Fork still the lake to fish for trophy bass

The great thing about April in Texas is that this is big bass time, as in double-digit bass, and there is no shortage of lakes that have and still can produce monster class largemouths when they are on the beds and spawning like right now.

But during the past few months, there are three lakes that stick out like a sore thumb when it comes to producing 13-pound-plus bass. They are O.H. Ivie, Austin and Falcon.

The only glitch in the big bass scene right now is that our own all-star lake is not putting out like a broken Coke machine. So far there have been 18 bass at 13-pounds-plus entered into the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s ShareLunker Program. Six of those are from O.H. Ivie. Three are from Lake Austin. And six are from Falcon. Only one has come from Fork, a lake that has, over the years, produced a record 247 ShareLunker bass — more than any other lake in Texas.

Don’t forget that Lake Fork produced our current state record that weighed 18.18 pounds. That incredible bass was caught on Jan. 24, 1992 by Barry St. Clair. The curious thing about our state record is that she was caught on a live minnow, as opposed to something like a plastic lizard or jig.

Could it actually be that Fork is simply old and tired? A has been, like so many other aging lakes?

Think again.

“The Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey’s eight-year history shows that Lake Fork should remain on the list of any serious trophy bass hunter,” said TPWD’s Larry Hodge.“For the last eight years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been collecting information on catches of trophy bass 7 pounds or greater or 24 inches or longer at Lake Fork,” said Hodge. “Through February 2011, the survey recorded 11,368 such fish. Anglers weighed 83 percent and measured lengths of 59 percent of these trophies. With an average of 1,421 fish over 7 pounds every year, these numbers suggest the lake is still doing well. By comparing eligible fish encountered in creel surveys with survey results for the same days, biologists estimate fewer than 10 percent of actual catches are reported, making these results appear even more astounding.”

During the survey, TPWD found that entries during the past 12-month period (961) were up 28 percent from the previous year. The proportions of various fish-length groups have been surprisingly consistent from year to year, suggesting the size structure of the largest fish in the population has remained stable over the past eight years. In the last 12 months, proportions of trophies weighing and exceeding 10, 12, and 13 pounds were 15.1 percent, 2.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

“For the eight-year survey, the averages for these same size categories were 15.6 percent, 2.3 percent and 0.6 percent,” said Hodge. “More than a third of all measured entries in the survey were longer than the upper end of the slot length limit, providing evidence that the 16- to 24-inch slot is functioning as intended.”

Hodge said that in the 26-year history of the ShareLunker program, Lake Fork has produced 247 entries, at least one per year.

“Although not as prolific as in its heyday, Lake Fork has averaged between three and four entries each of the last three years,” says Hodge. “The last time Lake Fork produced more than 10 entries was in the 1996 season, when it contributed 21. For the following 11 years, entries averaged between six and seven.”

What is definitely apparent is that Lake Fork is far and away very popular among bass anglers. Go there on any given day for the next several weeks and you’ll be hard pressed to find a vacant parking spot at the ramp.

I remember back in 1986 when Dallas angler Mark Stevenson caught the first entry into the ShareLunker program. That largemouth was a new state record that weighed 17.67 pounds. She was caught on a Stanley jig, which at the time was a lure that was hotter than a firecracker.

As word spread about that huge bass produced by Fork, you couldn’t hardly find a place to cast a lure. It was literally a boat jam in every cove just about every day of the year, especially during the spawn. We would literally get in line and follow other boats around the shoreline. Everything but the kitchen sink was being tossed with hopes of catching a new wall hanger.

“It’s apparent that Lake Fork’s production of ShareLunkers has slowed, but after 30 years the lake has descended from incredible to simply outstanding,” said Hodge. “It still has few peers, and none when viewed from a perspective longer than three years.”