The crown jewel of Texas bass fishing is site of this week’s Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork, the fifth stop of the season.
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Fork, which has produced a majority of the ShareLunker catches in the state, held Elite tournaments the past two years. The winners of those events, held in May and November, won by catching more than 100 pounds. While the time of year is right, the prospects of earning a Century Belt this time might be affected by a late April cold front.
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Lake Fork is a 27,000-acre reservoir of Lake Fork Creek, on the Sabine River System, and Big Caney and Little Caney creeks. It was impounded in 1980 and reached full pool in 1985, covering farm ponds that had been stocked with Florida strain largemouth.
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That early stocking program kick-started the fishery, and in all more than 14 million bass have been introduced into Fork. Around 80% of the timber was left standing, and that cover has aided survival and growth. Fork is a fertile fishery, with inflow from numerous creeks pumping in nutrients. The prominent vegetation is hydrilla, milfoil and duckweed along the lake’s 315 miles of shoreline.
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The Sabine River Authority manages the watershed, and its facility near the dam, at 353 Private Road 5383 in Quitman, is tournament central. Takeoffs are set for 6:45 a.m. CT each day and weigh-ins will be held there at 3 p.m. CT.
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Lake Fork is a mecca for trophy bass. Big fish have long drawn anglers and put an economic value of the fishery at $38.4 million. Fork has produced 30 of the top 50 ShareLunker bass in the state. Barry St. Clair’s 18.18 from Fork in 1992 is the state record.
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Texas’ ShareLunker program is world renowned. Big fish entered are taken to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center for spawning, and the bass and their offspring are returned to the lakes. A number of 13-plus pound fish were landed this spring in Texas, including Tanner Spurgin’s 15.27-pounder from Fork.
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Fork has maintained its big bass stature with progressively restrictive harvest regulations, including a slot limit. As in past Elite events on Fork, the anglers — like Garrett Paquette in 2019 when he earned a Century Belt — will measure, have each bass weighed by a trained judge then immediately release unless it measures more than 24 inches. Only those few overs will come to the weigh-in.
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Brandon Cobb won the 2019 Elite on Lake Fork in early May with 114-0. Cobb started second with 31 pounds, 11 ounces, then scored the big bag of the event on Day 3 at 37-15, including an 11-1 that took big bass honors of the event.
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Last year, Rick Clunn took the Day 1 lead with 29-4, proving once again that one should never believe their best moments are behind them. Clunn led second-place Patrick Walters by 3-6 in the November event, when fishing was less consistent and 100 pounds was thought unreachable by most.
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Walters, however, figured how to entice bass from the standing timber, increasing his weights over the next two days with 26-14 and 29-6 to take a 25-pound lead into the final day and making a Century Belt attainable. He struggled early on Day 4 and was sweating his shot at 100 pounds, but he made a move and caught three fish in a dramatic flurry.
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Walters earned the belt as well as his first Elite title with 104-12, and his 29-10 margin over second place nearly doubled the largest in Elite competition.
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The weather has been warm, but a cold front will drop temperatures into the 30s on Wednesday morning, which might interrupt spawning. Scattered storms are predicted on Friday before warming on the weekend.
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“Right now, the lake is on fire. There are fish in all three stages; there are prespawn fish, there are fish stacked on beds, there are fish that have already spawned,” said Texas pro Frank Talley, who added the cold might inhibit what might have been a major shad spawn. “There will be a little bit of a shad spawn regardless, but with the forecast for cooler weather, that’s probably going to slow down that bite.”
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“This time of year, the lake is going to be packed with guides and locals; you’ll be able to walk over boats,” Talley said. “March through May, Fork gets its most visitors … If someone who can find a pattern within a pattern in an area that’s getting heavily pressured, or just do something off the wall, that might play. The bottom line is there’s no secrets or hidden spots on Fork.”
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The Elites are coming off an event in southeast Texas on the Sabine River out of Orange, which took back the record attendance title with 40,100 fans. Jason Christie, who requalified for the Elites through the 2020 Basspro.com Opens, made a long run up river to win with 43-15, the second smallest winning Elite total.
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Seth Feider finished sixth on the Sabine to take over the lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 341 points. Walters stands second with 333, Drew Cook is third at 317 and Christie (303) and Brock Mosley (302) round out the top five.
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The 99 Elites fish Days 1 and 2, with the top 50 advancing to Semifinal Saturday and the Top 10 fishing Championship Sunday. “It’ll definitely take 20 to 21 pounds a day to make the Top 10,” Talley said. “In my opinion, I think you’ll see the winner break the century mark. I think it will take 102 to 103 pounds.”
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“It’s going to be a good tournament; I think we’re going to hit it just right,” Talley said. Bassmaster LIVE coverage for all four days can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 7 a.m. CT on Saturday and Sunday.