As reported here in the Herald Democrat Wednesday, the big breaking news in the outdoors world this week was centered right here in Texomaland.
That’s because officials with the Birmingham, Ala. based Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) announced that they will bring the 51st Bassmaster Classic to nearby Lake Ray Roberts next spring.
Officially hosted by Fort Worth — weigh-ins will occur at the new Dickies Arena and the Classic Expo will be held at the Will Rogers Memorial Center — the March 19-21, 2021 event will be held on the timber-filled lake that lies in Denton, Collin, and Grayson Counties.
While only a portion of Ray Bob lies in southwestern Grayson County, the waters of the upper Jordan Creek and Buck Creek areas near Tioga are very much within the county.
Thanks to the 1979 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Texoma — the ninth one ever held by Ray Scott’s B.A.S.S. organization — the 2021 Ray Bob Classic will be the second one to be contested, at least partially, within Grayson County.
If you’re familiar with the two lakes, then you know that there is a vast difference in the habitat, not to mention the trophy bass potential that they both bring to the table.
While 89,000-acre Lake Texoma to the northwest of Denison is no slouch in the bass fishing department — see Greg Hackney’s 2016 Bassmaster BASSfest victory on the flooded reservoir for proof — the truth is that Texoma is known far and wide as a striper fishing Mecca.
The big border lake does have some good largemouths, a solid population of big smallmouths, and a decent number of spotted bass. But for most anglers outside of the local area, a visit to Texoma is for the silvery linesiders and a limit of box fish headed for the freezer.
Ray Roberts, the 25,600-acre reservoir impounded northeast of Denton in 1987, is just the opposite. While the lake has a sterling reputation for crappie and white bass, trophy largemouths were always the aim when the Corps of Engineers and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department cooperated on the building of the lake.
The original idea, back in the days of retired TPWD Inland Fisheries biologist Bruce Hysmith, was to build a fishing hole that would trend in the direction of famed Lake Fork.
In the early days after the lake opened, that appeared to be the direction that the lake was going. An early 1990s fishing trip with guide Randy Henderson and my friend Doug Rodgers, both of Whitesboro, turned a mild February day into a fish catching bonanza as we boated upwards of 30 bass in the 3- to 5-pound range.
Later in the decade, I fished Ray Roberts often with my friend Steve Hollensed, then a conventional tackle guide on the lake and now an Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide on Texoma. With my late dad Bill along on several of those trips, Ray Bob’s abundant flooded timber, tremendous stands of hydrilla and plenty of offshore structure brought some memorable spring, summer and fall outings that produced fish up to eight pounds.
Over time, various issues have kept Ray Roberts from living up to its original advanced billing. For one, there isn’t as much timber in Ray Roberts as there is in Fork. And the once luxurious stands of hydrilla have succumbed to lower lake levels brought on by drought and repair work on the dam.
While the lake has been frequently stocked with Florida-strain largemouths, it is often said to be a difficult body of water to fish and tough to figure out. But the quality of big bass is certainly there, as evidenced by six TPWD ShareLunker Legacy class bass weighing more than 13 pounds. That includes Pilot Point angler Shannon Lee Elvington’s 15.18-pound lake record on March 7, 2015.
In contrast, while Texoma’s bass fishing has been good in recent years, there’s never been a single ShareLunker bass pulled from the local lake despite repeated stockings of Florida-strain largemouths and one or two near miss catches north of 11 pounds.
Add in the physical differences — Texoma is rocky, fairly deep, and often clear while Ray Roberts is shallower, timber choked, and often stained — not to mention the changes in boats, motors, rods, reels, lines, lures, and high-end electronics and the Ray Roberts Classic promises to be vastly different than the Texoma version a generation ago.
When the Texoma version took place in the days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Hank Parker, the Outdoor Channel and World Fishing Network television show host and hall of famer with the International Game Fish Association and Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, captured his Texoma Classic title by weighing in 31-pounds of bass. While that can be a single day’s effort on some lakes, it was tough to come by on Texoma during the Sept. 26-28 event that was staged at Tanglewood Resort north of Pottsboro.
(Editor’s Note: If you’d like to read more about Parker’s three-pound victory in 1979, check out the Herald Democrat story at: www.heralddemocrat.com/article/20150220/SPORTS/302209889).
That Texoma Classic, contested in tough early fall conditions, featured some difficult fishing that Parker—who won two Classic titles in his career — eventually figured out with a borrowed early-era flipping stick. In besting legends like Basil Bacon, Rick Clunn, and Gary Klein, Parker earned $25,000 for his win in the parking lot where the weigh-in was staged.
Next spring, the winner of the 51st Classic will bring an arsenal of high-tech equipment and gear, all in hopes of winning a prize that topped $300,000 this year when Hank Cherry went wire-to-wire t win the 2020 Classic on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. And far from a parking lot, he brought his daily bag limit to the inside of a big arena filled with thousands of fans, a light show, and TV cameras.
If the COVID-19 pandemic will allow the 2021 event to go off without a hitch in Fort Worth next spring, thousands will watch the morning launches and the afternoon weigh-ins, thousands more will attend the three-day long Expo, and the Ray Roberts Classic will make someone an instant fishing superstar, if not a soon-to-be millionaire thanks to plenty of product endorsements that come to the victor.
The weights will also be different at Ray Bob, likely to double Parker’s 31-pounds caught at Texoma. While Ray Bob can be persnickety, it can also give up huge bass too — I watched Kelly Jordon land a 7.5-pounder at Ray Roberts in 2013 as KJ went on to win the Major League Fishing Challenge Cup contested there. Expect a few giant bass to anchor the winner’s three-day bag limit next March during the spawn, maybe one or two lunkers even approaching double-digits.
In many ways, the 2021 Classic on Ray Roberts will be 180-degrees different than the 1979 event held on Texoma.
But despite all the differences and modern changes, the event will still produce plenty of fish catching excitement, a lot of excited fans, an angler whose life and career will be forever changed, and the same thrill that every bass fisherman lives for.
And that’s to cast a lure into the water, to feel a hard thump at the other end, and reel in a bass that causes so much adrenaline that an angler’s knees shake in excitement.
That certainly happened to Hank Parker on Texoma back in 1979. And you can bet your tackle box that it’ll happen again on Ray Roberts next spring. Because no matter how much the Bassmaster Classic changes, some things will always be the same.