Fantasy Fishing

Fantasy Fishing: Another certified slugfest

slug·fest /ˈsləɡˌfest/ noun | From the Latin root Lakus Forkus : a fight marked by the exchange of heavy blows

This is exactly what we have to look forward to as we begin the back half of the 2022 season. With the exception of Chickamagua, which still gave up some giant bass, this entire season has been a downright slugfest. And if you have been awake any time in the last 30 years, you have heard about the incredible fishery known as Lake Fork in Texas.

There are more visiting fisherman, fishing tournaments and guides on this lake than just about any other lake in Texas, yet it continues to kick out some serious quality due to its strict management and unique slot limit. Don’t expect to see the anglers holding up a five-bass limit at weigh-in. Instead, they’ll weigh and release their fish at the boat and keep a digital record of their creel. The one exception to that rule is if someone manages to catch a bass over 24 inches long, in which case, they can bring that puppy to the weigh-in and show it off to the crowd.

North Texas has had a very unusual late winter and spring. Cold fronts came in waves all the way through mid-April. Once those cold fronts were through, the gale-force winds came into play. After several weeks of unfishable weather, summer decided to show up. What that means for the fish is that the standard order of spawn, postspawn, shad spawn then offshore has been completely jumbled up and for a majority of the fish. The cold fronts in March forced a lot fish to spawn in April all at once.

And with the shad spawn due to start in late April and into early May, the 100-degree weather and instant lack of wind has shortened the shad spawn and sent a lot of the bait out deep.

So, where will the bass be? The answer is everywhere. There will certainly be a group of bass that follow the bait out deep and set up shop while a bunch of other fish will either be enjoying what is left of the shad spawn and the bluegill spawn, finding themselves at home in the shallow standing timber.

The lake level could also be a factor. They have been making repairs to the dam resulting in the lake being more than 5 feet low. This could certainly mean more fish than usual will make their way offshore.

All of that said, I’m going to place my bet on a few distinct patterns to get the job done. If the anglers can find a shad spawn, putting a few solid fish better than 5 pounds in the boat with topwaters, jerkbaits and crankbaits will be important. The real magic, however, will be found in that 12 to 20 feet of water where big crankbaits, big worms, jigs and even spoons could play a role.

I am currently sitting pretty in the high 96th percentile of Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing after somehow managing over 1,000 points. I am going to be playing it safe in an effort to keep creeping up that leaderboard. I’m also leading the pundits in both the normal brackets as well as Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge and really want to maintain that lead, so I can’t afford any bombs.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the legendary Lake Fork.

BUCKET A: WALTERS

I would be surprised if anyone really needed much convincing to pick Patrick Walters. In two rounds on Lake Fork, he finished second and first, and his win was a bonafide blowout. There will be plenty of opportunity for guys to use their LiveScopes among the trees, brushpiles and rocky points in an effort to trick these big ole bass into biting, and Walters is among the best at doing just that.

Don’t forget about: Brandon Palaniuk

Brandon Palaniuk is a clear favorite in this bucket. He has sharpened up his shallow water game substantially and can also grind it out offshore. It seems like he has focused on finding subtle things that others miss this season, and that has him second in Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. That’s not due to dumb luck. He’ll find ‘em here too. He finished fourth here in 2020 and 14th in 2021.

BUCKET B: CHRISTIE

In full transparency, I’m really nervous about picking Jason Christie. After his Classic win, he went on to finish dang close to dead last at Santee Cooper Lakes, which should have been an event that fit his style. Then at Chickamauga Lakes, he punished the field again and took down his eighth Bassmaster trophy. Will he repeat the pattern? I have to imagine he won’t. He has a win throwing topwater baits on schooling fish — that’ll play here. He had a win fishing shallow, dirty water with a frog — that’ll be a factor too. He won the Classic fishing mid-depth and around docks. There isn’t a thing that will work in this event that he isn’t considered an expert in. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t show up on Championship Sunday again.

Don’t forget about: Chris Zaldain

Chris Zaldain is the highest owned angler in the bucket and for good reason — he goes after the big ones. If there is any wind, you can bet he’ll be slinging the big baits for the five biggest fish in the lake. If he can keep them buttoned up, he could certainly be dangerous. Chris is also more or less a local and has spent plenty of time here the last few years. He finished fifth and 13th in his last two trips here.

BUCKET C: SUMRALL

Caleb Sumrall may not be the name that immediately pops up in Bucket C, but it probably should. He will likely spend the majority of his time in and around the shallow cover. However, he is buds with a particular legend of Lake Fork whom we will review shortly, and you can bet he’s picked up a key thing or two over the last few years. He has had some sneaky good results here too with a 21st- and 24th-place finishes in three trips.

Don’t forget about: Carl Jocumsen

This is absolutely going to be a big fish derby. Carl Jocumsen has become known for his willingness to live and die by the glide bait, and this could be a chance for him to live well. Gizzard shad tend to spawn a little later, and if he can lock into a few areas where those are the primary targets, it could get ugly.

BUCKET D: LIVESAY

Lee Livesay. Pick him. Don’t worry about anyone else. He “struggled” in 2019 and finished 39th, but ignore that. This is his favorite time of year. He will probably be sporting the same baits he was using on his way to a 43-pound final day and the victory here last year. Swimbaits and big topwaters are probably going to make up the entire spectrum of rods on his deck.

Don’t forget about: Chad Pipkens

Back in 2019, Chad Pipkens landed his “new personal best” bass fishing mid-depth cover with a crankbait in May. The same type of cover should certainly be a factor this time too. He has a good working relationship with Lake Fork, and in three attempts via B.A.S.S. events, he has finished 28th, 18th and eighth.

BUCKET E: COMBS

To say it’s been a tough year for Keith Combs would be an understatement. He somehow finds himself in Bucket E, but something tells me that is about to change. He has won multiple Toyota Texas Bass Classic events here, one of which set the all-time record for a three-day event at 110 pounds. He should be able to lock a crankbait in his hands and go to work. If there is a time to right the ship, it’s now.

Don’t forget about: Kyle Welcher

It has been a slow, painful season for Kyle Welcher after his bridesmaid finish in the Classic. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to do what he does best here, which is throw a frog and flip shallow cover. There’s no way he can stay down for long. A bounce back here wouldn’t shock anyone.

Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

Looking back at my last article, I wrote, and I quote, “Gotta say, I have a decent lineup for Fork and for the Northern Swing to follow, but this one has me a bit nervous as I have burned through some key players that will probably do well this time around.” This 100% came to fruition, and I had a terrible event. Fingers crossed, this lineup will get me going back in the right direction.

• Austin Felix
• Marc Frazier
• Micah Frazier
• Lee Livesay
• Chad Pipkens
• Matthew Robertson
• Patrick Walters
• Chris Zaldain