QUITMAN, Texas — It’s been six months since Lake Fork hosted a B.A.S.S. event, but while the seasonal complexion will be significantly different when the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite comes to town, this East Texas powerhouse stands ready to produce another impressive showing.
Competition days will be April 22-25 with daily takeoffs from Sabine River Authority (SRA) — Lake Fork at 6:45 a.m. CT and weigh-ins each day at the same facility at 3 p.m.
With 25 years of Lake Fork experience, third-year Elite Series pro Frank Talley said he expects a fairly stable scenario. Speaking a week and a half before the tournament, Talley said the lake was sitting about 3 inches low, with a seasonally expected clarity range.
“On the north end, both arms are stained to really off-colored, while midlake to down south by the dam has good visibility,” he said. “Water temperatures are between 59 and 52.
“We’ve had some warm days, but by the start of practice, we’re supposed to start getting some mild weather with highs in the upper 60s and lows in the 40s. That’s definitely going to change up some stuff.”
Specifically, Talley believes the cooler weather could lower water temperature and interrupt the current spawning activity. Fortunately, these late-season fronts typically lack the punch of first-quarter weather systems and Fork’s well-managed population of Florida-strain largemouth will offer plenty of options.
“Right now, the lake is on fire,” Talley said. “There are fish in all three stages; there are prespawn fish, there are fish stacked on beds, there are fish that have already spawned.
“If the weather was going to be warm leading up to the tournament, there would definitely be a big 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.”
Given this V-shaped lake’s layout — two major arms (Lake Fork Creek to the west and Caney Creek to the east), along with several lesser creeks — the spawning season typically starts in the creeks’ upper ends, progresses through midlake and then into the southern end.
The fish that have yet to spawn may press the pause button until the cool weather passes, but they’re not leaving their shallow staging areas.
“Once those fish commit, they’re going to be up there,” Talley said. “Right now, the biggest wave has moved and they’re going to filter in and out (of the spawning grounds) until mid-May.”
Common spawning habitats will include pondweed, reeds, scattered milfoil and hydrilla; while pre- and postspawn staging takes place on the points, contour breaks and grasslines just outside the spawning flats. Bladed jigs, Texas-rigged craws and creature baits, wacky rigs and spinnerbaits comprise Fork’s common spring lineup. For shad spawns, add topwaters.
Talley’s advice: Look beyond the obvious.
“Guys have to consider that it’s not just the major creeks that will have the spawning going on,” he said. “There are a lot of little hidey-hole spots that could hold six or eight good spawning fish in the back of a pocket that may only be 40 to 50 yards deep.”
Also important, Talley said, is fishing the appropriate spawn stage for each section of the lake. He’s confident the entire lake will play, to varying degrees. But each part might not specifically play for the spawn phase. Another timely consideration — heavy boat traffic.
“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, so we’re going to have to share a lot of water with (other boats).
“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.”
That being said, Talley foresees a show possibly rivaling Patrick Walters’ record-setting performance at last year’s event (104 pounds, 12 ounces). Despite the minor cooldown, Talley believes the lake is strong enough to deliver big numbers.
“It’ll definitely take 20 to 21 pounds a day to make the Top 10,” he said. “In my opinion, I think you’ll see the winner break the century mark. I think it will take 102 to 103 pounds.
“It’s going to be a good tournament; I think we’re going to hit it just right.”
Live coverage for all four days of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 7 a.m. CT on Saturday and Sunday.