Those high schoolers fishing Lake Hamilton this weekend might just hook a prize-winning fish that’s been tagged for the Hot Springs Fishing Challenge, which has already provided big paydays for 21 different anglers through the Memorial Day weekend. The Challenge, with a $101,000 total purse (which includes $15,000 awarded for landing “Big Al”) continues until 5 p.m. July 31 on Hamilton and Lake Catherine.
The 21st fish caught was a channel catfish (there are five species that have been tagged by the AGFC for the Challenge, including largemouth bass, redear sunfish, bluegill and white bass), and it was caught Monday afternoon by Harold Burroughs, a retired builder from Hot Springs. It was worth $500. Burroughs was fishing off the bank at Winchester Point on Lake Hamilton when he caught his prize-winner. He was using shrimp as bait. The prize fish was the fourth caught on Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine during the holiday weekend, and 21 fish caught in just one month already topped the previous record of 16 fish caught in the entire three-month Challenge, a mark set in 2014. Seventy-one fish total were tagged for the 2019 contest. The four prize fish caught during this past weekend bring to $22,500 the total amount of prize money awarded so far this year.
Tyler Gregory (photo upper left), a local angler fishing Saturday off a pier on Chappel Hill Road, started the big weekend off by landing an orange-tagged, $1,000 redear sunfish using nightcrawlers with a sinker. That was followed by Yesica Silvan, 15, of Hot Springs, who caught the 19th prize fish, a bluegill, while fishing with worms off of Hamilton Gate Point on Lake Hamilton.
Visit Hot Springs sponsors the annual Fishing Challenge in cooperation with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
“One of the prize fish, known as ‘Big Al’ — which could be any of the five species of fish in the Challenge — is worth $15,000 to anyone who catches him,” Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, said. “The Challenge is a free family-oriented event to emphasize the great fishing we have in the lakes around Hot Springs.” The Challenge participation is open to anyone with a valid Arkansas fishing license. The good news for Challenge anglers and everyone else in Arkansas is that NEXT WEEKEND, June 7-9, has been declared FREE FISHING WEEKEND in Arkansas by Governor Asa Hutchinson, meaning no license is required to fish anywhere in Arkansas from noon Friday to midnight Sunday. This includes fishing for “Big Al” or one of those other remaining tagged fish in the Hot Springs Challenge. There are three fish remaining worth $5,000 each, 31 worth $1,000 each and 15 worth $500 each. And during the June 7-9 Free Fishing Weekend, any $500 fish caught is doubled in payout by the sponsors. Also new this year are merchandise prizes from the Challenge’s co-sponsors, Mister Crappie, FLW, Luck E Strike and the AGFC. If “Big Al” hasn’t been caught by June 1, Visit Hot Springs will begin offering clues (June 1, July 1 and July 26) as to its possible whereabouts, Arrison said. For more information, go to www.hotsprings.org.