By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Texas prides itself on having a lot of oversized things, and Lake Fork fits right into that theme. At 27,000 acres, the lake itself isn't large by reservoir standards, but many of the bass that live there certainly are.
Fork has produced 13 of the 20 largest documented bass ever caught in the Lonestar State, and 5-pound-plus largemouths are as common as fish half that size are at a lot of venues. Many of the top competitive anglers in the world will work the place over this today through Sunday in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, and the tired expression "Go big or go home" will definitely apply.
"The winning weight has the potential to be upwards of 80 pounds," said James Niggemeyer, a Bassmaster Elite Series angler who runs a guide service on Fork. "One guy catching three 30-pound bags is possible; the question is whether the conditions will allow the lake to show all of its muscle.
"For the biggest weights to happen, the offshore bite will have to be in play. But it's not impossible to stay in the shallows to the mid-depths and catch 25-plus."
First Time in Awhile
Due to its rigid slot limit (bass measuring 16 to 24 inches must be immediately released), Fork rarely hosts high-level competitions. It's welcomed a powerful 50-angler field this week, however, consisting of the Top 15 from the 2013 Elite Series, FLW Tour and PAA Tournament Series points lists, plus a small handful of sponsor's exemptions.
The TTBC is back at the lake following a 5-year hiatus. Fork hosted the first two editions of the event in 2007-08, when the format consisted of four-man teams.
This will be a standard individual-weight derby, but the majority of the fish that are caught won't see the inside of a livewell or a heavy-duty plastic bag with a handle. Only specimens 2 feet or longer will make an appearance at the daily weigh-in festivities.
Pick a Phase
In a normal year, all but the last remnants of the spawn at Fork are over by the second week in May. As is the case with a lot of fisheries, though, an extremely cold winter has slowed the progression down considerably.
There are still some big ones on the beds and sight-fishing will definitely be a factor. There are also some brutes already set up off shore, where they'll ride out the year's warmest months, but not as many as usual.
"There should be quite a few fish spawning in the shallows and some on deeper beds that you can't see because they're at the base of stumps and not quite all the way in the back (of the coves)," Niggemeyer said. "But every day this week the wind's blown like mad and there's rain in the forecast for (Thursday), and that could end up hurting the sight-fishing.
"I don't think it'll be won that way, but could a guy make the Top 10 doing it? No doubt."
James Niggemeyer, a Bassmaster Elite Series angler who guides on Lake Fork, thinks the TTBC will be won from offshore haunts.
He thinks it's likely that the winning fish will come from 20 feet and deeper, even though those fish prefer bright sunshine and there won't be an abundance of that over the weekend. He said the first waves of spawners at Fork typically contain some of the lake's largest fish, so many hawgs have already done their business and have pulled away from the banks.
"Just about everybody will be trying to figure out the deeper bite, and when that happens guys are able to fish the same stuff for (multiple) days if they don't get blown off because the big fish are in groups. You can make the same cast to the same school with a (Strike King) 10XD or a heavy swimbait and really mop up. That's when you could see a 40-pound bag.
"The other thing that could play big is a swimbait pattern for fish just coming off the beds and suspended in the timber. That gives guys an opportunity without ever getting deeper than 10 feet, but you've got to cover a lot more water to make it work."
As a darkhorse pattern, Niggemeyer mentioned hydrilla. The lake doesn't have a lot of it and even that amount was reduced over the harsh winter, but there is some around and the healthiest of it is utilized by big post-spawn fish.
"It only exists in some select areas, and those areas are flat and shallow," he said. "Most of them will be overlooked and a guy who finds the greener stuff could have it all to himself."
Who Stands the Best Chance?
Trying to pick a few betting favorites from among this week's all-star cast is a difficult chore, particularly with the lake in transition and the fish scattered throughout the water column. Nonetheless, Niggemeyer offered up a few names that he expects to see among the Top 10 come Sunday.
His short list consists of longtime Fork ace Kelly Jordon, Texas stalwart and two-time TTBC champion Keith Combs, offshore maven Mark Rose and run-and-gun expert Bryan Thrift (also a former TTBC winner).
"I'm not just saying this because he's a friend, but Kelly could run away with this thing. A lot of people go out fishing with him for an afternoon here and end up catching the biggest fish they've ever caught.
"He's got this place wired and if the conditions play into his hands, he could wear the field out."
> For a complete list of this year's TTBC field, click here.
> Aaron Martens caught a 9-12 bruiser in Thursday's pro-am competition.
> Terry Scroggins' team won the pro-am on a scorecard tie-breaker over Edwin Evers' squad after each caught 23-08. Luke Clausen's team was 3rd with 22-00.