By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
About 2 1/2 months later than the original schedule called for, the Bassmaster Elite Series will conclude its COVID-interrupted 2020 season this week at Texas' Lake Fork. The venue is a renowned big-fish mecca, but the substantial population of Florida-strain largemouth weighing 7 pounds and up are scattered and not in a particularly cooperative mood as November has arrived.
The derby was previously set to play out in June, when 25-pound bags are fairly common and a winning 4-day total with three digits on the front end would've been likely. As it stands now, though, the trophy-claimer's average might be a bit shy of 20 pounds per day.
The Angler of the Year will be determined, as will approximately 40 berths in next year's Bassmaster Classic at Lake Ray Roberts (also within the confines of the Lone Star State). The number of Elite slots allotted for the Classic could eventually go as deep as 42nd on the points list depending on double-qualifiers, but that won't be fully determined until after the final Bassmaster Open in early December.
Tennessee's David Mullins, who's in his 7th year on the tour, tops the AOY race with 623 points in pursuit of his first title. Austin Felix (the leading contender for Rookie of the Year) is 2nd with 618, followed by Texas veteran Clark Wendlandt with 607. Wendlandt was a three-time AOY during his lengthy stint on the FLW Tour.
Before taking a closer look at the bite, here's some info on the fishery.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Lake Fork Reservoir
> Type of water: Manmade impoundment of a tributary of the Sabine River
> Surface acres: 27,600
> Primary structure/cover: Plentiful standing and submerged timber, stumps, hydrilla, milfoil, coontail, duckweed, ledges, docks, brush piles
> Primary forage: Shad, crappie, bluegill, crawfish
> Average depth: 12 to 15 feet
> Species: Largemouth
> Minimum length: Typically, a slot limit protects bass between 16 and 24 inches at Fork, but since this is a catch-weigh-release format event, the slot limit won’t be in effect
> Reputation: It was built to be a premier fishery and it’s annually considered a top bass fishing destination capable of producing double-digit bass on just about any cast
> Weather: Mostly sunny with some occasional clouds and light winds
> Water temp: High 60s
> Water visibility/color: Stained in a lot of places due to fall turnover
> Water level: 2 feet low
> Fish in: Various depths
> Fish phase: Fall
> Primary patterns: Crankbaits, rattlebaits, bladed jigs, swim jigs, conventional jigs, big worms, flipping
> Winning weight: 80 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 40 after 2 days): 27 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 2
> Wildcard: Big bites. Some 6- to 8-pounders will be caught, but will anyone tangle with a double-digit brute this week?
Here's a look at how Forks lays out, courtesy of Navionics:
Much Different this Time
The Elite Series visited Lake Fork 18 months ago – a time of year when the bruisers were chomping. Brandon Cobb captured his second victory of the season with a 114-pound total that included an eye-popping 37-15 haul on the final day. Runner-up Garrett Paquette also topped the 100-pound plateau.
Autumn presents a much different scenario, however, and this tournament will likely follow the theme of the other three rescheduled events that preceded it. All have taken place on destination-type fisheries, but big bags have been scarce and limits have been no sure thing.
Catching five keepers might not be as difficult a task as it was in prior events, as there seem to be enough willing 2-pounders to go around. A quintet of 3-pounders each day, usually nothing to get excited about at this venue, could push an angler through to the final round.
Fork receives a tremendous amount of fishing pressure and that's been exacerbated this year as more people have partaken in recreational pursuits outdoors and away from crowds. Also, the weather hasn't been helping matters, as cool nights followed by warm, sunny days have created the type of fluctuation that often puts temperamental Florida-strain fish into a funk.
Other aggravating factors include the low water level, high barometric pressure, a near-full moon that makes it easier for bass to feed at night and the ongoing fall turnover of the lake that's dirtied up the water.
There seems to be no predominant depth range or technique that's likely to produce the top bags, as fish are holding deep, shallow and in between in all sectors of the lake. The key might be finding schools of shad and then offering the bass a suitable imitation.
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
"I'm not even sure it's the same lake as last year – I think we caught them all last time. I hate to say it and this is Lake Fork so it's hard to believe, but I swear it was easier to catch a limit at Guntersville or Santee Cooper, although maybe not Chickamauga.
"I think a lot of guys will be mixing it up. There's some fish deep and it could be won that way, but I don't think it'll totally dominate the Top 10.
"If you can get in the teens (each day), you're not going to suck."
"It's been terrible. The fish are extremely scattered and there's a lot of them suspended offshore. It was the worst practice I've ever had, but I'm not upset or feeling bad. I'm going to tie on big-fish baits and fish for giants all day.
"I've heard there's some fish up shallow and I've got a few places where I might be able to catch some, but I don't know how big they are because I shook them off.
"It might be a deal where a guy catches one or two fish the first day, then comes back with a giant bag. My whole deal is that if I'm going to go down, I'm going to go down swinging."
"It's been real stingy. It's not easy at all, but it hasn't been easy anywhere throughout the fall and you know Fork still has those giants.
"It seems like the fish are scattered and I can't get a pattern going or get multiple bites on the same bait. I wouldn't be surprised to see the deep bite prevail; I've stayed shallow for the most part and I haven't seen anything to get excited about.
"I'm pretty much in the Classic but out of AOY contention, so I'm here just fishing. I was hoping to figure out a way to be a little more aggressive, but it hasn't really worked out."
Anglers will launch at 6:40 a.m. CT each day from Sabine River Authority – Lake Fork in Quitman, Texas. Weigh-ins will get under way at 3 p.m. in the same location.
Competitors will be allowed to bring in one bass over 20 inches to show on the weigh-in stage.
> Thurs., Nov. 5 – Mostly Sunny - 76°/50°
- Wind: From the S at 6 mph
> Fri., Nov. 6 – Sunny - 75°/49°
- Wind: From the ESE at 3 mph
> Sat., Nov. 7 – Mostly Sunny - 74°/56°
- Wind: From the E at 4 mph
> Sun., Nov. 8 – Partly Cloudy - 74°/60°
- Wind: From the SE at 5 mph