Hot Springs’ Most Wanted Could Reel In Ten Grand

by Judea Robinett

photography by Judea Robinett

The waterways of Hot Springs, Arkansas are home to an elusive being.    An  underwater  monster
Big Al is a fish. Well, technically he’s five fish (one for each of the last five years), but he’s more than just a fish: Big Al is an idea–the idea that anyone with a fishing pole and some luck can literally reel in $10, wanted that a $10,000 price tag has been placed on it’s head. The slick, slimy, phantom-like beast swims just below the surface and then dashes out of sight into the murky depths–its scaly body disappearing into the prismatic ripples of wind-swept lake water. It’s not the Loch Ness monster, or a giant squid. It’s not a whale or an alligator. Many have tried to catch a glimpse– old men tell of the legendary creature and children listen with rapt attention. They listen to the story of Big Al.

The behemoth is cunning, and worth a whole lot of dough–just like his historical namesake Al Capone, who was a regular visitor to Hot Springs  during  the Gangster era. Big Al is one of 71 (60 prize + 11 bonus) fish released in Lake Catherine and Lake Hamilton on May 1 as part of the 5th Annual Hot Springs Fishing Challenge.  This year, Big Al is   a White Bass, last seen swimming to freedom in Lake Hamilton. Little does Al know, he’s being hunted by hundreds or maybe thousands of fishermen and women. He’s quite the catch, alright.

The contest is organized by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and is in its fifth year. Participants and those interested in keeping up with the fishing challenge can follow the action on the Visit Hot Springs official facebook page, www.  This year’s contest is worth $86,000 in cash prizes. Tagged prize and bonus fish have white, noodle-like tags and have been released in Lake Catherine and Lake Hamilton. The contest started on May 1 and goes through July 31. There is no fee for entry, but all participants ages 16 and up must have a valid Arkansas fishing license to be eligible. One can visit a local Walmart or outdoor/ sporting goods store to obtain a fishing license or one can go online through www. An Arkansas fishing license will only set you back around 11 bucks, and considering one could be pulling in a $500–$10,000 fish, it seems like a pretty low-risk investment. The species of fish in the contest are largemouth bass, spotted (Kentucky) bass, bluegill, catfish, white bass, crappie and walleye. As of this publication’s print date, only seven of the 71 fish have been caught, so get out on the water and reel in that prize!

If you are new to the fishing game and have no idea where to start, don’t worry. Here are some tips that will help you get started on your hunt for Big Al:

  1. White Bass like to feed on Shad (those crazy jumping fish with a blue tint) in the morning and So, if you see a lot of jumping fish in a spot on the lake, that’s your first target.
  2. According to fishing pros, the gear doesn’t need to be A simple grub hooked onto a 1/8 ounce green/ yellow or blue/green jig head will attract White Bass almost better than anything.
  1. White Bass really like deep water, so now is the time to call a friend, slather on the sunscreen, grab the ice-box, fishing poles, your fishing license and get out on the


According to, “Lake Hamilton was created in 1932 when the Arkansas Power and Light Co. completed Carpenter Dam on the Ouachita River to generate electricity. Today, the 7,460- acre impoundment is one of Arkansas’s most popular recreational and residential lakes. Also, Lake Catherine was created in a virtual wilderness between Hot Springs and Malvern when the Arkansas Power and Light Co. (now Entergy Corp.) completed Remmel Dam in 1924 to generate electricity. It was the state’s first major hydroelectric facility. Though 11 miles long, the lake covers a mere 1,940 acres, being nestled in narrow valleys of the Ouachita Mountains.

Al Capone used to visit Hot Springs for networking trips with bootleggers in the area. The bootleggers used the cover of the pine trees native to the Ouachita mountains to hide their distilling and brewing. To get the goods safely past the Feds, Capone had the words “Mountain Valley Water” painted on the side of the railcars transporting the illegal booze back to his operation in Chicago. Today, Mountain Valley Spring Water is a real company based in the Hot Springs area since 1871 that bottles and sells the natural spring water of Hot Springs.

Al Capone liked to fish. When living in Miami in the late 1920’s, he would take visitors out on his yacht. Later, after his stay in Alcatraz and his battle with mind- degrading syphilis, Capone was reported to have “fished” from a patio overhanging his home swimming pool.