If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
That may be the mantra for the Bassmaster Elite Series when it makes its second attempt in 2020 to hold the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Lake Fork.
Initially scheduled for early June the tournament was moved to Friday through Monday after the state was put on lockdown for COVID-19. The earlier date was set to give the fishermen a shot at spawning and post-spawn bass. This go-round is going to be a lot different as the fishermen will most likely be chasing suspended bass getting ready for the cold winter months.
Historically, tournaments weights on southern lakes are much lower in the fall than in the spring. If that holds true the 100-pound winning weights that have become commonplace for the tournament in the past probably will not happen even though the fishermen will be able to score every bass in the catch-and-release tournament.
“They are not going to be looking at the same lake they have in the past,” predicts former Elite series pro James Niggemeyer. “There is a lot of areas that can be productive, but it narrows down. It is very specific.”
Niggemeyer, who currently splits time guiding on Fork and fishing the FLW Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, said he thinks a few fishermen will figure out the lake on two or three days of the four-day tournament, while the remainder “will have pedestrian weights.”
“The top five will be pretty impressive. It may be the top two or three,” Niggemeyer said. He added that instead of the 25-pound-plus bags it has taken to compete in the tournament in the spring, this time he thinks it will take weights in the upper teens or lower 20s. However, Niggemeyer said he would not be surprised if one day someone showed up with a 30-pound bag.
“I would be surprised if the guy that wins gets 80 pounds,” he noted.
Niggemeyer’s prediction is not a comment on anything happening at Fork. The lake came out of the summer down less than two feet, is fairly clear and full of shad.
The guide said the difference is that in the spring and summer bass are grouped up in certain areas of the lake. In the fall there are still some grouped, but more are suspended near bait. Because of that he expects the fishermen to use a heavy dose of spoons, jigs and drop shots. He also believes swim baits could be a valuable tool in the tackle box.
“Everything is about the bait. They are where the shad are. They are not related to structure, but may be near it,” Niggemeyer said.
Looking at who in the field of 85 has the advantage on the lake Niggemeyer said you always have to keep an eye on Texan Keith Combs, who has won on Fork before.
“Keith is so good at fishing offshore,” he said.
Lee Livesay of Longview is someone else to watch. Livesay won the last Elite series tournament on Chickamauga Lake and has guided on Fork. However, historically the pros seldom win on their home lake, and Livesay finished 39th in the 2019 version of the TTBF.
Both Combs and Livesay need a win to get them closer to qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic.
The fishermen are competing for a total payout of $1 million.
The tournament will again be based at the Sabine River Authority headquarters off Texas 154. The launch will begin at 6:40 a.m. with weigh-in at 3 p.m although only above-the-slot bass will be brought to the podium.
The public is invited to attend the launches and weigh-ins, and a Fan Fest starting at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Crowd size will be limited to allow for social distancing. It is suggested that those attending wear masks for safety.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will have educational booths and staff onsite for the Fan Fest. A number of vendors will also have booths with fishing merchandise and there will be seminars featuring Elite pros.
The tournament benefits TPWD outreach programs such as the Neighborhood Fishing program and the State-Fish Art program. The department will receive $250,000 from Toyota for this year’s tournament, bringing the total received to $3.25 million since 2007 from the current event and its predecessor, the Toyota Texas Bass Fest.