Fishing conditions couldn't be better on Lake Fork for the 50 fishermen taking part in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic today through Sunday.
"Realistically, it should take 70 to 80 pounds to win, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was 90," veteran Lake Fork guide David Vance said.
The tournament, featuring 50 of the top professional bass fishermen in America, is returning to the lake after a five-year absence. A team event the last time the tournament was held on the lake, this time it's the championship competition for the Professional Anglers Association.
Anglers qualified for the event based on their standings in either PAA tournaments, the Bassmaster Elite Series or the Walmart FLW Tour. They are competing for a top prize package of $150,000.
This year's tournament lineup has 11 Bassmaster Classic and FLW Forrest Wood Cup winners, including four-time Bassmaster Classic winner and seven-time BASS angler of the year Kevin VanDam. Also in the field is former Classic winners Luke Clausen, Alton Jones, Mike Iaconelli and Jay Yelas. FLW Cup title winners include Brent Ehrler, Randall Tharp and Clausen, the only fisherman to win top honors in both circuits.
Keith Combs, of Huntington, returns to the tournament as the 2011 and 2013 champion. Also competing is 2012 champion Bryan Thrift.
The field boasts $64 million in prize earnings and 235 tournament wins, including Jacob Powrosnik's Bassmaster Elite Series win Sunday on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Vance, who has guided on the lake since it opened and has fished professionally, said despite an odd early spring that the lake is set up perfectly for the event.
"The fish are loaded up on the secondary points. There are still some spawning, but I am catching the fish that are moving out," he said.
Lake Fork, which is still down 3.67 feet and has not been full since 2011, has actually come up almost half a foot in the last month.
It is also cooler than normal. Vance said he was getting water temperature readings in the lower 70s this week as opposed to the mid- to upper-70s normally found in early May.
"This has been the coldest spring I have ever seen in my life. I fished in the guides tournament up here in early February and the water temperature then was 38 degrees," Vance said.
He said he is currently fishing 3- to 8-feet of water, using top waters, crankbaits and Carolina rigs.
Targeting post-spawn fish, Vance said in the past week his clients have been boating 30 to 40 fish per day with daily big bass running 8 and 9 pounds. That is why he is optimistic about the pro's chances.
"Fishing is too good right now and these guys are too good not to find these fish. There will be a lot of fish caught in the tournament. We are going to hear of some big weights," he said.
Vance added even a continued chance of rain today and Saturday should not slow the pros.
"They came at the right time. There is going to be a lot of good PR for the lake," he said.
The TTBC benefits several Texas Parks and Wildlife Department programs, including the Neighborhood Fishin' Program and the State-Fish Art Contest.
The tournament's launch and weigh-in will be at the Sabine River Authority headquarters off Texas Highway 154. The launch will be from 6 to 8 a.m. daily and is the only free activity.
Gates open at noon today and 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Weigh-in is at 5 p.m. the first two days and 4 p.m. Sunday.
Daily admission is $15 in advance or $25 at the gate for those 18 and above. Those 17 and under will be admitted free with an adult.
Admission gains access to a number of outdoor activities, Toyota and Yamaha test tracks, the weigh-in and concerts featuring Pat Green today, Little Big Town on Saturday and Justin Moore on Sunday. Today and Saturday's concerts will follow the weigh-in. Sunday's will precede the final weigh-in.
Advance tickets are on sale at participating Brookshire's stores, Academy Sports and Outdoors and area Toyota dealers.
For more information go online to www.toyotatexasbassclassic.com.
Professional bass fishermen being who they are, getting information on fishing techniques and areas before a tournament is impossible.
For those who are talking, there is no consensus on what to do considering how cold March and April were. Some are still fishing the bank, some are after transition fish moving between the shore and deep water and others are fishing summer patterns where typically the fish would be by now.
Texas Department of Transportation has said it will stop road construction on Texas 154 leading from both Quitman and Sulphur Springs during the Toyota Texas Bass Classic.
That should make travel easier to and from the tournament located at the Sabine River Authority headquarters on the lake. However, the road is still just two lanes, so those planning to attend the tournament expo, weigh-in or concerts should give themselves extra travel time.
Rain started to fall at Lake Fork just before the start of Thursday's pro am.
It isn't expected to be around during the competition part of the tournament.
With the lake still down more than three feet, the area needs the rain, but even SRA officials said they hope it holds off until Monday.