Established to bring attention to the world-class fishing amenities in Hot Springs, the Hot Springs Fishing Challenge continues to garner attention with Big Al.
By Rebekah Hall | Photography by Caleb Shane | Shot on location at Lake Hamilton
There’s a $15,000 fish swimming in Lake Catherine or Lake Hamilton.
His name is Big Al, and if you reel him in during the 7th Annual Hot Springs Fishing Challenge, you’ll only be the second BIG winner to catch him in the competition’s history. From May through the end of July, the challenge offers fishing enthusiasts and novices an opportunity to win one of the 71 blue-tagged fish that have been released in Lake Catherine and Lake Hamilton. There are twenty $500 fish, forty-six $1,000 fish and four $5,000 fish swimming between the two lakes, as well as Big Al.
Established to bring attention to the world-class fishing amenities in Hot Springs, the Fishing Challenge continues to garner attention throughout the country. “The reason for the challenge is to highlight and spread the word nationally about the great fishing on Lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita,” explains Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison. “We have had great partners that have helped us in the seven years since we first started the Fishing Challenge – Arkansas Game and Fish and Tom Duke – and we could not have done it without them.” Tom, fishing enthusiast and radio personality of KQUS 97.5, adds, “Once we came up with the idea, people loved it. They still do.”
Throughout the first few years of the challenge, Tom and Steve released the fish – motoring Tom’s boat all over Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine. “That got to be kind of a rough job to do, especially all in one day,” Tom says. “We never set a particular date because if we did, people would be following us all over the lake.”
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission catches, tags and loads the fish into tanker trucks to take them to the lakes, where Tom and Steve receive them. Now they have a couple guys help release the fish into Lake Catherine, while Tom and Steve cover Lake Hamilton.
In celebration of Big Al’s catch in the 2017 Challenge, the total amount of prize money has increased from $86,000 last year to $101,000 for the 2018 Challenge. “The catch of Big Al in 2017 produced widespread coverage regionally and gave us a showcase for the great fishing in Hot Springs,” Steve notes.
Last year’s BIG winner Pete Clark made headlines as the first fisherman to catch Big Al. Pete spent his childhood on Lake Catherine and started fishing when he was 5 years old. He participated in his first bass tournament at age 13. Pete and his brother were competing in a bass tournament on Lake Hamilton, sponsored by Brooks Marine of Bauxite, and had already caught several fish when Pete reeled in the lucky largemouth black bass. They won $200 for the bass tournament as well.
As for how his life changed after catching the $15,000 fish? “I paid off a couple bills,” Pete says. “I was fishing a tournament with my brother when I caught the fish, so I just split the money with him.”
While the prize money is certainly an incentive to participate in the Hot Springs Fishing Challenge, it’s ultimately an opportunity for people from all over the country to experience the Spa City’s natural beauty and bounty. And if you’ve got your heart set on catching Big Al this year, Pete has some advice for you. “Go fishing,” he insists. “You can’t catch him if you ain’t fishing.”