QUITMAN, Texas — In Lee Livesay’s view, the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series season couldn’t end at a better location; and not solely because he calls Lake Fork his home waters.
The local stick believes this east Texas powerhouse will offer a tremendous level of diverse opportunities for the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Competition days will be Nov. 5-8 with daily takeoffs from Sabine River Authority (SRA) — Lake Fork at 6:40 a.m. CT and weigh-ins each day at SRA — Lake Fork at 3 p.m.
Coming off his first Elite win at Chickamauga Lake in mid-October, Livesay has lived near Lake Fork most of his life. He’s guided there for seven years, so he has his finger on the lake’s pulse.
“This is going to be a tournament where you can catch them any way you want to — deep, shallow, in between; south end, north end, middle,” Livesay said. “I think everything is going to play and it’s going to be good.”
Seasonality has much to do with this, as shortening daylight periods have fish ready to feed heavily for winter. Fall has taken its time settling in this year, and with late-October water temperatures around the 70-degree mark, Fork’s fish have yet to fully commit to traditional fall patterns.
The transition is happening and a cold front that pushes through the area a week before the tournament will hasten the process. Daytime highs are expected to drop from the mid- to upper 50s into the upper 40s. Days will quickly warm into the mid- to upper 60s for tournament week, but Fork will see several overnight lows in the upper 30s. That’s going to send the right signals to fish that already know it’s time to chow down.
Key point: Lake Fork has been stocked with Florida-strain largemouth, which have the genetic makeup to reach trophy size. Balancing this truth, “Floridas,” as they’re often called, tend to be highly sensitive to weather changes. That’s not always a bad thing, and Livesay’s hoping the declining temperatures will unleash the lake’s potential.
“The biggest thing we’re going to be facing is this little front,” Livesay said. “It’s been hot and it’s just getting cold. These fish like it cold and (the fishing) is better here until the water temperature gets into the low 50s. So, it’s actually going to be beneficial toward us catching bigger fish.
“We’ve had a couple of big bass tournaments and they did not catch them very well on the upper end of the size. So, it might be perfect for the lake to bust loose and everybody catch a big bag of fish.”
The Lake Fork Dam impounds Lake Fork Creek — a Sabine River tributary — to create a lake of approximately 27,690 surface acres. With additional inflows from Big Caney and Little Caney Creek, Fork is currently about 2 feet below normal pool.
“That’s decently low for us; we don’t have a lot of fluctuation,” Livesay said. “It’s been on a steady fall since early July and we haven’t had a lot of rise and fall since then.”
Describing Lake Fork’s common habitat elements as shallow wood, grass, points, humps and roadbeds, Livesay said there will also be plenty of offshore roaming fish. He expects to try a range of scenarios in various depth zones.
“I’ll fish deep, I’ll fish supershallow, I’ll fish wood — a lot of them start getting on wood when it’s cold. I’ll fish anything and everything in between,” he said. “I’ll fish topwaters, I’ll fish slow dragging baits, buzzbaits, Rat-L-Traps; there’ll be a little niche for everything going on.
“It all depends on the water level. The water being low might have the deep fish out there a little better than everybody thinks. So, I’m literally going to look at everything.”
While he can see someone locating a bunched-up offshore school and carefully managing it for four days, Livesay predicts most anglers, especially those fishing shallow, will need multiple spots and multiple techniques to be competitive. That being said, he believes the Top 10 will include anglers fishing shallow, midrange and deep.
Unlike spring tournaments, where 30-pound bags are not uncommon, Livesay has a more conservative outlook for this fall event. It is entirely possible that the weigh-ins will see a few fish in the 8- to 10-pound range, but with fall fish generally more scattered than they are during the spawning season, anglers may be less likely to amass a five-fish limit of Lake Fork giants.
The tournament will employ a catch-weigh-release format, with trained judges weighing each angler’s fish as they are caught on the water and immediately releasing them back into the lake. Competitors will be allowed to bring in one bass over 24 inches to show on the weigh-in stage.
“It’s going to be who figures out how to catch those four or five fish a day that are a little bigger,” Livesay said. “You’re not going to see the megabags this time of year. Instead of 100-pound (four-day totals), you’re going to see 80 pounds win.
“Somebody might get on a little freak school, cranking a channel swing in a creek, but it’s pretty tough this time of year.”
In addition to the $125,000 first-place prize, the winning angler will earn a berth into the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.
The tournament will also help decide the 2020 Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, which is currently being led by Tennessee pro David Mullins with 623 points. Minnesota pro Austin Felix is in second place with 618 and veteran Texas pro Clark Wendlandt is third with 607.
Bassmaster LIVE will cover the event each day on Bassmaster.com and ESPN3. Championship Sunday will feature additional live coverage on ESPN2. Check local listings for details.