By Todd Ceisner
Lance Vick predicts it’ll be a “smash-a-thon” and says the Bass Pro Tour is visiting his workplace at “just the right time.”
After two days of practice, though, a few BPT competitors weren’t quite as enthusiastic as the former B.A.S.S. and FLW competitor and longtime Lake Fork guide in their assessment of the fabled trophy bass fishery. Given two – possibly three – more days on the water during competition, their tune may change.
There are a number of factors working in favor of the 80 BPT anglers set to tackle Fork, the iconic manmade bass fishing Camelot just east of Dallas, Texas. For starters, after a chilly spell around the lake last month, the weather has rounded into form recently. The water is warming up to and beyond the 60-degree mark, which many consider the threshold that triggers bass to start moving toward predictable areas to spawn.
“It’s been cold and the water just bloomed heat-wise,” Vick said, noting he saw 69-degree water on Thursday. “We’re going to get a little cold front, but these fish are pushed shallow. They didn’t push hard at the end of February because we had cold water still. I think everything will be hitting the bank and guys are going to smash them.
“With that field, somebody can catch them with their strength no matter what their strength is. There is clear water, dirty water and something in between.”
But there are also factors that will pose significant challenges, namely local fishing pressure and boat traffic. Fork is no secret gem of a lake tucked away in the middle of nowhere. It’s a well-publicized destination with dozens of outfitters operating around the lake. It’s also spring break time for many of the schools in the area, so that could add another layer of activity on the water. In addition, a B.A.S.S. Nation kayak tournament on Saturday will put another 150 anglers on the water.
And that’s saying nothing about the navigational challenges posed by the submerged forest at Fork. Boat lanes are marked, but meandering off the main drag while exploring pockets and creeks will not only eat up time because of the care that’s required, it can eat up equipment, too.
There’s rain and thunderstorms forecast for every day of the event, but Vick said he wouldn’t be too put off by it. He’s had some of his best days guiding there in dreary conditions.
“Rain could be an accelerant,” he said. “Crappy weather leads to big fish.”
Count Wesley Strader among those who hopes Vick is right.
“It’s been horrible on me,” said Strader, who’s 17th in points after two events. “I don’t get it because the water’s warming up. The only thing that concerns me is this lake is known for giants and I’ve not caught one over 3 1/2 pounds yet.”
As was the case in the first two tournaments, anglers will be held to a minimum weight requirement of 2 pounds per fish. One change for this event will be the competition hours. Anglers will fish from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time.
Before getting into more about the bite, here's the lowdown on the lake itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Lake Fork Reservoir
> Type of water: Manmade impoundment on a tributary of the Sabine River
> Surface acres: 27,600
> Primary structure/cover: Plentiful standing and submerged timber, stumps, hydrilla, milfoil, 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 come into play
> 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: Rain in the forecast every day with temps in the 60s
> Water temp: Mid 50s to mid 60s mostly
> Water visibility/color: 2 inches to 2 feet
> Water level: A few inches below normal pool
> Fish in: Various depths
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn, bedding
> Primary patterns: Cranking, flipping, topwater, big worms, swimbaits, Carolina rigs, sight-fishing
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3
> Biggest factors: Crowds. How the field works with and around the locals will be something to keep tabs on.
> Biggest decision: Whether to sacrifice fishing time to idle through a timber-infested creek arm to reach some potentially untapped water.
> Wildcard: Big bites. Plenty of 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:
The catch-weigh-release format utilized by MLF became a reality at Fork in 2008 during the first Toyota Texas Bass Classic. Vick was a member of the four-man winning team that year, along with current BPT pros David Walker and Kelly Jordon. Much has changed about the lake since then. It’s endured a drought, which brought about a drastic reduction in aquatic vegetation. It’s still smack full of timber and stumps, though, and that can be good for fishing, but rough on equipment.
Vick acknowledged the amount of boat traffic on the lake will impact some of the competitors, but he’s confident they’ll still be able to record some prodigious weights. He thinks a 100-pound day is not out of the realm of possibility and it’s likely multiple 10-pound plus bass will be caught.
“We’re letting the best anglers loose on the best lake in the country at the best time,” he said. “Someone will stick a gigantic fish.”
Greg Gray, a guide client of Lance Vick, had his hands full with this Lake Fork brute. Click here to contact Vick about his guide service.
Nobody relishes getting amped up for a big-fish venue more than Californian Jared Lintner. Fork, he figured, would be ripe for how he loves to fish early in the year.
“I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since the schedule came out,” said Lintner. “For the time of year, I was expecting full blown pre-spawn, so I geared up for that mentally. When I left my boat at (Jeff) Sprague’s house after we fished at Lake Okeechobee, it was 31 degrees in the middle of the day. There were no buds on the trees. When I got back here Monday, I got off the plane and it was humid and I was like, ‘Dude, it’s going to go down.’”
After rigging up numerous big swimbaits (the smallest being six inches), Lintner was prepared for the scenario he envisioned.
“I’m not sure what the other guys are saying, but it’s not what I was expecting,” he said following the conclusion of practice. “I couldn’t catch ‘em how I want to catch ‘em and that was frustrating.”
He’s certain the lake will kick out some of its trademark trophy-sized largemouth, but doesn’t expect everyone to be in on the fun.
“Guys will catch big big ones, but like any other big fish lake like Clear Lake, there’s usually a weeklong window where they don’t do what they should normally do this time of year, which is eat,” he said. “They’re in the spawning mode and that’s all they’re into and we’re smack in the middle of it. That’s my take.”
Vick expects the south end of the lake to get plenty of attention due to the historically good spawning areas there. Then again, everywhere on Forks seems to get plenty of attention.
“Talk about a place that gets pressure. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Strader, who’s 17th in points after two events. “You’ll go into one of these 100-acre pond areas and there will be 30 or 40 boats in there, so I’ve been trying to figure out something that’s not in the ponds. If it’s a known area that people catch bass in, it’s going to be absolutely covered up.”
“It reminds me of Guntersville in that it’s not really fun to fish because it’s so crowded,” added Brent Chapman. “I’m fine fishing in crowds and will put my blinders on in competition, but to me it’s not an enjoyable place to fish.”
Chapman, who will fish on Saturday, says it’s easy to get misled by all the cover in the lake. He said a wave of fish are already on beds and there seems to be a wave of pre-spawners still offshore but not ultra-deep. He doesn’t plan to target much water deeper than 10 feet.
“There seems to be a whole lot of dead water, but when you find them there seems to be fair amount of fish,” he said. “From what I saw Wednesday, some of our records might be broken here.”
A Few to Keep an Eye On
With the above in mind and more, here are a few anglers BassFan thinks stand a chance to fare well in this event.
> Jeff Sprague – Texas native gets a home game on a lake he knows well. Can he balance the history and current conditions?
> Bryan Thrift – Has adjusted well to the MLF format, but his preference to run-and-gun will be put to the test in this event.
> Takahiro Omori – Third in points after two outings, Omori is off to a sizzling start. Like Sprague, he’s a local with plenty of knowledge about Fork and shallow cranking will no doubt be a popular technique this week.
> Mike Iaconelli – He has history at Fork from several TTBCs and he’s looking for a bounce-back performance after a 72nd-place showing in Florida.
> Fri., March 13 – Rain - 69°/58°
- Wind: Light and variable
> Sat., March 14 – Thunderstorms - 71°/57°
- Wind: From the SSE at 5 to 10 mph
> Sun., March 15 – Scattered Thunderstorms - 68°/54°
- Wind: From the NNE at 5 to 10 mph
> Mon., March 16 – Rain - 65°/58°
- Wind: From the ESE at 5 to 10 mph
> Tue., March 17 – Scattered Thunderstorms - 73°/62°
- Wind: Light and variable
> Wed., March 18 – Thunderstorms - 75°/65°
- Wind: From the SSE at 5 to 10 mph