Mike Rhinehart remembers fishing the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza before the event even had a name. Then, in the late 1980’s, he’d hop in the boat with his father, Wayne, and venture out onto the Arkansas River searching for bass large enough to cash a check with.
Over two decades later, Rhinehart stands atop the winner’s podium at the annual event, holding a $50,000 check for a single fish, a fish caught in memory of his dad. “Every bit of this is for him,” Rhinehart said. “My dad started me out when I was little. Fishing is the last thing I did with him before he passed away in a car crash 21 years ago this month.
The winning fish was caught at 12:13 p.m. on Day Two of competition. Rhinehart says he was fishing a jig at Lake Dardanelle when he felt a monster bass annihilate his lure. “I knew immediately that it was a five pounder or better. When I unhooked her and put her in the live well, I just sat there for a minute. I got my scales out, weighed the fish at 5.97 pounds. I knew my scales were a little light, and I knew I had a shot at being right in contention, so that’s when it started to kind of sink in.”
Rhinehart’s scales were indeed light, as the winning fish dialed in at 6.22 pounds at the official Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza weigh-in at Lake Dardanelle. But a mid-day lead on Day Two wasn’t enough to satisfy a nervous Rhinehart. With big fish being caught all over the state this week, the experienced angler and PCS Ferguson service technician from Delaware, Arkansas went back to work, fishing the remainder of the event on Day Three. And although 20 fish weighing over five pounds were caught this weekend, none were able to top Rhinehart’s.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve been fishing this thing for a long time. For over 20 years I’ve been trying to win this. For it to happen is kind of surreal.
Rhinehart took home the $50,000 grand prize for biggest fish, but four other winners took home $10,000 each for topping their pool. They are:
Pool 5/Dumas- Glenn Neal - 6.15lbs
Pool 1/Fort Smith- Grady Gann - 5.35lbs
Pool 4/Pine Bluff- Kelly Glover - 5.28lbs
Pool 3/Little Rock- Jordan Johnson - 5.19lbs
Willow Leaf Award
Ashley Whitman took home the $1,000 Willow Leaf Award with a 5.41lb bass out of Lake Dardanelle. The Willow Leaf Award is presented to the parent/child or grandparent/grandchild pair weighing the biggest fish during the three days.
The top three finishers in the grades 9-12 division were:
Carson Arrington - 4.04lbs
Grant Dutton - 4.03lbs
Jesse Mosely - 3.81lbs
The 6-8 grade division top finisher were:
Chevy Morgan - 3.29lbs
Jackson Nolan - 2.26lbs
Chad Gill - 2.24lbs
Major sponsors of the tournament were Simmons Bank, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and Hardee’s Saddle Peak and Rock City Yacht Club. Other sponsors include Aqua-Vu, Raymarine, St. Croix Rod, Gill, Fish Monkey, Z-Man Fishing, LIVETARGET Lures, Flambeau Outdoors, FishBomb, Sunsect, Heart of Arkansas, North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pine Bluff Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Russellville Advertising & Promotions.
For more information on the tournament, registration sites and complete results, visit www.arkansasbigbass.com.