For most fishermen any day is a good day head to the water.
Sunday was especially so.
It was the final day of the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza fishing tournament along the banks of the Arkansas River. Sunday’s cooler temperatures and slightly overcast morning skies made it the most active day at pool No. 1 at Clear Creek Park in Alma. Kibler’s Martin Arnold won the day — and the weekend at the Alma site — with his 10 a.m. catch of 4.97 pounds, weighed-in just as the sun was peeking out from the clouds.
"He won the pool two years ago, too, so he’s not a stranger to being that top spot," weighmaster Keith Millsap said.
Millsap was a busy man the whole weekend, serving as the lone weighmaster over three days and for more than 300 fish. It’s his job to make sure every fish caught is properly checked in, was properly caught and is properly weighed. In other words, he literally is the master.
"Fish has got to be 16 inches long in order be legal so I check that. Fish has to alive, so I check that," Millsap said. "All the activities that go on here or whatever, I head up everything. I’ve got the final say if there’s any controversy."
By his estimation it’s the seventh year he’s served as head man at the Alma pool. Two other times, when he wasn’t providing oversight, he was out on a boat in the river.
Sunday was as solid a day as can be expected in both the number and quality of fish submitted for weigh-in. Low-light conditions bring more fish closer to the water’s surface, allowing for more and bigger catches.
"Today, it being cooler, the fish are biting better and they’re a little better quality fish today. It’s been taking close four pounder to get first. Yesterday there was some smaller fish brought in yesterday. A lot of different techniques being used," he said.
Van Buren’s Danny Brown Jr. won the final hour and finished in the top three of the day with his 3.94-pound bass. He checked in just after the noon deadline and stuck around another hour until the 1 p.m. final call to see if he’d take home some prize money.
"Worth sticking around for," Brown said. "Beautiful day and I figured the fishing would be a little tougher than it was to start with today. Then we ended up getting on some fish about 11 I guess, started catching some fish."
His approach paid off once the sun came out. Different fishermen prefer conditions, Millsap said. And the muddy waters, rather than usual clearer waves, made for an interesting change of pace in this year’s version.
"River generally this time of year is clear it’s now stained and colored, it’s swapping the techniques around," Millsap said. "Some people would rather crank-bait or spinner-bait rather than throw a jig or a worm or something. And the different water colors, it’s shining more on those now. Changes your whole approach."
The tournament yields hourly winners, daily winners and overall winners from each section of the river in three spots: Alma, Dardanelle, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Dumas. Dardanelle and Dumas usually provide the biggest fish, Millsap said and Clear Creek generally falls in third spot. This year wasn’t much different as Francis Lee won the overall weekend with 6.40-pound fish caught on Saturday.
Millsap said he was told entries for the tournament as a whole increased this year over last. He didn’t have a precise number, but 1,700 fishermen entered in 2012. And regardless of finishing in the money or not, that’s a positive sign for fishing in Arkansas.
"It’s the largest amateur bass tournament in the United States," Millsap said. "It really brings attention to the resources we have here in Arkansas. And as far as the consumer side, you have that many people coming in - I believe there’s 21 or 27 states represented, so you’ve got people coming in from out of town, they’re going to buy gas, they’re going to buy lodging, they’re going to buy food, they’re going to buy tackle. Stuff that’s going to help the economy."
Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza
Pool 1 (Fort Smith) Results
John Goss 4.66 lbs.
Charles Frye 4.29
Brian Shoemake 2.70
Steven Strunk 4.89
Donalin Watson 3.85
Coby Morris 3.57
Martin Arnold 4.97
Donalin Watson 4.36
Rick Walker 3.11
Bobby Mitch 4.86
James Snell, JR 4.19
Kyle Lowdermilk 3.16
Michael Reeves 4.57
Ron Lowe 3.67
Al Fisher 3.44
Danny Brown Jr. 3.94
Marvin "Butch" Martin 3.42
James Starzy 3.21