Lake Fork’s status as Big Bass Capital of Texas will again be either certified or questioned after the world’s top pro fishermen from Major League Fishing and B.A.S.S. compete in separate events in 2020.
The test for Fork, and the fishermen, is that the events come under completely different conditions. MLF will be on the lake for one of its eight Bass Pro Tour events March 13-18. Possibly hoping for better weather than it has experienced on the lake in the past, B.A.S.S. is returning to Fork for the 2020 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on June 5-9.
As Tyler fisherman Kelly Jordon has said, the MLF tournament is sort of a back-to-the-future event. Their tournaments are unique in pro bass fishing because they are held under catch-weigh-release rules, based on a concept Jordon came up with while guiding on Lake Fork.
In 2007, his idea morphed into the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, an event with pros from several circuits who competed under the catch-and-release rules with observers on each boat recording weights. When the TTBC became a B.A.S.S event in 2017 the rules followed for that one event. When the MLF tour started last spring, all of its tournaments were designated catch-and-release events.
The MLF tournament is the third of its season. Along with the $100,000 first-place prize up for grabs in the tournament are points toward entry into the Heritage Cup tournament, one of four events that lead to participation in the General Tire World Championship as well as points toward entry in the Redcreast tour championship.
The MLF event is also unique in that the field of 80 is divided with 40 fishing the first and third days and 40 others fishing the second and fourth days. Fishermen will receive credit for every bass weighing more than a pounds. After the first four days 20 from each group will fish in a knockout round on the fifth day and then a total of 10 will move on to the final-day championship round.
Although there will be no fish brought to the stage during the tournament, fans can livestream results or watch actual fishing activity throughout the event online.
Along with Jordon, other anglers expected in the field include Kevin Van Dam, Edwin Evers, Boyd Duckett and Mike Iaconelli. Texans competing include Lake Fork’s Takahiro Omori, Jeff Sprague, Gary Klein, Alton Jones, Alton Jones Jr., Todd Faircloth and Shin Fukae.
The Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest is the sixth event of the season for the Elite series and the second in a back-to-back tour of Texas. The week before Elite series fishermen will be competing on the Sabine River out of Orange.
The Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest was also on Lake Fork in May 2019. That event was weather impacted, but South Carolina fisherman Brandon Cobb still had a four-day total of 114 pounds for the win.
Based on timing, there is no doubt the fishermen will approach each differently.
“These two events will be about as contrasting as functionally possible,” said Jake Norman, TPWD Inland Fisheries biologist.
“March and June are probably my two favorite months to fish Fork, but March can be very unpredictable. While weather patterns always influence the predominant fishing styles on Fork, March is possibly the most bipolar of them all. We could see water temps in the 60s and a strong wave of bass spawning all over the lake, we could see 40s and fish scattered from 1-30 feet, or we could see mid-50s with a lot of fat pre-spawn bass staging outside of spawning areas in 2-10 feet.”
No matter what, he expects MLF fishermen to weigh some big bass, especially if water temperatures are in the mid to upper 50s. Under the best conditions he expects a steady diet of sight fishing the banks along with reaction baits. If winter lingers Norman said it is anyone’s guess what direction the pros take.
“On the other hand, the June event will be dominated by structure fishing. For the most part, June is the most consistent month for catching big fish off the banks. Sure, there will still be good fish caught shallow, but the most consistent bite for quality fish will come out of 15-30 feet during the B.A.S.S. event,” Norman added.
With more predictable weather in June he expects bigger numbers weighed.
“I think the dominant pattern will be deep cranking, some more deep cranking, a little more deep cranking and maybe mixing up the color, swimbait, deep cranking, football jig, flutter spoon and a few more deep crankbaits,” Norman said. He added that with the pros looking for 40-pound daily weights they will certainly try other lures, but the deep crankbaits and swimbaits will likely predominate.
With unpredictable conditions in March, Norman does not have a prediction for the MLF tournament winning total. However, he is going bold for B.A.S.S. in June, calling for someone to break the tour’s four-day weight record of 132-8.
Both tournaments are expected to have fan events during the week. Exact plans will be announced at a later date.