Bonanza goes to angler in a flatbottom

CUTLINE: David Shopher of McGehee took the $50,000 top prize in the 2012 Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza with this 6.27-pound largemouth. (Ralph Hemleb Photo)

It brings a smile to most anyone who follows bass fishing tournaments. An angler in a 14-foot flatbottom boat wins the top prize.

Yes, David Shopher of McGehee captured the $50,000 first place in the 2012 Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza while fishing out of such a boat, a sharp contrast to the high-dollar bass boats nearly everyone else used.

Shopher certainly wasn’t the only contestant to use a small, shallow draft boat. And it’s far from accurate to say he "lucked" into the biggest bass of this year’s event. Shopher is experienced in bass fishing. He knows the area, a half hour drive from his home. And he has competed in the Big Bass Bonanza for 23 straight years now.

This year’s Bonanza was successful from most standpoints. Entries were up a little from last year despite the extreme heat, the drought and the continued sluggish economy. The latter has an effect on casual fishermen who may waver over spending the several hundred dollars to compete in the Bonanza.

Entries this year totaled 1,853, according to Montine McNulty, head of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, the tournament’s sponsor. The Bonanza hit a high mark of over 2,600 competitors several years back, then the number declined with the arrival of the national economic downturn in 2008.

Shopher is 51 and operates a taxidermy business at McGehee. He moved from Jonesboro to Lake Village in 1988 then relocated to McGehee a few years later. He began fishing Big Bass Bonanza in 1989.

Shopher did not have to compete with the big bass boats in long runs on the Arkansas River. He launched at Pendleton and went a few hundred yards up to Coal Pile, an Arkansas bass fishing icon. It is a backwater off the main river and got its name from a refueling station in steamboat days.

He said, "I fished the front end of Coal Pile. I caught this fish in a laydown (a fallen tree) in open water about 20 yards off the bank. It was in 4 1.2 to 5 feet of water."

He went on to explain, "I lost five bass earlier on a topwater lure in this spot. Then I went to a crank bait and hooked a 5-pounder, but it got away. I went off and came back in about 15 minutes and had a hit from the big fish about 8 feet from that log."

Shopher’s crank bait was a Rapala in Tennessee shad color – gray-black on top and near white on the bottom. He was using 15-pound-test Berkeley Trilene line and a Berkeley Lightning Rod.

The bass went 6.27 pounds at the weigh-in at Pendleton, which is on the river 10 miles northeast of Dumas. It was caught about 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, the last day of the three-day Bonanza.

Fish weights at the five weigh-in stations were down from most years, and anglers contributed this to the heat and the drought. Second behind Shopher’s fish was a 6.19-pounder checked in at Dardanelle by Jerry Overton of Hot Springs. These were the only two 6-pounders of this year’s event.

Shopher’s winner was the third smallest in the 23 years of Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza. Jim Quillman of Plano, Texas, won in 2001 with a 5.89-pound bass, and Clay Guinn of Conway won in 2002 with a 6.21-pound fish

Anglers from 20 states entered this year’s contest, McNulty said. Along with Shopher’s $50,000 first prize, the top fishermen in each of the other four weigh-in pools received $10,000 apiece. Other prize money went to second through 10th places in the pools and to hourly leaders. The latter paid $500, $250 and $125.

Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at