Low-Water Adjustments Will Be Key To Success In Bassmaster Elite At Lake Fork
QUITMAN, Texas —

Patrick Walters is hoping for a storm during next week’s Simms Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork. That sentiment runs counter to the stable weather forecast, but it’s not meteorological mayhem the South Carolina pro envisions.

Competition days will be May 19-22 with daily takeoffs from Sabine River Authority Headquarters (SRA) — Lake Fork at 7 a.m. CT and weigh-ins each day at the same location at 3 p.m.

“We have a perfect storm — it’s finally warming up out there, tournament week will be really hot (highs in the low to mid-90s, lows in the low 70s) and the water’s down 5 1/2 feet,” Walters said. “It is the perfect storm for the fish to funnel out and for us to catch them in big numbers offshore.”

“I think the potential for mega-bags is high. It’s going to be hard to beat the 42-pound, 3-ounce bag that (2021 winner Lee Livesay) caught last year. That was not expected. I don’t know if we’ll catch that, but the potential is there.”

Back in the fall, the Sabine River Authority of Texas started drawing down Fork’s water level to facilitate dam repairs. Jake Norman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries Division said the water reached about 6 feet below normal pool, but recent rains have brought the lake up about half a foot — the level at which it should remain for the foreseeable future.

Low water’s most immediate impact is habitat reduction. Thanks to TPWD’s stellar fisheries management work, Lake Fork bulges with quality bass in the 4- to 6-pound range, with lots of day-making kickers, many of which break the double-digit mark. The fish don’t leave when the water’s down, so they cluster in fewer spots and become more competitive.

“The lower water concentrates the fish and puts them in higher-percentage areas,” Walters said. “There are fewer good areas for them to get on. They’ve built their life on living around this one creek or this one point and they know they can go to this one point and feed on top of this shellbar.

“Well, that shellbar is out of the water, so they’ve had to relocate. The depth has changed, so there are not as many high-percentage feeding spots.”

On one hand, this should help anglers more quickly dial in the more productive areas. The downside is that everyone has the same advantage.

“It’s going to make the lake fish very small,” Walters predicts. “There’s going to be a lot of people on top of each other.”

No question; with many of the familiar spots anglers have fished in years past standing high and dry, options will be reduced. As Walters points out, the reality of what lives in Lake Fork makes this even more advantageous.

“What makes Lake Fork so amazing is that you’re never 300 yards from 20 pounds,” he said. “I think the lower water is going to concentrate everybody to the (deeper) lower end, but I think the upper ends can still play.

“If there’s a school of 20 fish on Lake Fork, all of them are 4 pounds and up, so you can throw big baits. Even though they’re getting pressured, there are just so many fish in that school that will eat a big bait. Go (almost) anywhere else and there might be two fish in that school over 4 pounds.”

Typically, May should find the bass in postspawn patterns — morning shad spawn flurries, shallow bream bed hunting and offshore structure. Additionally, Norman said the low water, plus relentless spring cold fronts have slowed the spawning cycle enough that anglers may find a few bed fish.

Walters, who put on a forward-facing sonar clinic during his dominant 2020 win on Fork, said he expects the standing timber to play a significant role again this year. Long points will also factor into game plans, but the concentrated playing field will likely reduce gas bills.

“I don’t think we’re going to be chasing them; I think it will be more stationary,” Walters said. “You better make the decisions early. If you have a good spot, start on it. There will probably be guys that camp out on one spot all day. Typically, there are 50 good points to fish; now there are 25.

“When the whole lake is open, everybody’s running around, hitting this point, hitting that point, hitting the back of a pocket, hitting this stretch of timber. But now, if there are fish on a spot and they’re biting, why would you leave them? I think (the low water) will put those types of questions into everyone’s heads this time around.”

Beyond the fishing, basic navigational safety demands greater attention during low-water events. Avoiding trouble means understanding where it actually lurks.

“I think it’s going to be easier to navigate Lake Fork in general, because with it being low, I think everything you’d usually hit will be out of the water,” Walters said. “It should be easy to run around the main channels, but it’s going to be harder getting to the bank; you’re going to have to idle once you get there.”

Expecting several anglers to break the 100-pound mark, Walters predicts a winning total of 117 pounds and a Top 10 cut averaging 20-plus a day. Doing so, he said, will require anglers to file away memories of a full lake and adapt to this year’s scenario.

“I think we’ll see a different face of Fork than we’ve seen (in recent years),” Walters said. “That’s exciting, but at the same time, it’s also like, ‘What’s it going to be like when we get there?’”

Heading into the fifth stop on the 2022 Elite Series schedule, John Cox leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 353 points. He is followed by Brandon Palaniuk (343), Clifford Pirch (338), David Mullins (321) and Drew Benton (321). Wisconsin pro Jay Przekurat leads the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race with 293 points, followed by Joseph Webster (249), Jacob Foutz (200), Cody Huff (198) and Masayuki Matsushita (197).

Full coverage from all four days of the Simms Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork will be available on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. New at Lake Fork, Omnia Fishing and B.A.S.S. have partnered to simulcast Days 1 and 2 of Bassmaster LIVE as a shoppable stream on Omnia’s website and mobile app. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders on Saturday and Sunday, May 21-22 beginning at 7 a.m. CT.

The Simms Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork is being hosted by the Sabine River Authority and Wood County Economic Development Commission.