Fantasy Fishing: Making a charge on Fork

Amidst the hundreds of reasons that this year has seems to have dragged on, for me the one bright light has been that the Bassmaster Elite Series has stretched across the entire calendar year. Now we are on the cusp of the final regular season event.

This season, the Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy will be given out at the final regular season event on the legendary Lake Fork. The Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest has become a staple event over the last half a decade or so and should bring a ton of action. It is looking more and more like the fish will be on the move and strapping on the feedbags.

There are massive bass in this lake, so the chance of seeing multiple fish of more than 10-pounds is very real. We could see a bonafide giant show up on any cast. Lake Fork boasts the top six largest bass ever caught in Texas, with the largest being the state record at 18 pounds. Of the top 50 biggest bass in Texas, an astounding 30 of them come from this reservoir. Buckle up.

It could still prove to be a tough bite, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bag in the high 20s take down the big bag of the tournament, and it take over 90 pounds to take it down.

Weve finally had our first solid cold-snap here in North Texas over the last few days. The days are getting up into the mid 60s, but more importantly, the nights are dropping to the 40s. The fog coming off the local lakes tells me that the water should be dropping down into the 60s as well. That will send the baitfish running for the warmest water they can find. The forecast is calling for a little warmer weather during the event, but it shouldn’t be warm enough to get the water temps too much higher.

The major fish highways will be lit up, and for the guys who can come across those magic stretches where the fish are coming and going, it could be lights out.

There is still a fair bit of grass on Fork, but the fish will not likely be hunkered down long enough for it to be a factor. I’m watching for power fisherman with spook-style and popping-style topwater baits, buzzbaits and frogs to make a charge. Covering water is going to be key so a squarebill crankbait or spinnerbait around the standing timber or on docks could be lethal too. Docks may also make a showing as they are typically great transition spots for bass that are constantly on the move. There is a chance for an offshore bite, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in that over the full four days.

Let’s dive in.

BUCKET A: CANTERBURY

There may not be anyone on tour that is more efficient at covering water with a buzzbait than Scott Canterbury. I’ve hit him at all the wrong times in Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing this year, but I’m hoping I can land this punch. If the buzzbait isn’t getting it done, he can adjust and fish his strengths. He will feel right at home flipping docks and throwing moving baits.

Nearly picked: Jake Whitaker

We have all gotten a long look at his skills fishing docks and slips this year. While everyone was flipping and frogging at Chickamauga, Jake Whitaker fished slips on his way to a third-place finish. He will have plenty of docks to choose from and will milk them for all they are worth. There are some massive bass caught on docks every year in the fall, and they can be great for consistent 3- to 5-pound bites.

BUCKET B: ZALDAIN

It wouldn’t shock me one bit to find out that Chris Zaldain moved to the Ft. Worth area to be closer to this lake. His healthy addiction to giant swimbaits will almost certainly help him land some giants over the next few years — but why wait. I’m hoping we get to watch some of that action during this event. He is perfectly content fishing for five big bites, and if he can land them, he’ll be in the hunt. He can also bounce around and fish offshore if he needs to. He finished 13th here last year.

Nearly picked: Matt Herren

If you’re really feeling the flipping bite, it’s hard to beat Matt Herren. He is nearly flawless when it comes to flipping and understands why a bass would be next to “this splinter of wood” as opposed to “that one.” Tougher tournaments tend to be good for Herren, and this one could certainly be one where every bite counts.

BUCKET C: COMBS

There have been plenty of events that Keith Combs should have been a shoe-in to win where he finished the event middle of the pack or below. I would highly suggest you keep an eye on the weather for this bucket. If we see some clouds and wind, this could be a blowout event for him. If it’s sunny and slick, it could get really tough. Combs is a power fisherman, and while he can flip, he definitely doesn’t like to if he can find something to chunk and wind effectively. He has extraordinary results on this very lake where he set the all-time three-day weight record at more than 110 pounds.

Nearly picked: Brad Whatley

Brad Whatley has proven to be a scrappy fisherman. He has progressively had better finishes in each event over the last half of the season. If it turns into a grinder, you may see him with a solid finish. He knows the lakes in this part of the country in the fall better than possibly every other angler in the field. If he can connect and execute, he’ll be around on Sunday.

BUCKET D: LIVESAY

Lee Livesay, if you’re reading this, stop now and assume I’m not picking you.

I have basically picked him in every single event this year with a few exceptions, and it has been a rough year. If my theory is true, it would have been a rougher year had I picked him at the last event … that he won.

I’m afraid I’m starting to put a Kennedy-style curse on him where every time I pick him, the fish don’t cooperate. That has been the tension between Pete Robbins and Steve Kennedy for years. So this is my way of trying to trick the cosmos.

The only angler who may rival Whatley’s North Texas fall fishing scraps is Lee Livesay. Livesay has been kicking our tails in the fall trails out here for years. He also has several years under his belt guiding on this famed lake. Late fall has been touted as one of the best times to catch great numbers of bass out here while the bigguns are harder to come by. He will know the special tricks needed to find and fill his livewells with a bunch of Big Earls. In 2019, he struggled and finished middle of the pack. A lot of that was due to fishing pressure from the locals and the pressure of fishing his home waters. He is coming off an amazing win at Chickamauga so he should be on cloud nine going into this one. Maybe he can be the second angler this year to bring home two trophies. Go Hammer!

Nearly picked: Koby Kreiger

Topwater will definitely be a factor here and Koby Kreiger is one of the best with a popping-style bait. He showed us in 2019 that he can keep it in his hands all day. Not only can topwater baits get big bites, they're known for catching numbers too. I don’t necessarily pick him to win this one, but he could certainly finish near the top. 

BUCKET E: CREWS

John Crews’ tournament woes have continued through the last stretch of tournaments. The last few events he has started strong but struggled to keep pace. Each time a tournament seems to line up well for him, he still struggles. That is the problem with Bucket E. That is a consistent story for this whole group of anglers. Not to say any one of these guys couldn’t win here, but there will probably only be one or two standouts from the crowd. And while picking that angler could bolster your fantasy points, it’s a risk that I’m not really willing to make. I’m going to stick with Crews for now because I think he has the greatest chances of making a run at this one if he can keep his fish pinned.

Nearly picked: David Fritts

If any sort of wobbling, billed bait is going to work, David Fritts should have a good showing. If he has any reason at all to throw a crankbait, he will. This event should have plenty of justification for it.