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Fall Tournament Strategies for Fork

Article: September, 2010
Lake Fork Pro Guide Tom RedingtonFall is tournament season on Lake Fork, with thousands of anglers in search of prize winning fish in several huge big bass tournaments, as well as a number of regional trail events. Due to the restrictive 16” to 24” slot limit on Fork that remains in effect for all tournaments (except paper tourneys), anglers’ strategies are a little different on Fork than on most lakes. Since the vast majority of prizes for Fork tournaments are won by anglers with fish under 16”, I’ll concentrate on those patterns, while touching on a few ways to catch a lunker.

During the fall tournament season (Sep-early Nov), numbers of bass are available in both the shallow and deep sections of Fork. As the water cools, many bass move back into creeks and onto the flats near creek channels chasing shad. At the same time, shallow main lake grassbeds and timber also hold lots of bass, while many bass group up in large schools in water as deep as 40’+ chasing shad and yellow bass. With so many possible options, some bass will be active every day. In general, I concentrate on the shallows more on windy and overcast days because skinny water bass are typically more aggressive in these conditions. If conditions are sunnier and calm, the shallow bite typically slows, so I’ll spend more time on the deep bite then. These are not hard and fast rules though, and since the fish are so scattered, I’d suggest concentrating on the techniques that you’re most comfortable fishing. Fall on Fork is certainly a time when you can benefit from fishing your strengths.

For those of you checking the shallows, search for productive areas with moving baits, then switch to soft plastics to catch numbers from those areas. Keeping in mind that you’re searching for smaller bass that are 16” and under, use 1/8 to ¼ oz spinnerbaits, small crankbaits, and ¼ oz lipless crankbaits along creek channels in the backs of creeks or over weed flats on the main lake. Small topwaters also work well, like poppers or downsized walking baits. Once you’ve found a few fish in an area, soft plastics will normally produce more bass from the spot. The #1 option is normally a wacky worm. Rig a Twitch Worm on a 1/0 hook with a small weight in the head of the worm and cast it to the edge of grass, concentrating on points or along creek channels. If conditions are a little windier, the new Lake Fork Trophy Lures Hyper Finesse Worm works great on a 1/8 to ¼ oz Screwball jighead, fished shaky style. When the bite is off and bass bury up in the grass a little more, or when they’re holding in deeper water just off the edge of the grass, a finesse Carolina rig with 10 to 15 lb fluorocarbon, a ¼ oz sinker and a 12” leader can be dynamite. Rig a Fork Baby Creature, Baby Ring Fry, or the Hyper Finesse Worm on the hook and you’ll be in business. Finally, a 3.5” Live Magic Shad rigged on a weighted 3/0 Ultimate Swimbait Hook will catch neutral bass that are suspended around the grass. I primarily like shades of green for these lures in clearer sections of the lake, with green pumpkin and watermelon shades being consistent producers. In murkier water, June bug and black neon both do well on Fork.

If offshore structure fishing is more your style, good numbers of keepers can be caught from deep water. Bass will mix in with large schools of yellow bass and shad in anywhere from 12’ to over 40’ of water in the fall, so search with your graph until you find a large school. Carolina rigs and drop shots both are excellent for fish that are located on the bottom. For both rigs, green pumpkin or watermelon shades of Baby Ring Frys, Twitch Worms and Hyper Finesse Worms are excellent choices. If the bass are suspended, 3” Fork Flutter Spoons and ½ oz jigging spoons work well when yo-yoed through the schools. Count these down to the depth of the bass, varying your retrieve until you find the way they want them.

For a shot at a 24”+ over the slot bass, here are a few tricks to try. In most of the big tournaments, the largest bass are caught very first thing in the morning before the fish become pressured. Try a 10” Fork Worm on a TX or Carolina rig, or a ½ Mega Weight Jig with a matching Fork Craw or Pig Claw trailer early in the morning along the deep grass edge on main lake points. After the sun gets up and the angling pressure mounts, many big fish suspended offshore for the remainder of the day. To catch these suspended bass, fish deep diving crankbaits through timber on deep flats or on points with a stop and go presentation. Additional fish can be caught in the same areas with Magic Shads and 4.5” Live Magic Shads fished on weighted 5/0 Ultimate Swimbait Hooks. Cast these baits near trees and let them free fall on a slack line. Suspended lunkers will hit these fish on the fall, with the bite feeling like a faint tick, or you’ll just see your line swim off or suddenly stop falling.

Due to all of the fishing pressure during the large tournaments (the McDonald’s tourney had over 3000 anglers last year), fish become wary and the easy bass are quickly picked off. In these instances, I’d look for less pressured largemouth by fishing hard to reach areas and the heaviest cover available. Fight through super shallow water or ultra thick grass and wood to fish areas that others can’t or won’t go to. In addition, areas without boat lanes that require a long idle to reach will be less fished. Finally, make repeated casts to the hardest to reach areas of cover, like the thickest part of a laydown or the backside of a dock. Most anglers avoid snags by fishing the fringes of cover, so making repeated casts to thickest cover can often deliver bites after a number of anglers have already fished the area.

Lunker luck to those of you fishing tournaments on Fork this fall! Hopefully my tips will get you pointed in the right direction.
Good Fishing,

Fishing Tip by  Lake Fork Pro Tom Redington


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