HOT SPRINGS — The Black Bass Program and the Family and Community Fishing Program from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will be helping behind the scenes this week as Fishing League Worldwide’s 2019 FLW Cup returns to the Hot Springs area.
The tournament will be staged Friday through Sunday, Aug. 9-11, on Lake Hamilton, with anglers departing each morning from the boat launch at the Andrew H. Hulsey State Fish Hatchery, returning there at the end of each day. Anglers will haul their boats via caravan from the hatchery to Bank OZK Arena in downtown Hot Springs for the 5 p.m. daily weigh-in. Fifty-two of the world’s best anglers will compete for the $300,000 top prize. The event features the Top 40 pros from the 2019 FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings. The field is cut to the top 10 from the first two rounds for Sunday’s final round and weigh-in.
The AGFC’s focus will be helping those anglers keep their catch alive during that time frame before being returned to Lake Hamilton. That role will be handled by Colton Dennis and Jeff Buckingham from the Hulsey Hatchery.
“We’ll be using the hatchery truck and returning the fish from the arena back to Lake Hamilton each day for redistribution to the lake,” Dennis said. “We’ll do that each day, Friday through Sunday. We’ll be loading up the fish after the weigh-in.”
Other than that, Dennis said, the FLW Tour is a self-contained operation that in the past has proven to be smooth-running. Anglers in the tournament have the added incentive to make sure the bass they catch each day make it to the weigh-in alive, or they are docked points that can cost them valuable standing, and money, when the final results are totaled.
“Other than the fish care, it’s all them as far as the tournament,” Dennis said of FLW. “We offered to do the fish care and release for them.”
The AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program will be supporting an annual event held in conjunction with the FLW Cup. The FLW Special Olympics Fishing Derby will be held Saturday from 8-11 a.m. at Hot Springs Family Park, off Airport Road. The event is organized by Arkansan and professional angler Cody Kelley.
“Cody came to me years ago wanting to do this, especially holding it in a location near the tournament or in one of our community ponds,” Clint Coleman, assistant FCFP coordinator, said. “The main gist is, the participants of Special Olympics have a chance to go fishing. A lot of times, it might be the only chance they have. So this is catered especially for them, but everyone in the community is welcome. They have many other sponsors, and we’ll have fishing and food.”
The family event is free, though anyone 16 or older that fishes will need an Arkansas fishing license. The Special Olympians will vie for prizes awarded at the park, but later in the day they will travel to Bank OZK Arena to receive more prizes and meet the pro anglers, before the pros weigh-in after their second-round of tourney fishing.
“I know these professionals are here and fishing for big money and all, but we’re having just as much fun at Family Park with the Special Olympic athletes and their families. They really enjoy this every year. They are so appreciative of it. About 200 Special Olympic athletes attend. And one of the neat things about it is, they will utilize the location for fishing after the event is over.” The pond will be stocked with catchable-size catfish Friday and already holds catfish, bream and bass, Coleman said.
Meanwhile, the Hulsey Hatchery, which is reached by Arkansas Highways 128/290 on the west side of lakes Catherine and Hamilton, is already bustling this week with FLW activity. Dennis said some areas are roped off for the sponsors’ motor and repair trailers that accompany the tour. The anglers’ return each afternoon after competition in flights to limit congestion on the way to the arena for weigh-in.
“They’ll have ice available at the ramp to cool the water down for their live wells, and there will be a chemical treatment to put in the live wells to help with the fish survival while they are getting ready to head to the weigh-ins,” Dennis said.
The five-bass-maximum per angler for the weigh-in will be contained in a sealed plastic bag with the water and special solutions to maintain the fish viability, and FLW will have a live boat onsite at the arena when the anglers arrive from the hatchery.
Helping fish survive a strenuous trip from one site to another and back by various means of transport is something the Black Bass Program is equipped to handle. Dennis says some of the techniques typically used by bass tournaments to maintain fish viability for weigh-ins and a return to the lake are Rejuvenade solution and a KeepAlive aerator for the live well. Dennis says hatchery personnel use the FDA-approved Aquahol solution.
“I use it for tournaments quite a bit. It helps the fish replenish their slime coat,” Dennis said. “Think of it as giving them a Gatorade while they’re out of the water. It’s pepping them up. These solutions are mostly salt. It’s important also to cool the water down, and we’ll use a hose to put more oxygen in the live well water. These fish are going to be caught in about 10 to 20 feet, where the water is cooler now, being August. So we try to mimic that same environment and provide them cooler water while they are out of the lake. Tournaments like the FLW Cup and the anglers competing are pretty good about it.”
While the FLW pros are taking on Hamilton, Lake Ouachita will be hosting a two-day (Friday-Saturday) tournament with more than 200 kayak anglers expected from around the nation, fishing for the Dee Zee FLW/KBF Kayak Cup and a total prize package of $18,000. “That’s really taken off, the kayak fishing,” Dennis said.
Also, many anglers will be using the landing next to North Little Rock’s Hastings Pavilion to fish the Arkansas River in the The Bass Federation Junior World Championship running Thursday through Saturday. Junior weigh-ins are at Hastings Pavilion and the Junior World Champion will be crowned at Bank OZK Arena on Saturday at 4:55 p.m.
The Black Bass Program has made sure the waters are in great shape in terms of bass numbers for all tournaments.
“We try to roll out the red carpet,” Dennis said. “You know, there are 50 states all wanting big bass tournaments and if we get one of these big tournaments every year or every other year, we think we’re doing pretty good.”
The events are being hosted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Visit Hot Springs. Bank OZK Arena is open each day at 10 a.m. for the FLW Expo. For a complete schedule of events, visit https://www.hotsprings.org/events/event/3540/.