Calvin Johnson had been on the water for less than five minutes when he felt his line go tight. Instantly, he knew the weight of a monster bass was wrestling with the lure on the other end of his line. In a few furious seconds, Johnson landed a bass weighing over seven pounds—the winning fish in 1991’s Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza.

“The thing I remember most is that I caught the fish early,” Johnson said.

Almost three decades later, he can still recall the event instantly. “The tournament started at 6 a.m., and by 6:05 a.m., I had the fish in the boat. At the time, there were no weigh-ins at Dumas, so we had to drive the fish to Pine Bluff to be weighed in.”

Johnson spent the duration of the 40-mile journey checking on the health of his fish every few minutes. “We wanted to make sure he or she — whatever it was — was still breathing,” he adds.

By the time Johnson weighed his catch, another angler with a seven-plus pound largemouth had beat him to the scales; but Johnson’s would tip the scales just a little more, netting him the then-$100,000 grand prize for the 1991 Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza.

“It was an experience I will always remember,” Johnson said. “I’m telling you, if you’re into fishing, this is a tournament you don’t want to miss because it’s a big tournament. There is a lot of fellowship. You meet new people, and to me that’s what fishing is all about.”

When the 2019 Simmons Bank Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza kicks off this weekend, Johnson will likely be in the field. And even though it’s been almost three decades since he felt his winning fish hit, history says the veteran angler is just as likely as anyone to take home this year’s top prize, a cool $50,000 for a single fish.

This year, tournament participants will not only be fishing for a giant $50,000 check, but well over $100,000 in prizes, including hourly payouts for the biggest fish at each pool each hour,
$10,000 payouts for the largest fish at each pool throughout the event, and a fully-equipped Tracker boat from Bradford Marine valued at more than $15,000.

“The tournament rules really benefit anglers,” Johnson said. “You can launch anywhere there is a concrete boat ramp on the Arkansas River, and there are five weigh-in sites now.”

The 2019 Simmons Bank Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza begins on Friday, October 11 and runs through Sunday. Weigh-in sites are located at Alma, Russellville, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and Dumas. Entry fees are $90 per angler. Registration is open at ArkansasBigBass.com until 3 p.m. on October 8. Fishermen may register each morning of the tournament at the weigh in site.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news and notes from the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza via the tournament’s Facebook page. This year’s pool locations are at Fort Smith, Russellville, Pine Bluff, Little Rock, and Dumas. Anglers looking for lake maps can visit ArkansasBigBass.com for free Navionics charts of each pool that are viewable on mobile devices.

For more information on the tournament and for registration visit arkansasbigbass.com.

Major sponsors of the tournament are 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 Visitors Bureau, Pine Bluff Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Russellville Advertising & Promotions.