Day on the Lake: Lee Livesay

When Lee Livesay isn’t fishing an Elite Series tournament, he’s guiding clients on his home waters: Lake Fork, Texas, one of the planet’s premier big-bass destinations. Given the hours he’s spent on this trophy fishery, it’s safe to say nobody knows it better than Livesay, which for my money made him a pretty safe bet to win the Elite held there in April 2021. What kind of pressure does a guide face when he enters a tournament on his home lake? “There are always plenty of people pulling for me to win, but also a lot of folks hoping I’ll fail,” Livesay said. “That puts me under twice the pressure. If you’re a guide on the lake, there’s an expectation that you’re going to win, which of course won’t happen every time. In reality, if it’s a local or regional tournament on Fork, I’ve probably fished with most of my competition before, so they already know many of my spots.” Most experienced anglers will tell you that “fishing history” is not wise, but how can Livesay avoid it when he knows virtually every square inch of the lake? “Knowing too many good spots can be worse than hitting the lake cold. At the May 2019 Elite on Lake Fork, I fished scores of spots where I’d caught giant bass in the past and didn’t even make the cut. My mind was racing over thousands of places that I told myself I needed to hit, when in reality I should have concentrated on maybe four or five spots. At the 2020 Fork tournament, I slowed way down, picked just a couple of spots a day to focus on, and it paid off.” Speaking of hitting a lake cold, how did Livesay fare during his mid-May outing on Lake T? Stay tuned to find out! It’s 53 degrees and cloudy when Livesay and I arrive at Lake T’s deserted ramp. Clearing skies, a strong north wind and a high in the low 60s are in the forecast. “It feels more like March than May!” Livesay says as he pulls Halo rods from storage. “But these fish are gonna be somewhere around the spawn phase, and even though there’s a cold front moving through, they should be up shallow.”

6:50 a.m. We launch the Ballistic. Livesay checks the water: it’s 64 degrees and stained. “Sight fishing may be tough today. There’s already marginal visibility and the wind hasn’t even kicked in yet. That’s OK; it’s more fun to throw a topwater!”
6:58 a.m. After taking a quick spin around the lower end of Lake T, Livesay stops at a rock point and makes his first casts with a generic 1/2-ounce black-bladed buzzbait; he’s replaced the skirt with a white NetBait Little Spanky swimbait. “A buzzbait is a great spawn-time search lure! It covers water quickly and catches giant bass.”
7:12 a.m. Livesay runs into a tributary arm replete with docks, boathouses and seawalls. “There are plenty of sheltered coves and spawning pockets here, way more than on the main lake.” He casts the buzzer to a seawall.

7:17 a.m. Livesay is rapidly working his way along the tributary shoreline.
7:24 a.m. Livesay retrieves his buzzbait parallel to another seawall. “Bass, bluegill and shad will all spawn around seawalls.” But there’s no sign of life here yet. Has the cold front ruined his chances? “No, once bass move up to spawn they’ll usually stay shallow until they get done, regardless of weather conditions.”
7:30 a.m. Livesay bags his first keeper largemouth of the day,
1 pound, 10 ounces, off a concrete seawall on the buzzbait.
7:38 a.m. Livesay continues running the seawall with the buzzer. “I’m seeing some bluegill beds near the wall, but no bass beds yet.”
7:42 a.m. Livesay dog-walks a bone-color Evergreen SB-105 topwater stickbait across a riprap point.

7:50 a.m. Opting for a stealthier surface presentation, Livesay switches to a black Snag Proof Bobby’s Perfect Frog around shoreline bushes.
7:58 a.m. Livesay zips to a nearby island and tries the buzzer, frog and SB-105 tight to shore. No luck here.
8:06 a.m. Livesay tries a chartreuse 6th Sense squarebill crankbait around a shallow point with brushy cover.
8:10 a.m. The wind is blowing out of the north as Livesay tries the buzzer around a dock.
8:15 a.m. Livesay has moved into a shallow canal where he tries the buzzbait.
8:22 a.m. The wind is howling as Livesay tries the frog around a dock. “The water is this canal looks pretty muddy.”
8:26 a.m. Livesay exits the canal and hits a rock bank.
8:31 a.m. Livesay enters another canal. A bass strikes the SB-105 but misses it. “Two-pounder.”
8:32 a.m. Livesay replaces the 105 with a bone Heddon Zara Spook stickbait and resumes targeting docks and seawalls in the canal. “The Spook has a tighter walking action, which may make it easier for them to hone in on than the 105 in this muddy water.”
8:38 a.m. Livesay hangs the Spook in a dock piling and retrieves it.
8:40 a.m. A bass slaps the Spook, pulls it under and comes unbuttoned. Livesay examines the lure. “I just put new hooks on this plug! How they can grab it and not get stuck amazes me.”
8:42 a.m. Livesay casts a green pumpkin NetBait Salt Lick stickworm rigged wacky-style to the bass. He’s fishing it on a spinning outfit. “I’m out of my element with spinning gear, but sometimes you gotta use it.”

8:50 a.m. Livesay works his way out of the canal casting the Spook to a seawall. “I’ve got a mini-pattern going here and I’m sticking with it!”
8:56 a.m. Livesay continues working quickly, hammering docks and seawalls with the Spook. “Anytime I can get away with topwater, I’ll throw it. I could probably catch some fish off these docks on a jig, but topwater is way more fun!”
9:07 a.m. After moving toa steep channel bank, Livesay hits a laydown with a Texas-rigged green pumpkin NetBait Paca Craw. No takers here.

9:11 a.m. Livesay moves into a pocket and catches his second keeper, 1-14, off a dock on the buzzbait. “Every hit I’ve had so far has been in the shade.”
9:13 a.m. Back on the channel bank with the buzzer.
9:18 a.m. Livesay casts the Spook to a boathouse. His line wraps around a metal cleat; he flips his rod tip and, amazingly, the lure comes untangled and pops into the water. “If an 8-pounder had inhaled it, that would have been the perfect ending!”
9:31 a.m. Livesay enters a shallow cove and retrieves the Spook and buzzer past a seawall.
9:33 a.m. He casts the buzzbait to a shoreline cypress tree and bags his third keeper, another 1-14.
9:36 a.m. Livesay switches to a small Brian’s Prop Bee surface plug in the cove. “I’m seeing more bluegill beds and this bait is a good bream mimic.”
9:41 a.m. A big fish hits Livesay’s buzzbait near a boathouse but misses it. He drops to his knees and casts the wacky worm to the fish, but there’s no comeback.

9:50 a.m. Livesay presses deeper into the cove and hits a seawall with the buzzer.
9:54 a.m. Another good fish slaps at the buzzbait but misses; again Livesay pitches the wacky worm to the fish without success. “They’re getting more active now that the sun’s getting higher.”
10:01 a.m. Livesay switches to the Spook around some docks and bags keeper number four, 1-10. “I’ve only caught buck bass so far. Where are the big females?”

10:03 a.m. Livesay chunks the Spook to a boathouse. A big fish slaps at it three times, then finally hooks up on its fourth attempt! “It’s barely hooked,” Livesay says.
10:03 a.m. As the lunker lunges past his boat, Lee uses his rod to pull the fish in the opposite direction, then grabs his fifth keeper, a beautiful 4-12 female.
10:03 a.m. “This big girl hasn’t spawned yet; she doesn’t have a mark on her. She turned on her side when I pulled her in the opposite direction and I managed to get another hook stuck in her.” Wow, that’s a cool trick!
10:15 a.m. Livesay continues moving around the cove with his topwater arsenal. What’s his take on the day so far? “We’ve got a fairly severe cold front and a strong north wind, and it’s taken these fish a couple hours to get active. That big fish came back and ate the Spook after missing it three times, which is a great sign. Seawalls and docks are the happening thing so far; once they get over their cold front hangover, the topwater bite should get stronger. But even if it doesn’t, I’d rather catch one fish on top than 10 on a worm or jig, so I’ll probably stick with topwater to the bitter end!”
10:19 a.m. Livesay idles back to the cypress tree where he caught his third keeper and begins reworking the bank with the buzzer and Spook.
10:25 a.m. He moves to the entrance of another cove and cranks the squarebill down a rock point.
10:28 a.m. A keeper bass hits the buzzbait, hooks up, then shakes off.
10:30 a.m. Livesay retires the black-bladed buzzer and replaces it with one with a silver blade and a similar swimbait trailer that he’s trimmed back an inch. “That hook was getting dull after banging it into docks all morning, and that shorter trailer should make it easier for ’em to suck it in.”
10:34 a.m. It’s warming up rapidly as Livesay moves to the opposite bank of the tributary. Another keeper slaps the buzzbait on a seawall but misses it.

10:50 a.m. Livesay catches keeper number six, 2-9, inside a boathouse on the buzzer.
10:56 a.m. He moves to the back of a pocket and skips the frog beneath overhanging bushes. “I haven’t had any strikes around bushes or laydowns, mainly just docks and seawalls.”
11:11 a.m. Livesay blasts to Lake T’s lower end, enters a narrow cove and tries his topwater arsenal.
11:20 a.m. A small bass hits the Spook but shakes off.
11:22 a.m. Livesay pitches the craw to a brushy laydown. A bass picks it up, wraps his line around a limb and gets off. “Crap, that was a good one!”
11:25 a.m. Livesay bags his seventh keeper, 2-12, in a shoreline pocket on the Spook. “I’ve culled my two 1-10s. A couple more big bites would make my day!”
11:32 a.m. Livesay moves to the extreme back end of the cove and tries the buzzbait.
11:38 a.m. He switches to the Spook and catches a tiny bass. “I’ve seen anchovies on pizzas bigger than this little guy!”

11:50 a.m. Livesay runs straight across the lake into a short creek arm with a tangle of downed trees at its mouth. He flips the craw to the branches but hauls water. “There can actually be too much wood cover in one spot to hold quality fish. Sparse, isolated cover tends to produce best.”
Noon. A good fish knocks Livesay’s Spook completely out of the water without hooking up! “Amazing! How can they even do that?”
12:14 a.m. He moves to the back of the creek and runs the buzzbait across shallow submerged stumps. “They’ll spawn around stumps, but I don‘t see a single bed back here.”
12:21 p.m. Livesay has run uplake and is keying on a row of docks and boathouses with the buzzer and Spook.
12:27 p.m. He runs the buzzer parallel to a long seawall without a bump. “It’s too shallow here; my trolling motor is churning up mud.”
12:36 p.m. Livesay moves to a deeper stretch of seawall and tries the buzzer.
12:42 p.m. He dredges the chartreuse squarebill around a submerged brushpile and catches a short fish.

12:50 p.m. Livesay zips to a big C-shaped cove and begins working scattered wood around the shoreline with the buzzbait and Spook.
12:57 p.m. He flips the Paca Craw to a laydown.
1:17 p.m. Now halfway around the cove, Livesay walks the Spook across the end of a submerged tree. “They sure haven’t been on wood cover today.”
1:22 p.m. Livesay exits the cove and runs to a riprap bank to try the Spook.
1:26 p.m. A big fish busts a shad on the surface nearby in open water. Livesay fires the squarebill at the fish and bags his eighth keeper, 1-8; it’s no help to his total. “That one I saw break water was way bigger.” He tries the squarebill and Spook in the same area without further success.
1:31 p.m. Livesay has raced downlake to a seawall and docks he fished earlier. He combs the structures with the buzzer and Spook.
1:38 p.m. He pitches the craw into a brushpile, gets a tap, slams back his rod and the fish gets off!

1:44 p.m. With minutes remaining, Livesay twitches the wacky worm around a dock.
1:50 p.m. Time’s up! In spite of a major front, Livesay has had a good day on Lake T, boating eight keeper bass — all on topwater lures. His five biggest fish weigh 13 pounds, 13 ounces.
“Docks and boathouses near seawalls proved to be my best spots today,” Livesay told Bassmaster. “I managed to get quite a few shallow topwater strikes and catch one big fish on a Spook even though we had a pretty intense cold front. The front actually seemed to impact the jig bite more than the topwater bite; I had two good fish short-strike my craw. If I were to fish here tomorrow under these same conditions, I’d attack it the exact same way, knowing that sooner or later I’d tie into a big ol’ fish on top!”
· 1 pound, 14 ounces; 1/2-ounce generic buzzbait with black blade and white NetBait Little Spanky trailer; dock; 9:11 a.m.
· 1 pound, 14 ounces; same lure as No. 1; cypress tree; 9:33 a.m.
· 4 pounds, 12 ounces; bone Heddon Zara Spook topwater stickbait; boathouse; 10:03 a.m.
· 2 pounds, 9 ounces; 1/2-ounce generic buzzbait with silver blade and white NetBait Little Spanky trailer; boathouse; 10:50 a.m.
· 2 pounds, 12 ounces; pocket in cove; same lure as No. 3; 11:25 a.m.