In the fall, when the lake starts turning over, there’s a tremendous movement of shad and predators into the shallow water areas. In the summer on Lake Fork, the thermocline is between 28 to 30 feet and is where the most oxygen is found. Because there’s very little oxygen below this level, the baitfish and predators stay close to the thermocline zone.
When the first big cold front arrives in early fall, it causes the now colder surface water to sink to the bottom and that pushes the oxygen depleted water at the bottom of the column to move upward. The thermocline and oxygen are depleted. And so, the only oxygen to be found is up in the shallower creeks and they move shallow.
Immediately after the turnover and the settling of the water column, shad begin making their way back out to points and flats, adjacent to the main body. It’s during this time when one of Lake Fork’s more extraordinary feeding patterns starts producing trophy-size bass. Like the bass, yellow bass (called barfish by locals) follow the shad schools during turnover. When the forage and predators return to deeper water, the barfish school up over humps and deep points and are an easy target for the reservoir’s biggest predators.
Guides discovered this pattern when targeting largemouth feeding under large schools of shad. After hooking a barfish on a shad-size spoon, a big bass would come up and eat the struggling fish. Many guides reported catching a good number of 10-pounders from under barfish and the search for lures that accurately imitate the barfish began.
The barfish are almost always near the bottom of deep structure — a point, hump or a channel swing — that the bass are holding on. The barfish will be schooled in groups of 20 to 50 fish and are easily seen with electronics. Anglers cast either a large spoon or swimbait and allow it to fall to the bottom, and then rip it off the bottom and allow it to fall again.
The barfish pattern will carry anglers over to the final big fish pattern of the year. As the year closes, bass feed heavily. A time-tested big fish pattern on Lake Fork takes advantage of females, feeding on gizzard shad and crappie, schooled under bridges, crossing the mouths of creeks.
As is the case on any trophy bass fishery, Lake Fork guides know their clients expect big fish. Over the years, Pack and Tanner have learned to recognize seasonal changes in forage life cycles, placing their clients in those areas where the paths of specific forage species and big bass collide.
During the prespawn, use jigs to imitate crawfish on points and flats adjacent to creek channel swings.
For the early summer shad bite, throw a spinnerbait along grass edges and rocks, paying special attention to points that feature these cover types.
Originally published May 2012