Fantastical Fork

It's strange to think back to 1999. I was broke. I was skinny. And I was living in Texas with more than just a lone star in my eyes pointed toward a career in outdoor journalism. I was editing Angler’s Choice Magazine at the time, still very wet behind the ears, when the organization held a charity big bass derby on Lake Fork. I decided to team up with Larry Mader, a great friend of mine to this day, to fish the legendary lake for the first time.

Actually, “legendary” is not an accurate term. Knowing that you are going to fish that body of water stirs an emotional cocktail in the soul that intoxicates every sense important to an angler. So, let’s go with mythical. The beasts that swim there steal your sleep the night before a trip. Like the 18.18-pound Texas state record largemouth caught on Fork in 1992. Or like the 17.67-pound fish caught there in 1986, which is the second-biggest bass ever caught in the state. Actually, seven of the eight biggest bass ever caught in Texas came from Fork, and all of them exceed 16 pounds.

But, what had Mader and I drooling over our maiden voyage to the East Texas fishery was news that Flo O’Brian had just landed a 16.63-pounder. We would catch that fish’s mother, win a boat and forever live in the annals of Lake Fork lore. But, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. To say our expectations were not met would be an understatement. We cashed a check for $125, an hourly prize for an under-the-slot bass. Mader did break off a giant that we never saw, and we headed home conjuring our next visit.

Now, allow me to fast forward 22 years. Sitting behind a desk in Birmingham, Ala., I watched the best anglers on the planet vie for an Elite Series trophy on Fork this past April. The lake should have taken a nosedive by now. Fisheries biologists give even the best lakes only 15 years before the production curve trends significantly downward. Fork was opened in 1980 and should be well beyond its prime. The 15.48-pound largemouth caught there in 2018 was likely a fluke. Sure, Patrick Walters won the final Elite Series event of 2020 on Lake Fork with almost 105 pounds, but he beat his nearest competitor by 30 pounds. Likely another fluke.

Well, Lee Livesay erased any doubt about the health of the fishery during the 2021 event. In what is being dubbed as the “Greatest 18 Minutes of Bassmaster LIVE, Ever,” Livesay put on a show that certainly will go down in the annals of Lake Fork lore. Primarily using a topwater on the final day, the Texas pro landed a five-bass limit that weighed 42 pounds, 3 ounces. This was the third-heaviest five-fish limit in the history of B.A.S.S. competition and gave him a winning four-day total of 112 pounds, 5 ounces. I wasn’t the only one watching this happen live. This event broke all-time records for minutes viewed on Bassmaster.com with 17.8 million. All the B.A.S.S. social media records were broken, as well. It seems videos of giant bass eating topwater baits are viral material. Larry Mader was one of the millions watching.

“Did you see Livesay land that last 8-pounder?” he texted.

“Why, yes,” I texted back.

“He was on our spot!” he continued. “And you know what else?”

“I’m on the edge of my seat,” I replied.

“The fish I broke off was way bigger,” he said.

There’s not a doubt in my mind.