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Hot Springs is accustomed to crowning world fishing champions.

For the fourth time in 11 years, the Spa City will host the Forrest Wood Cup, which will be held Friday through Sunday at Lake Ouachita.

The Forrest Wood Cup is the championship event for the various circuits that comprise the Fishing League Worldwide universe. The field contains 56 anglers, including the 2017 FLW Tour Angler of the Year (Bryan Thrift), the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup champion (Justin Atkins), the 2018 FLW Bass Fishing League All-American champion (Nick LeBrun), the 2018 FLW College Fishing National Champion (Hunter Freeman), the 2018 The Bass Federation National Champion (Austin Wilson), 10 qualifiers from the 2017 Costa FLW Series Championship, and the top-40 anglers in the 2018 FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings.

The angler with the heaviest three-day cumulative weight will win $350,000, the largest prize in professional bass fishing.

Some of the greatest moments of the Forrest Wood Cup have occurred at Lake Ouachita, the venue for all four of the events. The first was in 2007, when Scott Suggs of Bryant became the first of only two anglers ever to win $1 million in a bass tournament. Michael Bennett was the second million-dollar winner in 2008 at Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C.

In 2009, the Great Recession forced sponsors to curtail much of their support for tournament bass fishing, and prize money in championship tournaments remains below 2006 levels, when the Forrest Wood Cup paid $500,000 to the winner.

For the magnitude of the first $1 million prize and the fact that a native son was in contention, the 2007 weigh-ins at Summit Arena (now Bank OZK Arena) were intense. Suggs was so overwrought with emotion that he could barely speak. The crowds did their deafening best to cheer him to victory, and he needed them on the final day when he caught just two bass. Fortunately, one weighed about 5 pounds and gave him a comfortable margin over Darrell Robertson, who won the title in 1999 when it was called the FLW Championship.

Besides four Forrest Wood Cups, Hot Springs also hosted the FLW Championship in 2005 at Lake Hamilton. George Cochran of Hot Springs won that event and $500,000, adding to a plush resume that includes two Bassmaster Classic titles.

The final weigh-in for that tournament was one of the most electric crowd experiences I've ever witnessed. The energy practically crackled, and when Charlie Evans announced Cochran as the winner, the response was seismic. The only thing I've seen that came close was an Arkansas Razorbacks basketball game at the old Barnhill Arena.

Scott Martin, son of the legendary Roland Martin, won the 2011 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita, and Brad Knight of Lancing, Tenn., won the 2014 Cup at Lake Ouachita.

Knight won creatively. He and others found bass concentrated in a cove, but silt made it impossible to fish bottom contact baits such as jigs and Texas-rigged worms. Knight used a dropper rig that anchored the weight in the mud but allowed a soft plastic lure to suspend over the bottom in the strike zone.

In addition to the championships, Lake Ouachita also hosted an FLW Tour event in May 2010. Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., won the tournament and exposed an unknown facet of the big lake's bass fishery.

To that point, the primary tactics for fishing Lake Ouachita were to key on grass beds and deep brush piles. The western contingent targeted schools of bigger-than-average bass -- wolfpacks -- cruising the shorelines in shallow water. They obliterated the competition using swimbaits and ushered in the swimbait era in Arkansas.

Arkansas has only two representatives in the Forrest Wood Cup this year: Mark Rose of West Memphis and Brad Bohannan of Rogers. Rose, the 2018 Angler of the Year, is the season's most consistent performer. Bohannan, with his vast experience on the White River chain of lakes, is well versed in clear water tactics.

They'll have stiff competition against the likes of Andy Morgan, whose nickname is G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), and Bryan Thrift, who is the greatest of this time. Scott Martin is in the mix, too.

As in 2014, native son Justin Moore will perform a free concert before the final weigh-in. The whole show will be worth watching.

Sports on 08/05/2018

Print Headline: Hot Springs ready to crown 'Cup' champion

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