Third Big Al, more money hook anglers for Hot Springs Fishing Challenge

By Wayne Bryan Published February 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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James Joslin

A white bass like this one pulled from Lake Hamilton may be more than an angler’s table fare and possibly worth up to $10,000 during the third annual Hot Springs Fishing Challenge, May 1 through July 31. The challenge offers fishermen a chance to catch one of 60 specially tagged fish from Hamilton or nearby Lake Catherine. The $10,000 fish, known as Big Al III, could be a bluegill, a catfish, a white bass, a crappie, a walleye or a largemouth bass.

The search for Big Al III will begin in May.

So far, the tagged fish known as Big Al I and Big Al II and some members of their fishy gangs have successfully eluded fishermen in Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine these past two years. However, this year, Big Al III will show up with a bigger gang, meaning bigger rewards for those who reel them in.

The third annual Hot Springs Fishing

Challenge will begin May 1 and run through July 31, with 60 specially tagged fish in Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine. That’s seven more prize fish than in previous years, said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Spring, the Spa City’s convention and visitors organization.

“Once again, we are partnering with our friends at the Arkansas Game and Fish

Commission and the Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery to bring this fun-filled contest to the people of Arkansas and our visitors,” he said. “They select and tag the prize fish for us, and they supervise the release of the fish into the lakes.”

Arrison said that when Visit Hot Springs created the fishing challenge the first year,

it was just to have a promotion featuring the two lakes in the area as good places to fish, but the response to the challenge has been amazing.

“We get more people coming to fish in the lake every year,” he said. “We have had people write to us that the challenge gives them a reason to fish again. We have had comments from people from Little Rock to east Texas who are going to go fishing somewhere, so they say they might as well come to where there is a $10,000 fish swimming around.”

Even visitors who were already planning to visit Hot Springs in the summer said they bring their fishing poles on the chance that they can hook one of the money fish. Arrison said the fishing challenge has excited local residents and attracted fishing enthusiasts from around Arkansas and from other states.

Along with the one fish, known as Big Al, that is tagged with the $10,000 prize, there are four fish that could bring lucky anglers $5,000 each. That is two more than were put into the lakes last year. There are also 35 fish, five more than last year, each carrying a tag worth $1,000. There are also 20 fish worth $500 each.

“It is not just largemouth bass,” Arrison said. “There are bluegill, catfish, white bass, crappie and walleye.”

The fish are released in both lakes by a third party, so the exact release points remain secret.

“Everybody has a chance to bring in a money fish; that’s the beauty of it,” Arrison said. “It could be a kid fishing from off the dock or some avid sports fisherman with a big boat and lots of equipment. It could be anyone — age 9 to 90.”

The fish will be tagged by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and the tags will have a phone number and a prize number on them. If a fish is caught, the angler must call the number and present the fish with the tag attached.

The contest is open to anyone with a valid Arkansas fishing license. No cash prize will be awarded to any participant presenting a tagged fish that has been caught other than during the fishing period. Tags must be presented during the fishing period to be redeemed. All tagged fish must be caught in accordance with all state and local laws, codes, rules and regulations.

While neither Big Al I nor Big Al II was caught and may still be out there, Arrison said, there is no prize for someone bringing in them or any other tagged fish from previous years.

“They are not worth anything,” he said. “It says so right on the tag, although they should be really big fish by now.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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