Lake Fork warming up as Elite Series rolls into east Texas

Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

As the big bass blitz of 2021 churned out ShareLunker headlines in February and March, social media posts, Internet fishing forums, and coffee shop chatter kept bringing up a whispered question that everyone was thinking.

What was that question? “What’s wrong with Lake Fork?,” that’s what.

After all, the recent run of 13-plus pound bass in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s long running and revamped ShareLunker program had plenty of fireworks with 23 different Legacy Class bass being pulled from 10 different lakes this year in a ShareLunker season for the ages. In fact, it was the best ShareLunker season in the Lone Star State since 1995 when 27 ShareLunkers were caught during a similar January through March timeframe.

The highlights of this year’s ShareLunker season were notable, including the program’s 600th fish being caught, two days featuring three ShareLunker catches, five new lake records being caught, four new lakes entering the ShareLunker producing family, five entries weighing more than 15-pounds, and a 16.40-pounder from O.H. Ivie — which produced an amazing 12 ShareLunker entries this year — becoming the 16th largest largemouth ever pulled from Texas waters.

It was a year for the record books, one that even included bucketmouth bass from such unheralded water bodies like Coleman City Lake, Lake Tyler, and Eagle Mountain Lake to name a few.

If you’re an astute observer of Texas bass fishing history, you might notice a familiar name missing from all of the big bass facts noted above. And that’s the state’s most famous lunker factory, the hallowed Lake Fork, which seemed strangely absent from ShareLunker headlines until the month of March was well underway.

Finally, a couple of weeks after February’s arctic blast and multi-inch snowfalls in portions of East Texas, the ice was broken and Fork got on the board with a 13.06-pound ShareLunker caught on March 12 by Yantis angler Stan Tencza. A couple of weeks later on March 28, McKinney angler Tanner Spurgin put the second Fork lunker on the board with a 15.27-pound behemoth caught during a Bass Champs Mega Bass event.

Those two fish helped sooth any fears that something might be wrong at the 27,264-acre lunker factory near Quitman. Such fears, real or imagined, are certainly understandable since no lake in Texas has churned out the big bass history that Fork has since it was impounded in the early 1980s. That history, of course, includes both Barry St. Clair’s current state record of 18.18-pounds and Mark Stevenson’s former state record of 17.67-pounds.

Add in 262 of the state’s 608 total ShareLunkers, seven of the state’s Top 10, 16 of the state’s Top 25, and 30 of the state’s Top 50 and Fork is tough to beat, even if the grand old lake got off to a bit of a slow start in 2021.

If there are any questions remaining about what Fork’s current fishing credentials are, it only took a few dozen Bassmaster Elite Series pros with fresh eyes to show what the lake can still do as the first round took place yesterday during the April 22-26 Elite Series derby visiting the reservoir.

Even with this week’s historical cold snap—Sherman and Denison’s 32-degree low on Wednesday morning was the region’s latest official freeze…by eight days!—the Elite Series pros were chomping at the bit after seeing the lake and getting some practice in.

Take B.A.S.S. pro Brandon Lester and his comments to writer Alan McGuckin on Thursday morning.

McGuckin wrote that Lester was “…saving the waypoints of every 3-pound bass and bigger he put eyes on during the first day of practice at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite on Lake Fork. But by the second day, he realized 3-pounders were so plentifully visibly on spawning beds they may not even be worthy of marking their locations.”

Lester also noted to McGuckin that the Elite Series anglers were hitting Fork just right, cold weather or not.

“It may be 45-degrees out here this morning, but look, it was even colder yesterday morning, and that didn’t slow down a wave of even more huge females from hitting the bank,” said Lester in the story. “This bunch is gonna blast ‘em today!”

And throughout Thursday, they did just that. Scarcely 10 minutes into yesterday’s first round, the Elite Series pros started lighting up the BassTrakk leaderboard, catching several fish weighing five-pounds plus in quick succession.

By press time at mid-afternoon on Thursday, Patrick Walters had the lead with five bass weighing 32-pounds, 14-ounces, a total that included the day's biggest bass so far at 8-pounds, 14-ounces. Brandon Card was next at 27-5, Chris Zaldain (of Fort Worth) was third at 27-1, Quentin Cappo was fourth at 26-5, and Chad Morgenthaler was fifth at 25-15.

So good was the Thursday big bass action at Lake Fork that every angler in the Top 10 had a weight total that stood at 23-pounds or greater and more than 20 bags weighing 20-pounds or more had been caught. And on the Big Bass leaderboard, four bass weighing more than 8-pounds had been caught along with six others weighing over 7-pounds.

What will today’s second round bring, not to mention the final two rounds over this weekend?

“Friday’s stormy weather may slow things down slightly, but there’s a full moon on the way, and sunny weather forecasted this weekend,” said Lester in his interview with McGuckin. “So yes, it’s fixin’ to get real serious, and I don’t doubt that 25 pounds on Day 1 will only be good enough for around 10th place.”

Meaning that rumors of Lake Fork’s demise are exaggerated, and then some.

The guess here is that to have a shot to win the big six figure check on Sunday, somebody is going to catch numerous bass in the four and five-pound range, and probably one or two in the six- to eight-pound range. All told, if an Elite Series pro wants to win the Lake Fork title, they had better be thinking about joining the Century Club with 100-pounds or better over the four days of competition.

Because Fork may have gotten off to a slow start in 2021, but the East Texas lake impounded in 1980 seems to be catching up really fast.