When it comes to hotspots for catching huge bass, there's no doubt that Lake Fork heads the list. (April 2006)
Among Texas reservoirs, Lake Fork has a reputation verging on the legendary for producing super-sized largemouth bass. And much of that reputation has been earned during spring.
"April is without a doubt my favorite month to fish both for really big fish and big numbers," said full-time guide Jeff Kirkwood. "This is the time of year when things can get exciting out here on Lake Fork."
Anglers should start moving away from the north end of the 27,000-acre impoundment, focus on the upper reaches of the midlake area and follow the spawn southward, Kirkwood recommends.
"This is prime time to catch bass on the beds," he said. "There are lots of fish in full-spawn mode this month, and for anglers that want to catch a really big fish, taking them on the beds is very exciting."
Kirkwood's first choice of baits for the bedding bass that he can see is a white- or tomato-seed-colored craw worm fished on a Texas rig. "The Texas rig is definitely the way to go," he asserted, "and if the bass won't hit white, they usually will hit the tomato seed and vice versa. I have a lot of good action on those colors."
According to Kirkwood, a fish is catchable nine out of 10 times if you see it on the bed; you just have to be patient -- and inventive. "There is as much an art to catching a fish off a bed as there is fishing jigs, throwing topwaters or any other method," he observed. "Probably the biggest mistake anglers make while bed-fishing is just throwing a lure in there and letting it sit. A lot of times people just figure because they throw a lure in the bed that the bass will hit it, no matter what, and that is not necessarily true. It's good to jiggle the worm a bit and, if at all possible, hit the fish with it.
"Sometimes they don't hit on the cast, but if you can touch that fish while moving it through, there is a very good chance you'll get that particular fish." (Continued)
Many times a savvy angler can tell if a visibly bedding fish will be catchable. "If you pull up to that fish, and it is committed to the bed and has no plans of leaving -- that is a fish you can definitely catch," Kirkwood said.
If a worm doesn't get the bedding bass, Kirkwood switches to a Lockhart spinner in chartreuse/white and chartreuse/blue. "Those are two colors a lot of people on Fork do not fish this time of year," he noted. "Therefore, the bass are not as wary to it, and more likely to hit."
Not all bedding bass will be visible; in fact, the largest ones will be out deeper. Throwing spinners in 4 to 6 feet of water is a smart way of locating these fish and getting the attention of other bass not yet in the spawning mood. "Our spawn will begin in late February and continue at some level into the summer," Kirkwood said. "The peak fishing is in April, but you will find some fish spawning into July."
April's an apt time for fishing topwaters, like the locally popular Scum Frog, and buzzbaits. Frogs in particular are very popular at Fork -- more so, probably, than at any other Texas reservoir. And, according to Kirkwood, for good reason: "I have caught five fish over 10 pounds and two over 12 on frogs, so they are a mainstay in my repertoire and also are with many other anglers here.
"There are lots of docks and grassy shorelines here that will hold fish ready and willing to take surface plugs. In April you can stay in the shallows all day and catch but sometimes you have to go a bit deeper to catch the big ones."
If a late-season cold front blows through, or the big fish simply aren't biting shallow, anglers should look for the first breakline and concentrate their efforts there.
"If I wasn't catching any larger fish I would back off to at least the first breakline in 11 to 13 feet. Work the boat out in 18 to 20 feet and fish in from there," Kirkwood said. "I would fish a split shot rig or a very lightweight Carolina rig on a watermelon, watermelon candy or green pumpkin Lake Fork Tackle Ring Fry or Magic Shad. Those colors in that lure pattern can be downright deadly for those deeper fish."
Anglers should crawl their lures slowly across the bottom, or perhaps lightly skip it. The larger fish simply don't go after a lure as quickly as the younger ones do, so anglers able to fish super-slow tend to catch the bigger bass.
Wally Dupree of Dallas, who has fished Fork for better than 10 years, believes that anglers patient enough to work either a Carolina-rigged craw worm or a jig at a snail's pace along the breakline area might just score on the bass of a lifetime.
"Fishing slow is crucial for those big fish out deep," he said. "If you have the patience for it, a jig in particular can really pay off with catching those lunker-sized fish. I have not broken the 13-pound barrier yet, but I have hit an 11-9 and seven fish over 9 pounds. Those are lunkers to me and just about everybody I know."
Frogs in particular are very popular at Fork -- more so, probably, than at any other Texas
reservoir. And for good reason.
Moreover, those are the kind of fish that draw anglers to Fork by the thousands every year. Most of the pressure is from the nearby Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex -- but anglers from all around the country know Fork as a hotspot for big bass. Example: While in California last year, I spoke with some anglers on the Sacramento River about Lake Castaic, the famous West Coast lunker lake. They told me that if I lived in Texas, I shouldn't bother with Castaic; Lake Fork was the place to go, they assured me. Its reputation is that big!
"Fork has a lot of things going for it. It has lots of shad, perch, brush and grass. All of those factors -- plus the good conservation efforts of anglers and our department -- have helped to make Lake Fork the premier largemouth fishery in the country," said David Campbell with the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center and the Lone Star ShareLunker Program, which seeks donations of live bass weighing 13 pounds or greater for spawning purposes -- the idea being to give the bass stocked in Texas waters a genetic head start.
"Fork by far has had the most donations to the program," he added. "Year by year that can fluctuate, but it certainly has produced the most fish weighing 13 pounds or more -- by a long shot."
Indeed: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials report that Fork has given up 222 ShareLunkers since the program's inception. The second-place honors go to Sam Rayburn with 22 entries -- still 200 shy of Fork's total.
Last year, anglers donated just seven ShareLunker bass from Fork. That was a slow year for the storied lake, which came in second behind North Texas' Lake Alan Henry's nine bass greater than 13 pounds. Does that mean Fork is on the decline?
Last year, I fished Fork with Kirkwood, who doubles as a seminar speaker and teacher of bass fishing clinics. We talked about Fork having some problems, including a bout with largemouth bass virus a few years ago and a population that includes too many small fish.
"The Fork community has some issues it needs to deal with but this is still the premier place to catch the bass of a lifetime," Kirkwood remarked. "It has a few tricks left up its sleeve yet. I guarantee you there is a state record here -- I have no doubt about that."
The veteran Fork guide put me through a crash course on fishing for the bass of his home lake, which gave me a real feel for fishing there. It's one of those places at which I immediately felt at ease -- where I could conceivably catch the fish of a lifetime.
"Fishing is mostly mental," he noted, "and if you have confidence you can be successful. Of course, to catch the big ones, you have to go where they live. And they are definitely here."
Looking over the reservoir, I just knew there was a new state record lurking in there somewhere, as well as plenty of other fish to pull on my line. Truth to tell, catching records has never driven me to hit the water. For me, fishing is about the thrill of the bite, encountering some amazing creatures and spending time beyond the pavement -- but doing that on world-class waters doesn't exactly hurt the fun factor. And world-class is exactly what Lake Fork remains.