If not for a hole in the fence of a South Texas deer hunting ranch, and a flooded bush in Lake Fork, the Toyota Texas Bass Classic that’s taking place this week may have never happened.
“I was on a deer hunt several years ago in South Texas and noticed a hole in the fence,” explains top pro, and proud Texas native, Kelly Jordon (KJ). “Out of courtesy, I drove around to the neighbor and told them about it. They were grateful that I made them aware, and invited me to sit down to lunch.
“Because of all the logos on my truck, they asked me about my career as a pro angler,” explains Jordon.
As fate would have it, KJ’s newfound friend and fence owner was Texas Parks & Wildlife Commissioner Donato Ramos, who along with fellow Commissioner Dan Friedkin, shared a great desire to create opportunities that would fund urban youth fishing initiatives. Jordon told the men of his dream to combine a high profile bass tournament with his love of music.
Eight years later, Jordon’s dream, paired with leadership from Ramos and Friedkin, has generated $2 million in funds for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s conservation and youth fishing projects, which largely targets kids that would likely never pick up a rod. The program aspires to help these kids fall in love with the feeling of a tug on the other end of their lines.
And as for the flooded bush on Lake Fork, it’s still there – just like it was two decades ago when Jordon caught a bass from it that hooked his heart and soul on the 27,000-acre reservoir responsible for raising the majority of the biggest bass ever caught in Texas.
“I eyed that same exact bush this past Tuesday in Penson Creek where I caught my first bass on this lake 25 years ago during Spring Break of my freshman year of college,” remembers KJ over a plate of scrambled eggs and homefries at Lake Fork Marina & Motel where he greeted so many of the legendary fishing guides that passed his table to meet their clients for a day on the water.
Jordon relates well to Fork’s fishing guides because from 1995 to 2002 he was one. And his knowledge of these waters, and their famed 30-year history, are on par with the best to have ever cast a deep diving plug here.
But it’s changed.
The sentimental flooded bush were KJ caught his first bass is pretty much high and dry. Water levels are as low as he’s ever seen them. It was rare for this reservoir to ever get more than a foot or two low – this week, “KJ” says it’s more than 3 feet below normal.
Grass a Goner
The aquatic vegetation that serves as steroid shot to most any bass fishery is pretty much non-existent here now – including the hydrilla that made Fork especially magical. Jordon blames an especially harsh winter for killing off the treasured vegetation.
When Jordon was guiding here, the lake was only a decade old, the waters were sort of a black tannic color. Now they are less clear, and of a chalky, stained, color - and in some areas, a bit muddy.
Dang the White Bass
Jordon says the huge increase in numbers of white bass have changed Lake Fork a lot. “They weren’t here 15 years ago. Now you can’t get a crankbait to pass over a structure spot without the white bass eating it – seemingly before the largemouth ever get a chance. What concerns me most is that it seems the white bass have taken over that really fertile 18- to 25-foot depth range the largemouth used to prosper in.”
Still an Amazing Fishery
If what you’ve read thus far seems gloomy – hold on – this place is still going to kick out giant weights this week. “It still kicks out giant bass,” says Jordon, referring to individual fish in the 12- to 16-pound range. “You’ll need 30 to 35 pounds a day to do well in this tournament, and don’t be shocked if you see a 40-pound limit,” warns Jordon.
Mules on Beds
“The winter was so harsh that it pushed the spawn back an entire month. Water temps are 67-72, so there are still a few giants on beds and tons more guarding recently hatched fry in less than 5 feet of water,” says Jordon.
Lures that Might Win
In no particular order, Jordon is picking a football jig, a big Texas rigged worm or lizard, large California style swimbaits cranked through Lake Fork’ shallows, and a Carolina Rig.
How’s “KJ” Gonna Do?
“I don’t think my in-depth knowledge is such a big advantage right now because the hard-to-locate deep structure spots are either covered in white bass, or the largemouth simply haven’t moved out there yet to a true postspawn phase – don’t be surprised if you see me up there fishing the bank this week,” he grinned.
“It won't be that long 'til you start gettin' bored. I'll be smilin' on the river, reelin' in one more... He can't even bait a hook.” – lyrics from this Sunday’s featured Toyota Texas Bass Classic concert performer, Justin Moore.