Texas, everything is bigger in Texas…right? Lake Fork Bass are no exception. These Florida strain monsters lurk in the “Fork” in huge numbers. So when “Tournament of Champions” director Beau Reed of Austin was looking for the ultimate lake for a “world championship” event he found a gem. This was a tournament meant to bring in the “best of the best” kayak bass fishermen in the world. It would end up drawing anglers from 14 states in it’s inaugural 2014 event. Fishing Lake Fork was on my “bucket list” so when the opportunity came up to fish this tournament I didn’t hesitate to commit. My journey started way back last April fishing in the Midwest Kayak Fishing Series. That was a four month series with a separate challenge each month culminating with a live event at Lake Wanahoo in Nebraska. My journey is just one of many other kayakers who would make the trek to Lake Fork this November when the bass are fattening up for the winter season. I finished second behind legendary Kevin Workman in the Midwest Kayak Fishing Series who would eventually enter as well. The top five of this series would end up qualifying for live event at Lake Fork. There were a couple other tournaments in the Midwest that fed qualifiers to this world class event as well being the Kayakapalooza V and the Bass Pro Shops Pony Creek Challenge both of which I helped organize.
I had only been to Texas twice previously in my life, once to Abilene for a national championship track and field meet while attending college and the other in Dallas International Airport just a year ago in route from a San Diego educational trip with the US Marine Corps. I had no idea where this trip would take me. I teamed up with kayak fishing friends and qualifiers Raf Vargas of Bellevue, NE and Kevin Slifer of Wamego, Kansas to cut down “windshield” time. Raf qualified in the Kayakapalooza V and event. Slifer also placed the Midwest Kayak Fishing Series. The first step was taking time from my teaching job to meet these two great anglers in Wamego, Kansas three days before the event. It was a 6 hour drive to Wamego from Southwest, Nebraska where I took off right after school. It was very late in the evening before I reached my friends and we reloaded to make the eight plus hour trek south to Lake Fork just east of Dallas, Texas. I would end up being awake for more than 30 hours straight with all the anxiety an event of this caliber brings to one who is very competitive and loves to fish from a kayak.
We talked about the event and our strategies as well as the future of kayak fishing. We have all become great friends through the sport of kayak fishing. A far cry from when I first started in 1998 and people would take a double look at my quests most of the time on the area lakes. People were bewildered by a guy fishing from a kayak in the early 2000’s here in Nebraska.
When we arrived Lake Fork was all that we had expected. The air was dry and felt great! It was a sunny day with a brisk breeze out of the south. We pulled up to the Lake Fork Marina and met some great folks in the local shop there. We purchased our fishing license and picked up a few items before backing into our campsite just across from the hotel rooms which would soon fill completely up with kayakers who traveled many miles to compete against the best in the country. We pitched camp and readied our kayaks for some “pre fishing” on the lake. I was the last to launch of our group and it felt good to paddle on this legendary lake. Thus, my bucket list was checked. But not completely for this challenge! I still needed to land a Lake Fork bass! It wouldn’t take long. I hooked into a nice fat 17 incher back in a bay that was full of baitfish. I tried a bit deeper but no takers there. I paddled back to shore and readied for the next day of fishing with a local guide. Brooks Rogers is an expert on this lake and there were four of us who fished with two embarking with another guide Mark. Kevin Workman and myself headed out with Brooks on a brisk windy morning that chilled the bones. Our main purpose was to get to know the lake and eliminate some water before the tournament on the next day. There was a qualifier going on today as well with several kayakers still trying to make the field. The bite was very slow but Brooks and Kevin both landed some nice lunkers. We got a great feel for the lake and made plans for the next day. The other guide and Kevin’s brother and grandfather found some bass lurking in the grass along a bank but the bite was slow there as well. The creeks seemed like they would hold bass but we would end up going after the grassy areas the next morning. It was very cool again at 4 am for the captains meeting and then we embarked at 5 am to our spots. The field was around 54 anglers. The best part of this whole trip was launching at a little after 5 to our location. The water was calm and it was very dark. I would paddle around a half mile across a fork of this legendary lake hoping not to run into any protruding stumps that stick out of the water by the hundreds on this lake. I was ready but soon after I arrived at my location the sonar on my craft went out. I should have changed batteries but in anticipation of the fishing I failed to do so. I knew the area from the few minutes I had with the sonar and when 6 am hit I made my first cast. Nothing. The baitfish were everywhere and I thought the place would soon erupt with big fish. Nothing. Then a few minutes later I hooked into a lunker! Not even a couple seconds and the line broke. Once again, technical failure…my knot came loose! I was very disappointed in myself at this point. Then I went to another rod with another Carolina rigged Power Team Craw. Nothing. A couple hours passed and still nothing. Then I hooked into another one that picked up a swim bait I was throwing. It came back right at me and my line tangled with another rod laying over the bow of my Jackson Cuda 12 provided by the Boat Dock of Grand Island, NE. Another disappointment as I could not get the line loose and the fish disengaged itself quickly.
I fished another three hours with not even a bite. I figured I would go to the other side and fish the deep water. There I noticed other boats and kayakers. I saw two guys in a boat land a huge bass and then Kevin Workman came trolling by and looked to have a huge fish on as well. I was throwing a spoon and hooked into another fish only to have it get loose as well. This would be the last fish I hook into that day. I met the other kayakers and got a ride back to the marina where many other exciting stories were told. The awards took place and there were some nice catches recorded.
I ended up with a “skunk” and it sure felt big! Others would have the same result but all were excited just like me to have fished in this great tournament. I am looking forward to qualifying again next season and try my luck at this lake with others who are just as passionate about kayak fishing. I’m sure it will be bigger and better with a huge prize package at stake. In the meantime….I will fish my home waters and practice my bass fishing techniques and enjoying the peace and tranquility that kayak fishing gives the soul.