Bryan Thrift

Because of severe weather, Major League Fishing was forced to move its REDCREST tournament a second time, the latest being from Lake Palestine to Lake Eufaula where Bryan Thrift caught a 7-1 on the opening day.

Come to Texas, they said. It will be fun, they said. It should probably be warm enough some bass are bedding, they said.

REDCREST 2021 Start Delayed Due to Inclement Weather, the headline read.

Major League Fishing Shifts Redcrest 2021 To Alabama’s Lake Eufaula, another followed.

And just like that, what was to be the country’s introduction to Lake Palestine skidded out of town on a sheet of ice.

You cannot blame Major League Fishing. What was to have been Lake Palestine’s first top-tier professional bass tournament arrived in East Texas from Oklahoma’s Grand Lake of the Cherokees because of COVID-19. Alabama angler Dustin Connell won the $791,000 tournament Thursday, taking home the top prize of $300,000.

Despite the quality of bass fishing Northeast Texas has not seen many pro tournaments. They have figured a way to hold both MLF and B.A.S.S. events on Lake Fork, otherwise they go to Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn or elsewhere in the state. One of the reasons might be the lack of infrastructure on Palestine. Most of the lakes that host pro tournaments have a large public site where the tournaments can headquarter. That certainly is not the case on Lake Palestine. Even though MLF are catch-and-release tournaments and do not need a weigh-in site, and the REDCREST field was small for pro event, still squeezing in and out of The Villages Marina was going to be a tight fit.

Then 2020 went into overtime and the normally mild Texas winter went into the deep freeze. Power became as elusive as 13-pounders, water pressure equaled that of water draining out the weep hole on an outboard motor and gas stations were closed like marinas at launch time.

There is no doubt nature decidedly won this round, and MLF took its tournament and the publicity that would have come with it to Alabama.

“We’ve exhausted every option available to try to remain at Lake Palestine, but with the disaster-like conditions that the area is currently facing we couldn’t, as an organization, come in and use their valuable resources — water, electricity, food, hotel rooms — and celebrate our championship event when the local community is suffering,” said Michael Mulone, MLF Senior Director of Events & Partnerships, in announcing the move. “We are grateful for our relationship with the Villages Marina, the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Tyler and the entire region.”

The real disappointment is that fishermen will not get to see how the pros fish the lake and how well they do. Because of their skill level a pro tournament is often a litmus test of a lake’s condition. Prior to B.A.S.S. fishing Fork, some fishermen were souring on the lake saying its best years were over. Then Keith Combs won in 2014 with a three-day limit of 15 bass weighing 110 pounds and suddenly Lake Fork was back.

That has not been the case at Lake Palestine, at least recently. The lake had gone through some tough years, but it has roared back, and single-day tournament winning weights in late winter and early spring are often 25-pounds plus.

Palestine has already produced a 2021 Legacy ShareLunker when Trinidad angler Daniel Ramsey caught a 13.07-pound in late January during a Media Bass tournament he went on to win with more than 28 pounds.

There are plenty of good fishermen on Lake Palestine every weekend. What the pros bring is fresh eyeballs and more diverse experience when it comes to fishing a lake. Not knowing what spots are good or bad, the pros use their years of fishing a variety of conditions on numerous lakes, both similar and different, to unlock successful patterns.

It would have been fun to watch Edwin Evers, Ott DeFoe, Jacob Wheeler, Kevin VanDam, Mark Rose, Chris Lane, Brent Ehrler and others dissect the lake, or to see if East Texans Jeff Sprague, Takahiro Omori and Todd Faircloth could come up with some home cooking.

While Lake Palestine’s chance for pro tour fame has come and gone for this year there is always next year or the year after. MLF’s Pro Tour fishes a variety of formats and Palestine would fit anyone. They could hold an entire tournament on the lake, or move for final rounds to either Tyler lakes, Jacksonville, Athens or a number of others within an hour or so drive.

So I am inviting MLF back for a time when there is not a foot of snow on the ground, ice at the ramps, rolling blackouts and Whataburger is open. You know, maybe next March or April.

Just don’t wait too long, summers can be brutal on Palestine. Then again it might be interesting to see if it is as tough as it seems or if a bunch of pros can unlock some fishing secrets.