Helena-West Helena is positioning itself to be the trophy catfish capital of the world.
On Aug. 21-22, Bill Dance Outdoors, Mississippi River Monsters and Catmasters will hold a catfish tournament in Helena-West Helena. Mayor Kevin Smith said that Bill Dance will compete in the tournament, and the format will follow covid-19 guidelines.
"We have a health department plan to be covid-correct, and we are determined to follow it," Smith said.
As veteran catfish anglers know, the stretch of the Mississippi River roughly from the mouth of the St. Francis River southward is renowned for producing exceptionally large blue catfish, and also big flatheads.
"Bill Dance told me a year ago that the stretch of the Mississippi upriver and downriver from the Helena port makes for the best freshwater fishery in the country for big fish," Smith wrote in an email. "He [Dance] is famous for bass fishing, but he has come here for many years to fish big cats for fun."
Over the past decade, Helena-West Helena quietly has established itself as a hub for recreation on the Mississippi River. John Ruskey started it when he established Quapaw Canoe Co., which offers guided overnight canoe and kayak trips on the Mississippi River.
Of course, fishing always has been the marquee attraction on the Mississippi River, and this section of the river contains outstanding habitat for big catfish. It's a natural fishery that does not rely on stocking, and Smith said that it positions Helena-West Helena among the state's great outdoors destinations.
"We want to become for Big River fish what trout fishing is to Cotter and Duck hunting is to Stuttgart," Smith wrote. "It is turning into a big business, with the average tournament fisherman spending $2,500 or so locally. Eventually, I hope we can build better infrastructure at the boat ramp, with a marina and better boat parking, as well as bait shops and guide services.
"We have a lot of potential. We think Helena can become known as a destination for Big Fish."
Smith said about 50 boats have registered for the tournament, each with three anglers per boat. The winner will receive $20,000.
The rules, which emphasize fish health and handling, comprise a progressive, conservation-based format. Snagging is discouraged, and fish-market style handling practices will be prohibited. Throwing or otherwise mishandling fish will not be tolerated, according to the rules.
Any team that has a dead fish at the weigh-in will be disqualified. In bass tournaments, a dead fish results only in a weight penalty. Also, all fish caught in the tournament must be released alive. Competitors will not be allowed to take fish away from the venue.
To register, visit thecatmasters.com/helena-tournament.
AGFC dove hunts
If you're looking for a safe, high-quality dove hunt on managed fields, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is accepting applications until Aug. 15 for slots on five private properties. The hunts will be held on the following dates and properties. Successful applicants will be allowed to bring one guest.
• Greene County (60 acres of sunflowers): Sept. 5-6, Sept. 12-13, Sept. 19-20. The commission will issue 20 permits per weekend.
• Lonoke County (30 acres of sunflowers): Sept. 5-6, Sept. 12-13, Sept. 19-20. The commission will issue 20 permits per weekend.
• Prairie County (60 acres of harvested corn and top-sewn wheat): Sept. 5-6, Sept. 12-13. The commission will issue 25 permits per weekend.
• Washington County (57 acres of harvested corn and top-sewn wheat): Sept. 5-6, Sept. 12-13. The commission will issue 36 permits per weekend.
• Woodruff County (99 acres of harvested corn and top-sewn wheat); Sept. 5-6, Sept. 12-13. The commission will issue 20 permits per weekend.
Applicants must pay a $5 processing fee for each hunt. Permit winners will be notified on Aug. 17. The commission will email them maps and directions to the fields they draw. No scouting or access to the fields will be allowed outside of the hunt days a permit hunter draws.
To apply, visit www.agfc.com and click on the WMA Applications tab.