ZAPATA, Texas — When is it a bad day to catch five big bass?
Only when $100,000 is at stake, and 99 other angers can catch five bigger fish than yours — and do it again for three more days.
In pro bass fishing, such a competition is often called a slugfest. And that’s what Bassmaster Elite Series anglers have good reason to expect on Falcon Lake in the March 21-24 Rigid Industries Falcon Slam out of Zapata, Texas.
Proof of the lake’s potential: Falcon’s record for a single largemouth catch on a rod and reel is 15.63 pounds and 28 inches in length, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. In 2008, the last time the Elite Series stopped at Falcon, a 13-pound, 2-ounce largemouth was brought to the scales. That 13-2 still stands as the largest bass in the eight years of Elite Series history.
More proof: Paul Elias won the 2008 Elite Series event with a four-day weight of 132 pounds, 8 ounces, which still stands as a five-fish, four-day Bassmaster record. In the same event, 11 other anglers topped the 100-pound mark.
Such a reputation gives Falcon veterans and newbies equal hope for victory.
Cliff Prince, Elite Series pro from Palatka, Fla., who joined the Elite Series in 2012 and has never competed on Falcon, knows he’ll have to sharpen all his big-fish hunting skills to be in contention for a win.
“If you’re catching 3-pounders, you’d better move on,” he said. “In this type of tournament, when so many of us can catch them, it can be luck of the draw — who gets on the best schools.”
There’s a hot discussion going on this week in Zapata, Texas, among fishermen: Can the 100-pro Elite field break records again? Will the nearly 60-year-old impoundment be as productive as it was in 2008?
Elias, the 2008 Falcon champ, says no.
“I don’t think the numbers are going to be like they were,” said the pro from Laurel, Miss.
One reason is the change in the water level of the big lake. Drought conditions affect the lake level as irrigation farming draws more and more water. Elias said the lake is about 6 feet lower than what the Elite pros saw in 2008, when it was at 277 feet. Now it’s at about 271, he said, which is almost 29 feet below full pool of about 301 feet.
What that means, Elias said, is that the lake could “fish smaller” than in 2008. Less water acreage tends to bunch up anglers in the same areas.
“It’s going to be a lot more crowded because of low water,” Elias said. “I expect the weight of the limits to be down on average, and there are going to be fewer limits of big fish. I think the average fish would be 4 to 4 1/2 pounds.”
But, Elias said, “It’s still possible to catch 40 pounds in a day.”