ZAPATA, Texas — When is it a bad day to catch five big bass?
Only when $100,000 is at stake, and 99 other angers can catch five bigger fish than yours — and do it again for three more days.
In pro bass fishing, such a competition is often called a slugfest. And that’s what Bassmaster Elite Series anglers have good reason to expect on Falcon Lake in the March 21-24 Rigid Industries Falcon Slam out of Zapata, Texas.
Proof of the lake’s potential: Falcon’s record for a single largemouth catch on a rod and reel is 15.63 pounds and 28 inches in length, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. In 2008, the last time the Elite Series stopped at Falcon, a 13-pound, 2-ounce largemouth was brought to the scales. That 13-2 still stands as the largest bass in the eight years of Elite Series history.
More proof: Paul Elias won the 2008 Elite Series event with a four-day weight of 132 pounds, 8 ounces, which still stands as a five-fish, four-day Bassmaster record. In the same event, 11 other anglers topped the 100-pound mark.
Anglers everywhere know about Falcon giants. The Rio Grande impoundment that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border was the No. 1 destination on Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes list of 2012.
Such a reputation gives Falcon veterans and newbies equal hope for victory.
Cliff Prince of Palatka, Fla., joined the Elite Series in 2012 and has never competed on Falcon, but he knows he’ll have to sharpen all his big-fish hunting skills to be in contention for a win.
“If you’re catching 3-pounders, you’d better move on,” he said. “In this type of tournament, when so many of us can catch them, it can be luck of the draw — who gets on the best schools.”
There’s a hot discussion going on this week in Zapata, Texas, among fishermen: Can the 100-pro Elite field break records again? Will the nearly 60-year-old impoundment be as productive as it was in 2008?
Elias, the 2008 Falcon champ, says no.
“I don’t think the numbers are going to be like they were,” said the Laurel, Miss., pro.
One reason is the change in the water level of the big lake. Drought conditions affect the lake level as irrigation farming draws more and more water. Elias said the lake is about 6 feet lower than what the Elite pros saw in 2008, when it was at 277 feet. Now it’s at 271, he said, which is almost 29 feet below full pool of 301 feet.
What that means, Elias said, is that the lake could “fish smaller” than in 2008. Less water acreage tends to bunch up anglers in the same areas.
“It’s going to be a lot more crowded because of low water,” Elias said. “I expect the weight of the limits to be down on average, and there are going to be fewer limits of big fish. I think the average fish would be 4 to 4 1/2 pounds.”
But, Elias said, “It’s still possible to catch 40 pounds in a day.”
That prediction is based, in part, on the field’s chances of hitting the spawn at the right time.
“We have a full moon coming, so there’s going to be a wave of fish coming in shallow, and a wave of fish that have already spawned will be moving back out. That could help split up the field between shallow and deep water, which will help everybody.”
Another factor could spread the field out: Lower water has encouraged growth of bushes as they follow the receding shoreline.
“Those green bushes keep fish in the shallow water longer,” he said. “That helps scatter the fish — and the field.”
Productive patterns could involve a wide array of techniques, Elias said, from spinnerbaiting, flipping, pitching, shallow and deep cranking, Texas rigging, jigging — name it, it could produce, he said.
Prince said that based on his research, he predicts the tournament title will be won by the angler who concentrates on offshore patterns, such as working the ledges.
Elias plans to give deep water a try. “I’m probably going to stay out,” he said. “It’s definitely my style of fishing. I’m comfortable with that and feel good about my chances to do well.”
Besides $100,000, the Slam’s first-place prize includes an instant entry in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and 100 points toward the 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
Fans who want to watch the second event of the Elite season can come to the Zapata County Public Boat Ramp (3079 County Road, Zapata, TX 78076). Fans can watch the pros take off at 7:15 a.m. CT and weigh their catches beginning at 3:15 p.m. CT. All Bassmaster events are free.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive coverage of the event all four days. Features include streaming video of the weigh-ins, real-time leaderboards, the Lowrance War Room, blogs and BASSCam video from the water, Toyota Hooked Up! shows and BASSTrakk catch reports. Access to all Bassmaster.com content is free.
The event’s title sponsor is Rigid Industries of Mesa, Ariz., maker of LED lighting products for vehicles and boats; www.rigidindustries.com. The local sponsor is the Zapata County Chamber of Commerce; www.zapatachamber.com.