‘Ultimate Challenge’ comes to Lake Conway

“To pull off a tournament like this, you’ve got to have the housing and facilities to bring the fishermen here,” Alpers said. “This tournament annually draws around 180 anglers from about 15 different states. We needed a lake close to a town, it had to have big fish in it and it needed to have a good amount of tree cover for crappie fishing.

“A gentleman named Dennis Bayles Jr. fished in a few of our tournaments in Mississippi last year. I told him we do our Ultimate Challenge on Truman Lake in Missouri each year, but because our national championship would be there this year, we would need a new location. He said he had just the place.”

Bayles, 39, of Cabot, considers Lake Conway his “home lake.”

“I noticed there were no Crappie Masters tournaments in Arkansas, so I just asked [Alpers] why that was,” Bayles said. “I thought Lake Conway presented a great opportunity. It’s a crappie kingdom. From fishing in Crappie Masters tournaments, I’ve seen a family of fishermen. These anglers that fish in these tournaments are a close-knit group, and they are excited about fishing new lakes.

“The economic impact this tournament can bring is tremendous. When these anglers come to fish, they arrive several days prior to the tournament to do their homework on the lake. When they’re here, they’re buying gas, eating in local restaurants and staying in hotels.”

Bayles and Alpers approached the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and the Conway Advertising and Promotions Commission, and the groups decided to sponsor the Ultimate Challenge.

The tournament will be featured on the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Television show on the Pursuit Channel, giving Lake Conway even more exposure.

“When these anglers come and the fishing and community are good, they will be willing to make the trip over and over again,” Bayles said
The registration fee is $325 per team and the tournament is open to the public.

“We pay 100 percent of cash and prizes back to the fishermen,” Alpers said. “The tournament is by anglers, for anglers. For every five boats that enter, one boat will receive a check. The more boats that get in the tournament, the more money that is made. We want to make this tournament an annual deal in Arkansas.”

The two-day tournament will weigh the seven biggest fish from each team each day, and the top 15 teams will qualify to compete in the Crappie Masters National Championship Oct. 5-9 at Truman Lake at Clinton, Mo.

“With crappie, the difference between each place could be a hundredth of an ounce,” Bayles said. “The great thing about crappie fishing is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to have the most expensive equipment to be a good crappie fisher. All you need is a cane pole, a little bit of line, a cork and a minnow. Crappie fishing is for all levels of anglers.”

Teams can register without penalty until Thursday, Feb. 25. Between Feb. 25 to Monday, March 15, teams will be required to pay a late fee to register. For more information or to register, visit www.crappiemasters.net.