. “I got into one of my spots were I usually catch a good fish, I pulled up, and in five minutes I had a good one. I guess fishing everyday pays off, and hopefully it’ll pay off for me today. I have never gotten to do anything like this, and it’s a wonderful experience. Hopefully I can hold out.”
Anglers had there last chance of the day to weigh-in at 1pm. Ten anglers weighed a fish in the final hour of the day, and Pine Bluff’s Larry Gragg won the hour with a 5.36 pounder. However, that wasn’t enough to top Steven Henderson, as he remains the leader of the Pine Bluff pool heading into the final day of the Bonanza.
“It feels good right now, but a lot can happen tomorrow,” Henderson said. “It’s exciting and I hope it’ll hold out. I just have to keep beating around and try to catch one a little bigger. I been fishing this thing since 1989, and I’ve won a little money here and there, but I’ve never lead the pool like this. It’s good for Arkansas, it’s good for Pine Bluff, and I’m glad to be apart of it.”
After Saturday, the top three anglers from the Pine Bluff pool were Steven Henderson in first (6.05lbs), Hunter Hale in second (5.77lbs), and Brandon Ward in third (5.53lbs).
Dumas’ Ricky Cantrell of pool five still holds the overall lead with his 6.76 pound bass that he reeled in on Friday. Justin Buchanan of pool three weighed in a 6.62 pounder on Friday that currently lands him in second place overall. Scott Hodges of pool five is holding on to third place overall with his 6.16 pounder that he weighed in on Friday as well.
Registration is still open this morning at any of the pool’s weigh-in stations starting at 5am. The final weigh-ins for each pool will be held from 12-1pm today. The grand prize, other cash awards, and awards for the youth divisions will be presented during today’s award event. The award event is at 4pm near the North Little Rock/Verizon Arena boat ramp.