Preparing for Lake Fork

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In the 2014 Toyota Texas Bass Classic, which is the predecessor of Texas Fest, Elite Keith Combs won the three-day event with 110 pounds.

Despite being relatively close to a large urban population, Lake Fork has remained one of the world’s best lakes for decades because it has every element necessary to make it great. It’s as if they pulled it out of a textbook, with large amounts of shallow spawning habitat, distinct offshore structure and some hydrilla from time to time.

There are other factors that contribute, most notably the incredible forage base. In addition to crawfish, there are bluegills, big gizzard shad, crappie and yellow bass for those Florida-strain fish to gorge themselves on. There’s also a slot limit, which gives the fish time to grow up.

I’ve been a beneficiary of Fork’s bounty, most notably in May of 2014, when I caught 15 bass that totaled 110 pounds over the course of three days to win that year’s Toyota Texas Bass Classic. Because of that, a lot of my competition probably thinks that I’m the odds-on favorite to win when we return next week, but the truth is that I’ve only been on the lake five or six times in my entire life.

Whether or not I’m deserving of the “favorite” label, the truth is that I sort of have a bullseye on my back. When spectators and other competitors see me fishing specific places, they’re probably going to assume that those places are pretty good. If I do happen to roll onto a decent pattern, I’ll have to be careful about when and where I’m seen, as well as how I manage my fish. 

When I won the AOY tournament at Mille Lacs in 2017, I was doing my damage so quickly that it didn’t expose what I was doing to anyone else. If I’m fortunate enough to do well at Fork this time around, I won’t have that luxury.

We have great spectators and 99 percent of them are respectful, but there are occasionally one or two who see you someplace and decide that they have to fish it. With an off day in the midst of the tournament, you can be sure that nothing will be left alone. You may have to reinvent yourself when competition resumes.

The other reason that I don’t think my prior success on Fork makes me a lock to do well is because the conditions were quite different the last time around, even though it was about the same time of year. There’d been a drought and the water was low, with no shoreline cover, so the fish had finished spawning and were headed back out deep. This time even if they’re done they’ll have plenty of stuff to hang around in the shallows. 

In those last couple of paragraphs it might sound like I’m sandbagging or like I’m trying to downplay my chances of doing well. That’s not the case at all. If conditions line up right, the sky is the limit for all of us.

It could very well happen that not only does the leader pass the century mark, but also that everyone fishing on the final day goes over 100 pounds. Someone could weigh in 30 pounds a day and still not take home the blue trophy. 

Out of our first four Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, three have been around the spawn. I have not done as well as I would’ve liked, and I put myself in a hole with respect to certain postseason honors. Now we’re headed into more post-spawn and summertime conditions.

There’s still plenty of fishing left to do, and there’s no place I’d rather start the rest of the season than back in my home state of Texas, where big fish and big limits are the name of the game.