Toyota Texas Bass Classic

Keith Combs set a three-day tournament record with 15 bass weighing 110 pounds during the 2014 Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Fork. The Texas fisherman returns to the lake as one of 75 pros competing this week in the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest. (Steve Knight/Staff)

Pro bass fishing at the highest level returns to Lake Fork as 75 Bassmaster Elite Series fishermen participate in the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on Thursday, May 2 through Monday, May 6. If the weather cooperates, this could be a record-setting event.

The tournament will only be the fifth time a pro level event has been held on Fork. The others in 2007, 2008, 2014 and 2015 featured pro anglers from both BASS and FLW, but were sanctioned by the Professional Anglers Association. That run, which initially featured team events before becoming an individual competition the last two years, was highlighted in 2014 by Keith Combs' record setting 15-bass total weighing 110 pounds.

With a number of long-time Elite Series fishermen having moved on to Major League Fishing this year, the $1 million event will not have some of the big names fans are accustomed to, but it is still one of the strongest fields in professional fishing. The timing of the catch-weigh-release tournament could not be better.

“Fork will be fishing wide open when the event kicks off. I’d feel pretty comfortable saying there will be fish caught from 1 to 30-plus feet of water. They really picked a great time for this event and everyone will be able to fish to their strengths,” said Jake Norman, TPWD Inland Fisheries district biologist over Lake Fork.

While the bulk of the spawn on the lake may be over, Norman still expects a number of fish to be on beds and those that spawned early will be aggressively foraging to put weight back on.

“With a cold start to March, things really didn’t get going until the mid- to latter-half of the month, which will likely draw the spawn out even longer this year. Fork typically has a protracted spawning season that lasts around a month and a half, but there will likely be a few still spawning in early June this year,” Norman explained.

With shad spawning the morning bite could be excellent, but Norman predicts fishermen will have to use everything in their tackle box throughout the event.

“I would be shocked if the winning angler stuck to one pattern all four days. Because there will be fish in all stages of the spawn, anglers will likely need to find some quality fish in all stages as well. I can’t see just a shallow pattern or conversely just a deep pattern producing the 20 big fish needed to win this one,” Norman said.

Weather permitting, this should be an excellent barometer of where the 39-year-old lake is. Normally a reservoir peaks quality-wise at about half that age, but Combs' record-setting stringer in 2014 shows Fork is not totally a lake of the past. The lake does not churn out 13 pounders like it once did, but there continues to be an abundance of quality fish 8 pounds and larger.

“I think a 25- to 30-pound average over the four days is a realistic estimate, despite the weather conditions. If the stars align, it wouldn’t surprise me to see some records fall, though. Paul Elias had just over a 33 pounds per day average when he set the current BASS four-day event total weight record. If the big fish in Fork get in a good feeding mode during this event and the weather cooperates, I could see an angler or two challenging that record, if not substantially break it,” Norman said.

If all the stars align, the biologist said a 35-pound daily average (140 pounds overall) is possible. That, however, will mean weather conditions that highlight Fork’s ability, something that the pros have seldom seen when visiting the lake.

“I refer to Lake Fork as a technical lake often because the bass here are so pressured they seem to develop some very specific habits. Even a small change in wind direction can turn fish on or off. It sounds pretty crazy to think we could be disappointed with only 100 pounds over four days, but that’s the type of lake Fork still is,” Norman said.

In all of its forms, the Toyota Texas has benefited TPWD fishing programs such as Neighborhood Fishin’ and State-Fish Art program.

Competition is Thursday through Monday, with Saturday being an off day. The field is cut to 35 for Day 3 and 10 for the final round. Launching will be daily at 7 a.m. and weigh-in will be at 3 p.m. Both are free and will be at the Sabine River Authority headquarters on the lake.

Saturday and Sunday will be free family-friendly days at the tournament with a number of activities featuring fishing, hunting and camping in the state. For a complete list of activities, go online to https://www.bassmaster.com/news/attend-2019-toyota-bassmaster-texas-fest-benefiting-texas-parks-wildlife-department.

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