After two Northeast Texas visits from Major League Fishing’s Pro Tour, it is time for BASS fishermen to take center stage at the 2022 Simms Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork on May 19-22.
Longview’s Lee Livesay will be back to defend his 2021 Fork win, fresh off winning the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open at Ross Barnett to qualify for this year’s Bassmaster Classic. He will also be carrying the new title of dad, after the birth of his daughter, Lane, in March.
There have been changes from 2021 when the event was known as the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Bass Classic. The tournament fell in late April and the lake was full. Even more than the later start, the fishermen this year are looking at a lake that has been down more than 5 feet since last fall. Also different is this spring’s weather.
“This year March was February and April was March. We are just now going to post-spawn fishing,” said David Vance, a Lake Fork guide since the day the lake opened.
Although he does not sight fish for bedding bass, Vance said he has talked to guides who said it was the worst spring they have had for the technique. It was caused by a combination of lower water, never-ending wind and repetitive cold fronts that kept water temperatures below normal.
“The lake is so low. Everywhere they used to spawn is out of water. Everything else drops off pretty fast,” Vance added. He said during the spawn in a normal year he would find bass in 2- to 3-feet of water, but this year they were 5- to 6-feet deep.
The result was a rare year in which Lake Fork did not produce a Toyota ShareLunker. In fact the biggest bass weighed this spring is believed an 11-3 caught by 13-year-old Brody Parker in winning the Techron Mega Bass big bass tournament in March.
Vance said even with post spawn fishing, the lake level is having an impact by reducing the amount of water available.
“It has eliminated a lot of it. I think they are moving a lot. It has concentrated fish into some areas and scattered them out into new areas. They are not bunched onto flats," he said.
With a lot of the traditional flats out of the water or shallower than normal, Vance said the bass seem to be moving onto any spot they can find with a little differentiation in depth.
The good news is that numbers and quality began to pick up in the last two weeks with the onset of a shad spawn. For Vance that included the first 10-pounder of the year in his boat.
“We are catching them on anything that sticks out on the lake. The 10 came on a Zara Spook. We have been catching them on topwaters, crankbaits, Carolina rigs,” he said.
This week’s hotter-than-normal temperatures should benefit the BASS tournament because two weeks ago water temperatures were starting in the lower 70s in the morning.
“That is cool,” Vance said of the water temp into May. “They should be in for some of the best fishing we have seen all year. Everyone has struggled.”
Vance’s prediction is that the tournament could play out like last year’s with five or six fishermen doing well and the remainder struggling to catch fish.
“But it is hard to say because it has been so unpredictable. You go out one day and catch fish and then the next day it is like they were never there,” Vance said.
Last year Livesay won with 112-5. He came into the final day in fifth, then weighed 42-3 to pull out the win by 10 pounds over Patrick Walters. His championship round started with a 9-2 minutes into the day, then 40 minutes later he added a 7-6. He finished his five-fish string with an 8-15, 8-14 and 7-14. He also culled almost 19 more pounds.
Lindsey caught most of his bass in Little Caney Creek. His biggest came on a Heddon Saltwater Super Spook, but he also caught bass on swim baits and jerk baits.
Vance predicts topwaters and swim baits will again play a big role in the tournament, but said there will be someone that finds another successful technique.
A former guide on Fork, Livesay undoubtedly has the most experience on the lake. However, Keith Combs of Huntington has had some great tournaments on Lake Fork in the past. Brad Whatley of Cass County calls Lake O’the Pines his home lake and similarities should help him on Fork. Clark Wendlandt of Leander, a former Bassmaster Angler of the Year, also has experience on the lake.
Three other Texans -- Ray Hanselman, Del Rio; Frank Talley, Temple; and Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, are also in the field.
Of course the way this year has been, the weather may still have the last word.
The tournament will be headquartered out of the Sabine River Authority headquarters off Texas 154 between Quitman and Yantis. Launch is at 7 a.m. and weigh-ins will begin at 3:10.
For more information on events at the tournament go to www.bassmaster.com/tournament/2022-simms-bassmaster-elite-at-lake-fork/attend/.