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The total prize money for the Hot Springs Fishing Challenge, which is held annually on lakes Hamilton and Catherine, will top $100,000 for the first time this year, Visit Hot Springs said Wednesday.

The seventh annual challenge will begin at 6 a.m. May 1 and end at 5 p.m. July 31. Anglers will have the chance to catch one of 71 tagged fish to win a cash prize, which will range from $500 to $15,000 for "Big Al," the top catch in the annual contest.

The total possible prize money is $101,000, a record amount for the contest, Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison said Wednesday. Last year, the total prize money was $86,000.

Each fish will be tagged with a blue tag and assigned a number. Four tagged fish will be worth $5,000 each, 46 will be worth $1,000 each and 20 will have $500 tags.

In addition, the value of any of the $500 fish caught during the annual Free Fishing Weekend June 8-10 will be doubled to $1,000 each.

Jeff Newman, manager of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Andrew H. Hulsey State Fish Hatchery on Lake Hamilton, which partners annually on the challenge with Visit Hot Springs, said Free Fishing Weekend is an annual tradition sponsored by the commission and approved by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

"Free Fishing Weekend furnishes many citizens and visitors an opportunity to enjoy the amazing angling the Natural State has to offer," Newman said in a news release from Visit Hot Springs. "Residents and nonresidents may fish this weekend from Friday at noon until midnight Sunday without fishing licenses or trout permits. Regulations for Arkansas waters apply; daily limits, slot limits, and length limits must be observed."

Arrison said in the release that the increase in prize money is to celebrate "Big Al's" capture during the 2017 challenge. Pete Clark, of Bismarck, is the only angler to reel in "Big Al" since the challenge began in 2012.

"It's going to be a great challenge for 2018," he said.

Clues will be given out during June and July about "Big Al" if he has not been caught by then.

"On June 1 we will reveal the first clue about 'Big Al' if he remains at large," Arrison said in the release. "Then we'll reveal a second clue on July 1, and a third on July 26, if the top prize hasn't been claimed.

"We are continuing our great partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which has worked so well for us for the last six years. The (commission) staff at the Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery on Lake Hamilton has been spectacular in selecting, tagging and releasing the prize fish."

Arrison said Hot Springs residents and visitors from across the country have told the organizers of the challenge that "this is their favorite time of year."

"Many people have told us they had an exciting time on the lakes trying to land one of the prize fish, even if they haven't yet hit the cash jackpot," he said.

The challenge is open to anyone with a valid Arkansas fishing license. Employees of the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at the Andrew H. Hulsey Fish Hatchery, their immediate family members, or people in the same household are ineligible, according to the rules of the contest.

Cash prizes will only be awarded to participants presenting a tagged fish that has been caught during the fishing period, and all tags must be presented during the period of the challenge. All tagged fish must be caught in accordance with all state and local laws, codes, rules and regulations available through the AGFC in order to collect the cash prizes, according to the rules.

Anglers who catch a prize fish give Visit Hot Springs the right to use their name, likeness, biographical information, and photographs, without compensation, in any and all media without limitation for advertising and promotional purposes, the release said.

Local on 04/05/2018

Print Headline: Fishing Challenge to top $100K this year

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