Feb. 15, 2023
HOT SPRINGS – Anglers at the January 14 Arkansas Bass Team Trail bass tournament on Lake Hamilton witnessed a special treat at weigh-in, a 10.64 pound largemouth brought to the scales by Curtis Priest of Jessieville.
Priest says the fish came on a Yum Flash Mob Jr. (a type of Alabama rig sporting five swimbaits to imitate a school of shad). He used a 7-foot, 11-inch heavy action rod made by Stik5 to launch the heavy lure and winch in the even heavier catch.
“I thought it was a striper at first, but when she came to the surface I was like, ‘I my gosh, it’s a bass,” Priest said. “She came from only 9 to 10 feet of water, so she really had some good color to her, too.”
Priest says the fish was so big, he actually had to fold her gill flaps down to get her through the hatch of his boat’s livewell.
“Once she was in there, she stayed in great shape the rest of the day,” Priest said. “She really didn’t have any scars or torn up fins like some bigger fish get. She was a very pristine bass.”
Priest says this is actually the second fish exceeding 10 pounds he’s caught in Arkansas. The first came while night fishing in Lake DeSoto in Hot Springs Village a few years back. He has photos and measurements from each of the fish (which were released alive) and plans to have replicas made of both one day.
Priest’s amazing catch may not qualify as a state record, but there’s no doubt that it will stand out in many tournament angler’s minds for a while. In addition to reeling in big fish of the tournament and some extra spending money, his fish was the third Master Angler-quality largemouth to be turned in to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Master Angler Program so far this year. In fact, it bested the qualifying weight for largemouth by more than two-and-a-half pounds.
The Master Angler Program was started in 1985 for anglers who catch trophy-sized fish of many different species that may not make local headlines, but certainly deserve some special recognition.
“We actually celebrated our 1,000th master angler fish last fall when Scarlet Belonie from Clinton turned in a 22-pound blue catfish, which was caught from Matthews Park Pond in Greenbrier,” Tara Bennet, administrative assistant in the AGFC’s Fishing Education Program, said. “It was likely one of many that were donated by a south Arkansas catfish farmer who wanted to help promote fishing with some of his retired broodstock.”
Bass and catfish anglers aren’t the only ones who may be recognized, either. There are eight categories of fish to try for, covering everything from palm-sized bluegill to paddlefish approaching the century mark.
Not only does the program reward individual fish catches that qualify, but a special recognition is reserved for anglers who manage to catch a master angler-worthy fish in four of the eight categories — black bass, sunfish, crappie, pikes and true perches, catfish, trout, true basses and rough fish.
Visit www.agfc.com/masterangler to learn more about the program and how to certify your big fish tale today.