Big bass, big bags and Century Belts were discussed heading into the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork. Lee Livesay, a guide on Fork who calls it the Big Bass Capital of the World, is among the anglers who proved that claim correct. Livesay scored a landmark victory that has dropped jaws. Let’s take another look at the big bass the Elites caught on Fork, the crown jewel of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s super successful management practices.
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The hit parade started quickly on Day 1, with Brandon Cobb landing a 6-pound, 5-ounce largemouth then quickly following up with this 7-2. In his 2019 Elite win on Fork, Cobb had two monster bags, including 37-15, to total 114-0. It was one of two 100-plus pound limits — he was joined by Garret Paquette — and the first in B.A.S.S. since 2013.
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Last year’s winner at Fork, Patrick Walters, picked up where Cobb left off. South Carolina's Walters landed 7-1 and 7-2 bass early then bolstered his leading 32-14 limit with an 8-14. Walters won last November with 104-12, doubling the previous largest margin of victory in an Elite at 29-10.
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Austin Felix, the 2020 Rookie of the Year, had a 6-11 in his 25-11 first day, which he parlayed into a Top 10 finish. There were 90 limits among the 99-man field on Day 1, totaling 477 fish that averaged 3-12.
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Texas pro Chris Zaldain was among the pre-tournament favorites despite suffering a slow start on the season. He had fallen in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and was in Bucket E for Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, where he was chosen by a record 61% of players. They were thrilled with his start as he came through big time with 27-1, including this 6-15.
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Missouri pro Chad Morgenthaler is all smiles showing his 7-13 for his judge to photograph. Along with a 6-10, Morgenthaler built a Day 1 limit of 25-15, one of eight on the day topping 25 pounds. Fork has a slot limit which helps manage the trophy fishery, and the Elite event really isn’t feasible there without the catch, weigh, release format designed 15 years ago to show off Texas’ slot limit lakes like Fork.
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Judges also oversee the measuring of fish, a key as anglers were only allowed to bring in one bass longer than 24 inches. Although it wasn’t the heaviest of the day, Joshua Stracner brought this 8-12 to the stage, which he said put him in the “hunt for a minute.” It helped him weigh 24-11, but without another big bite he fell to finish 16th, although he did take over the lead in the Rookie of the Year standings.
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A slow first day had Cody Hollen in 78th, and his Day 2 wasn’t going much better. On the verge of missing the cut, Cody Hollen landed this 8-3 late to give him 20-15 and jump to 45th. Four fish on Semifinal Saturday left him 46th but with a check.
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Cloud and rain didn’t dampen Skylar Hamilton’s Day 2, when he caught this 8-7 in a 25-13 limit. The monster bass gave him a monster jump in the standings, from 68th to 14th. His 17th-place finish also moved him up the Angler of the Year standings, from 55th to 41st, in position to qualify to the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.
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It looked like game on again for Walters when he landed another big bass, this 8-12, on Day 2, but his second largest was 2-1, and he fell to third with 15-7, less than half his catch a day earlier. It was a slower day for most, with only 69 catching limits and the average weight went down to 3-5.
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Taku Ito produced results opposite of Walters, starting with 15-1 then busting Friday’s biggest bag. Ito, coming off a Top 10 on the Sabine, totaled 33-3 to climb from 73rd to fourth. He caught three overs on the day, replacing a 7-10 with an 8-12 and then an 8-14. He’s shown holding 17-10 of fish, and soon after told a Bassmaster LIVE audience he doesn’t really like catching big fish.
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Ito was super happy to show off his 8-14 to the weigh-in crowd at the Sabine River Authority facility, giving a nod to Dave Mercer’s call of g-g-g-g-giant bass. Ito fished all four days, finishing seventh to climb 20 spots in the AOY standings to 17th.
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Clifford Pirch started 80th with a small limit and was suffering through the second day before he felt this lunker tug on his line. The 9-13, almost half his 21-15 limit, put him inside the cut. He had one of the 16 bags topping 20 pounds, after 36 on the first day.
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Pirch’s bass was the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, and it held out as the largest of the tournament, earning him $2,000 in bonus money along with $10,000 for finishing 36th.
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Louisiana pro Quentin Cappo was in the mix at the top with the second largest bag on Day 1 at 28-15, which included an 8-3 and 6-4. On Day 2, he was at it again, reeling in this 7-1.
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Cappo also had a 6-3 and a 5-11 in busting 25-13 to stand in second with 54-12, just 11 ounces out of the lead heading into Semifinal Saturday. Cappo stayed in the mix with 19-4 then had the third largest bag on Championship Sunday with 25-6 to take third. He finished 10 ounces shy of earning a Century Belt, but he took home his largest Elite payday of $30,000 and climbed 18 spots in the AOY standings to 44th.
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Brandon Card, who’s made noise in previous Texas events, followed his 27-6 Day 1 bag with 28-1 to climb from third to first with 55-7. Card, fishing an offshore area he called the Hammer Hole, had 6-8 and 6-3 bass on Day 1 and two 6-12s on Day 2. Never catching one topping 5 pounds on Saturday, Card nevertheless maintained the lead heading into Championship Sunday with 21-10, and he had 20-2 to finish fourth, just 2-13 from 100 pounds.
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Brandon Palaniuk had 36-4 over the first two days before making a Day 3 charge behind this early 7-8. Two 5-pounders helped him to 23-13, but his climb from 35th fell just short of fishing the finale at 14th.
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Jay Yelas almost made the hyper jump as well. Starting 90th, he busted 21-5 to get inside the cut at 48th, then he really went to work. Yelas started Day 3 with this 7-10 and steadily climbed with two nearing 5 pounds, a 5-5 and a 6-6 for 28-11, second largest on the day. Yet he came up 1-2 shy of reaching Championship Sunday
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Zaldain had the day’s biggest limit at 29-3, which came after a 15-pound second day that dropped him to 12th. His limit included this 7-3, a 5-9 and two 6-2 bass. Zaldain got off to a big start on Championship Sunday, but he would have had to double up his four for 20-2 for a chance to win.
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Carl Jocumsen earned the Phoenix Boats Big Bass bonus on Day 3 with this 9-5. It came just a week after the Australian was filmed catching a 10-pounder.
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Jocumsen’s monster, brought in to the weigh-in, helped him climb to 11th place, just ounces away from securing a Top 10. The day’s clearing skies produced 41 limits and 15 bags over 20 pounds, and the average fish weight went up to 3-11.
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The 10 anglers went out on Championship Sunday saying it would take 30 pounds to win, a Dirty Thirty as Seth Feider put it. Things got interesting early as Livesay, starting fifth 6-15 back of Card, landed two 3-plus bass to take the lead at 6:54 a.m. A minute later, Zaldain busted a 5-6 to take the lead. He held the top spot for all of 19 minutes as Livesay took it over for good with this 9-2 at 7:14.
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Judge Holly Keen took this shot of Livesay’s “baby whale,” and she was busy weighing and photographing more of the same the rest of the day. Livesay’s next two bass went 7-6 and 8-15, giving him 32-4 and a substantial lead.
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Walters was not done, however. He cut his huge deficit to Livesay almost in half with this 9-5, and he continued to gain as his topwater bite heated up.
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Walters added a 5-1, 5-14 and 6-5 to build a limit weighing 31-3 and earning another Century Belt with 102-5. At one point, he stood within a pound and half of Livesay and threatened to score back-to-back victories on Fork with another decent cull.
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Livesay went without an upgrade for more than two hours, but then his bite reignited. He landed two more baby whales, an 8-4 and a 7-14, the last fish pushing him to 42-3 and his total of 112-5, which stands 16th all-time. Keen documented the milestone fish with the odd tailfin, and for her efforts, Livesay signed the spook he used and presented it to her. She said it’s something she’ll revere forever.
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Livesay, who lives in nearby Longview and had a large gallery on the water watching and cheering his day, had said he certainly knows where 40 pounds live on Fork, but in two previous derbies there had never come close. Again, Livesay’s five best on the day were 9-2, 7-6, 8-15, 8-14 and 7-14, which stands third all-time on the heaviest single-day catch list. Livesay would have needed another 3 pounds to top Dean Rojas’ 2001 record of 45-2 on Lake Toho.
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Walters, holding high his second daily Phoenix Boats Big Bass honor in the tournament, finished second, 10 pounds back of Livesay. “It’s a little deflating catching 31 pounds” and not winning, Walters said. “If you’re going to get beat on Lake Fork, it has to be 40 pounds. Big hats off to Lee, he is the man.” Walters’ second Century Belt puts him second to Steve Kennedy (3) on the active list of 11 current Elites who have topped 100 pounds.
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In winning his second blue trophy — his first came last year on Chickamauga — Livesay became the 32nd angler to join the Century Club. He said it was that much sweeter to do it on his home lake in front of a raucous crowd. “I never thought I’d catch 42 pounds,” he said, “so, doing it in front of family and friends, and a lot of sponsors were here, too, it’s just amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”