It is a good thing pro bass fishermen like the opportunity to compete on Lake Fork. The bass fishing gods, it seems, don’t like them being there.
This time it was the Bassmaster Elite fishermen’s turn to enjoy a less than chamber of commerce-like welcoming that seems to greet the biggest tournaments on the lake.
But despite heavy rainfall leading up and running through the first two days of the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, South Carolina fisherman Brandon Cobb put up an impressive four-day total weight of 114 pounds to win the event. Cobb fell just one pound short of Texan Keith Combs' tournament record of 115 set on Fork, but in a three-day event.
Cobb was not the only fisherman to finish with a 100 pounds-plus. Garrett Paquette of Michigan was second with 101-15. It was the first time since 2013 that Elite series anglers topped the 100-pound mark when three fishermen did it on Falcon Lake.
Texas lakes have been good to the pros. The all-time Elite tournament record is 132-8 set by Paul Elias on Falcon in 2008.
The tournament was the fifth professional event on Fork. Three of the previous four were impacted by storms, including one year it was so bad the event was closed to the public after most of the exhibits were blown away.
This year officials learned from those mistakes and shut down the parking area for Saturday’s family day and forced everyone to park on the road. That and the mud in the events area could have kept visitors away, but being East Texans they just pulled off their shoes and barreled on. After all, there was a lake nearby to clean off in when it was all over.
The tournament was Cobb’s second win on the Elite series. His first came in April on Lake Hartwell, S.C., where he won with a total weight of 72-4. That would have been good for fourth place on Lake Fork … after three days of the four-day tournament.
Cobb was sitting with 84-1 after three days at Fork, more than seven pounds ahead of Paquette, who was in second with 76-12.
Cobb closed out the tournament Monday with 29-15 to easily win. Paquette had 25-3 the last day.
Cobb started the tournament with 31-11, four ounces behind leader Chad Pipkins of Michigan. Pipkins boated the largest stringer again on Friday with 30-15 while Cobb fell off the pace with 14-7. However, after the field was cut to 35 for Sunday’s round Cobb jumped into the lead with 37-15, including an 11-1 tournament big bass.
Pipkins was only able to weigh in 5-8 for a three-day total of 68-6. While he qualified for Monday’s final round with nine others, Pipkins dropped to seventh, one slot behind Combs, the only Texan left in the field. Combs finished the event in seventh with 93-7.
Cobb said he spent most of the tournament fishing shallow water points and flats, targeting spawning shad with a jerk bait. With culling, his smallest bass Monday was a 5-10.
“Overall the tournament still showcased how great Lake Fork still is,” said Jake Norman, TPWD Fisheries district biologist. “Did it fall a little short of my initial expectations? Slightly, but the top end of the leaderboard still had phenomenal weights and Brandon Cobb was right within the 25- to 30-pound daily average I predicted.”
Norman said he thinks the rain and high water hurt at least the first two days.
“For one, the shad spawn was in full swing all over the lake before the storms rolled in Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. I was honestly expecting to see several anglers jump out to 20-25 pounds every morning from the shad spawn bite, but it was very apparent on the first day of competition that both the shad and bass were still in a bit of a shock from the intense storms and rising water,” Norman explained.
He said the muddied water made sight fishing difficult.
“I think if the lake had remained stable, a lot of people would have been surprised how many fish were still spawning on Fork,” Norman added.
The fact the tournament only produced one double-digit bass was not a concern to Norman, who noted that in Combs’ record-setting year of 2014 only three were weighed.
The biologist said the tournament results showed how good the pros are at putting together four consecutive strong days of fishing under pressure, and that Lake Fork is still among the best bass lakes anywhere.
“The big take home is don’t let local theories consume your attitude when you go fishing. If you buy into a preconceived notion that fishing will be tough, you’re instantly handicapping your day before you make the first cast. The pros once again highlighted what Fork is capable of, even when it is fishing a little tough,” Norman said.
No announcement has been made on the locations of next year’s event that helps provide funding for several TPWD fishing programs.