Kayak tournament at Lake Fork primed to produce

ALBA, Texas – The 152 anglers signed up to fish the Huk Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by TourneyX presented by Abu Garcia at Lake Fork on Saturday, March 14, might be hitting the lake just right to find fish shallow and with feedbags strapped on. Then again, rain in the forecast might cool the water and push the fish back to staging depths of 8 feet and deeper.

As the 27,000-plus-acre lake has received large stockings of Florida strain bass over its 40-year lifespan, most of the bass are a combination of Florida- and northern-strain bass, according to Jake Norman, biologist for the Tyler district, which includes Fork.

“We haven’t seen a pure northern strain largemouth in several years,” said Norman. It could produce some giants for the Bassmaster kayak competitors, too.

“We have reports of a 16-pounder caught this week,” Norman said.

Anglers face a couple barriers to easily catching the big ones. One is super abundant forage, mainly gizzard shad, threadfin shad and sunfish, Norman said. The other is the bass population is well-educated from year-round tournaments and recreational anglers who come from the populous Dallas/Fort Worth area, which is just over an hour away.

“Last fall you couldn’t go anywhere in that lake idling around and not see your graph blacked out with threadfin shad,” said Norman, noting that most of those forage fish are 3 to 6 inches long. Gizzard shad from 8 to 12 inches also provide meals for the bigger largemouth in the reservoir. As for intelligent fishing pressure, Norman agreed that it can be a factor. He also noted that starting around 2011, the lake was low for a few years due to drought, which deprived fish of traditional spawning areas and adversely affected some year classes. Since the lake came back to full pool in 2015, those spawning areas are back, and the more recent year classes are showing up strong.

“It takes three to three and a half years for bass on Fork to reach the slot at 16 inches,” Norman said. This season should see good numbers of those 16-inchers from spawns in 2016 and 2017, he said.

Dwayne Taff of Huffman, Texas, is a kayak tournament veteran who won $100,000 in the 2018 Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship. He has fished Fork regularly the past few years and was less than enthused after his latest trip.

“I fished it all day Sunday and caught just two fish, a 14- and a 16-incher and they were off the bank in about 8 feet of water,” he said. “I think it might be a tough bite.”

With the forecast predicting an 80% chance of rain Saturday along with 12 mph winds, conditions could try a kayak angler’s fortitude in the weather and patience between bites, Taff noted.

“Fork is one of those places where if they say the wind is going to blow 10 mph, it will be blowing 20,” he said, noting that the forecast of south winds could further stir things up in the V-shaped lake, both wings largely north-south oriented. On the bright side, the darker skies with rain might be conducive to a strong, shallow frog bite, for which Fork is famous.

Kayakers can find plenty of places to fish out of the wind, although the main lake points, when the wind blows, can be red hot for schools of bigger females that are slamming shad in March, said Norman. Another tactic Norman suggested kayakers might try is to watch their graphs and follow defined underwater creek channels that lead to spawning flats, which can be in areas protected from wind.

Norman said anglers might be wise to probe the shallower depths of 8 feet all the way up to 5 inches, as Fork bass come up in waves to reproduce starting in February.  He said anglers should find some bass on beds as the full moon occurred Monday this week. That sets the stage for kayak competitors to catch the fish of a lifetime.

“Every year the biggest bass in Fork get caught within a few days after the full moon,” he said.

Patrick Malone, tournament director for the event said Fork is his favorite lake and he has fished it all of his life — he happens to be 40, the same age as the lake. His grandfather was a guide on the lake, too. As an avid kayak angler himself, he recommends anglers “just go fishing.”

“It’s really a simple lake, but anglers sometimes are intimidated by its reputation and try to do too much,” he said. “This time of year I mostly fish a Texas-rigged, watermelon lizard. I also use a Baby Brush Hog.” Jigs and Senkos are also high percentage lures in March.

Malone said good areas to target include beds of the ample vegetation and rip rap. A less visible structure that can hold fish are flooded pond dams, basically long, man-made humps built to make stock ponds before the lake’s creation.

Anglers shouldn’t have trouble finding a place to launch plastic boats, Malone said.

“There’s a ton of ramps,” he said, noting the Texas Parks and Wildlife offers a list of those on Fork . He noted the lake also has numerous bridge easements that kayakers can use, too.

Any navigational hazards for kayakers?

“Lots of trees are just below the surface and if you get right on top you can get branches in your scupper hole and get stuck, sometimes you need to be towed off,” he said. “I’ve been scupper-locked, as we call it, several times.”

Such trees can be tough on drive units, whether electric or pedal-powered.

“Lake Fork likes to chew them up,” he said.

So, what’s his educated guess about how many inches will take the $7,000 top prize how many inches could get anglers a share of the $30,000 purse?

“The lake is fishing really well,” Malone said, noting that the day one leader of a Hobie Bass Open Series contest a few weeks ago submitted an impressive 105 inches. “I think it’s going to take 103 inches to win and every bit of 90 inches to cash a check.”