The Bassmaster Elite Series anglers returned from an extended break to a tournament venue truly worth waiting for – famous Lake Fork in the Lone Star State. Fork may be just a long cast away from the Dallas Metroplex, but despite near constant pressure it continues to pump out giant largemouths year after year after year. Not only did it produce the state record, an 18.18 pound giant caught by Barry St. Clair in 1992, but this fertile fishery has produced the vast majority of the top 20 bass caught in Texas history.
Fork is no venue for light line or scaredy cats. It’s a maze of heavy timber, with big fish ready to run right into it.
The past several times that BASS has visited this famous fishery, it has taken at least 100 pounds over 4 days to challenge for the title. In fact, in 2014, the winner had 110 pounds in a mere three days! Anglers knew that they’d have to bring their “A” game to get the job done.
Fortunately, that’s right up the Mossy Oak Fishing Team’s alley.
Mossy Oak Fishing Lake Breakdown
Host: Quitman, Texas
Launch Site: SRA Lake Fork
Lake Description: While the bass may be big, by major tournament standards Lake Fork is relatively small. This Sabine River impoundment was formed in 1980 and covers 27,000+ acres at full pool, but due to construction work on the dam the lake was 5 feet low. That shrunk the playing field and altered navigation options.
Bass Species Present: Big Florida-strain largemouths are the named of the game at Fork. If you don’t average 5 pounds per fish, you’re unlikely to contend. As we found out, even a 5-pound average is no guarantee of a blue trophy.
Forage Species: A large part of the reason that Fork remains so productive is its incredible forage base. There are of course threadfin and gizzard shad, and some anglers capitalized on the shad spawn, but there are also bluegills, white bass, crappie and yellow bass (also known regionally as “barfish”). The bass have loads of options upon which to feast.
Weather: For the first few days of competition, the weather ranged from hot to oven-like, but then a cold front swept through on Saturday night and Championship Sunday demanded rainsuits and layers that some anglers thought were put away for the year. The famous and brutal Texas winds also showed up early in the tournament, which made conditions sporty at times.
How to Fish Lake Fork in Late May
What was amazing about this tournament is how many different ways, and at how many different levels of the water column, the competitors managed to find success. Mossy Oak pro Bill Lowen made a top ten doing what he does best – going shallow, into the mud where he loves to do battle. Meanwhile, others like Brandon Palaniuk and Gerald Swindle looked out deeper with big worms, flutter spoons and crankbaits big enough to rattle your fillings loose.
Top Mossy Oak Performers
While neither Palaniuk nor Swindle claimed the crown, they both weighed in 102 pounds 2 ounces of Lake Fork bass over four hard-fought days of competition. It was Swindle’s first Century Belt since he earned one at Clear Lake, California in 2007. Swindle was the only pro in the deep and talented field to top the 29-pound mark twice during this event.
Meanwhile Palaniuk weighed in 30-01 on day two, the first time in his career he’s topped the 30-pound mark. Via a tiebreaker, Palaniuk finished 2nd and Swindle got the 3rd place points.
That wasn’t all for the Mossy Oak Fishing team, though. Six of the seven members earned checks. In addition to former Anglers of the Year Swindle and Palaniuk, past Elite Series winner and near-perennial Bassmaster Classic qualifier Bill Lowen also made it to Sunday. He ended up in 8th place. For all three Mossy Oak pros in the top ten it was their best finish of the year – so far.
Greg Hackney narrowly missed the cut to Sunday and ended up 13th, which was only his third best Elite finish of the year in four tournaments.
As we near the season’s halfway mark, Palaniuk leads the Angler of the Year race by 20 points over his nearest competitor and by 41 points over the third place angler. He’s inside the cut for the 2022 Bassmaster Classic by a remarkable 164 points, which is critical, because he may have to miss the next event to be present at the birth of his first child. Family first!
All seven of the Mossy Oak Fishing pros are currently inside the Classic cut with four of them in the top eight – Palaniuk (1st), Drew Benton (4th), Brandon Lester (5th) and Swindle (8th). Expect to see a lot of Mossy Oak clothing in the winner’s circle going forward.
Top Lures at Lake Fork
While large bass were caught throughout the water column, certain key categories seemed to dominate the Elite Series event at Lake Fork – specifically big crankbaits and big worms. That’s what Swindle and Palaniuk relied upon, along with a few other key tools, like a flutter spoon and a hair jig. Anglers who fished shallower, like Bill Lowen, may have used a vibrating jig, a flipping jig or a squarebill. Some resident bass remain shallow all year round, but as the true Texas summer descends upon the water, look for those offshore schools to get bigger, tighter and more reliable. You may lose a few crankbaits or swimbaits, but that’s the way to tempt the true giants to bite.
For Swindle, it was his first Century Club belt since 2007, when he passed the hundred-pound mark at a legendary Clear Lake Elite Series tournament. The noted “junk fisherman” used a skirted jig, an oversized shakey head and a crankbait across both deep and shallow water to make the most of Fork’s decreased playing field.
As the assembled fans and thousands of bass fanatics across the world waited for eventual winner Lee Livesay to weigh in, the question rose as to who should occupy the “Hot Seat.” Swindle propped Palaniuk up on his lap and they both had a good laugh. That’s easy to do when you whack the bass so well over four days.
“Somebody call Tiffanie. Tell her to do some calisthenics,” he said onstage, referring to Palaniuk’s wife, as a potential way to break the tie.
Of course, while he would have liked to win, he recognized the inherent risks: “I’ll tell you right now that, if I were to win this tournament, I’d have to shoot my way out of this place,” Swindle told Bassmaster’s David A. Brown. “Lee Livesay’s a pretty big old fella and half of his family members are pretty big fellas and the women look like they’d cut you with a beer bottle.”
What They’ve Been Wearing
During the heat-laden days of the tournament, Mossy Oak’s XTR Fishing Shorts and neck gaiters were in heavy rotation. When the cold winds swept through prior to Championship Sunday, however, the Elements Logo Hoodies came out on our Top Ten competitors. Keep one in the boat at all times, just for those unexpected cold snaps.
If you’re in Texas, prepare for some incredible heat over the next few months. If you want to stay out in it and catch some of those giant Lake Fork bass, stay hydrated, stay covered and consider either the XTR Shorts or the Back Country Shorts. They provide a full range of motion and stay looking sharp even when you feel less than your best.