Bassmaster Magazine recently unveiled its annual rankings of America’s Top 100 bass lakes and there are some familiar names on the list. The rankings include the Top 10 overall picks and a breakdown of the Top 25 lakes in the Central, Southeastern, Western and Northeastern geographic regions of the United States.
Producing the list is an ambitious task that takes more than two months to complete, according to Emily Harley, BASS communications manager. It means toiling over tournament results, gathering surveys from dozens of state fisheries biologists, reviewing big bass program data and considering input from B.A.S.S. Nation conservation directors all around the country.
“The rankings are debated by a blue-ribbon panel of fishing industry insiders,” Harley said.
Not everyone will agree with the order of rankings. They never do.
One thing that can’t be disputed is Texas’ reputation for world class bass fishing. There are a wealth of great places to play the game around here.
It’s no surprise that Texas is well represented on the 2021 roster of top-notch honey holes. Ten Lone Star lakes including four border lakes shared with neighboring states and Mexico made the grade.
Among them are Lake Fork, Sam Rayburn, O.H. Ivie, Toledo Bend, Ray Roberts, Conroe, Falcon, Choke Canyon, Texoma and Caddo.
Fork: The Best in America?
Lake Fork has a rich history in Texas big bass lore. The lake has been heralded as one of the best big bass lakes in America dating back to the late 1980s and 1990s, when it developed a reputation for cranking out bass upwards of 10 pounds like a bubblegum machine.
To date, the lake has produced 263 fish over 13 pounds for the Toyota ShareLunker program, two state records and 30 of the Top 50 biggest bass ever recorded statewide. Fork has been a regular on Bassmaster’s Top 100 list since the rankings started in 2012.
The lake cracked the overall Top 10 twice between 2014-19. Judges really liked what they saw in the fabled fishery near Quitman this year. It grabbed the No. 1 spot on a list steeped in heavy hitters for the very first time.
Results of two BASS Elite Series events held there during a six-month period weighed heavily in the top ranking, according to James Hall, editor of Bassmaster Magazine.
Hall says Fork plays host to dozens of local/amateur tournaments over the course of the year, but the results of those derbies rarely reflect the true quality of the fishery. That’s because of a restrictive slot limit that prohibits anglers from retaining 16-24 inch fish for lakeside weigh-ins. Winning weights of 9-11 pounds on five fish are common in the weekend events.
Not so when the pros come to town. BASS brought two Elite Series events to Fork between between Nov. 2020 and April 2021. The Elites got around the slot limit by following a catch, weigh and immediate release format that allowed multiple slot fish in the 3-9 pound range to enter daily tallies.
Likewise, the weights at the top of leaderboard soared into the triple digits. Patrick Walters of South Carolina won the November event with 20 bass weighing 104-12, an average of 5.2 pounds per fish.
Longview’s Lee Livesay found the big ones biting even better this spring. The Texas pro recorded a four-day total of 112-5 that was anchored by an enormous 42-3 limit in the final round.
Averaging total 8.46 per bass, Livesay’s five-fish limit is the third heaviest ever tallied in BASS event. Additionally, three other anglers topped the 90-pound mark while Walters earned his second Century Belt trophy in six months with 102-5.
A month earlier, Tanner Spurgin of McKinney won a boat with a 15.27 pounder caught in a Bass Champs MegaBass event. Spurgin’s bass is the biggest reported from Lake Fork since March 2018 and the second largest fish ever brought to the scales in a Bass Champs tournament.
A Special Place
It takes an exceptional fishery to produce numbers like those, especially at 41 years old. Though it is certainly not the lake it once was, Fork is still a very special place, indeed.
That’s the word from veteran fishing guide and former BASS pro David Vance of Winnsboro. Vance says he was pleasantly surprised to learn about Fork’s No. 1 ranking, but stresses that anglers shouldn’t be mislead into thinking they can go there any day of the week, at any time of the year, and reel in a 40-pound sack.
“It’s not going to happen,” said Vance, a full-time guide since 1980. “Fork is still a good lake, but it’s not what it used to be. The lake gets unbelievable pressure and the fish have become conditioned to it. It’s a difficult lake to fish and people are going to be disappointed if they don’t do their homework and come at the best time, which in my opinion is around the spawn.”
Vance added that anglers shouldn’t go to Fork with high expectations of reeling in the numbers of 2-3 pounders waiting to be caught at a bass factory like Sam Rayburn, which earned a No. 6 overall ranking this year.
“No way can Fork can’t compete with ‘Rayburn for numbers, but you can’t argue with its record for producing big fish,” he said. “It consistently produces more fish in the 7-10 pound range throughout the year than other lakes. If you come here from late February through April your chances of catching big fish are really good.”
TPWD fisheries biologist Jake Norman of Tyler agreed with Vance’s assessment.
“The opportunity to catch multiple bass over eight pounds in one day is the biggest draw and asset for Fork,” he said. “The reservoir is unlike any other in the country when the timing is right, as illustrated by every single professional-level tournament hosted there since 2014. However, it has some seriously fickle periods of the year that can make the best anglers in the world question their own abilities.”
An avid angler himself, Norman claims he has been humbled by the lake more times than he can remember. The biologist says fishing at Fork can be akin to the highs and lows of playing golf.
“You may be frustrated all day and consider finding a new hobby, until one good shot (or big fish for Fork) brings the addiction right back,” Norman said. “There are plenty of guides and locals that will be surprised by the No. 1 ranking, because they see this phenomenon play out on a weekly basis. The on-fire fishing days we get at Fork can set unrealistic expectations for many anglers. Catching a 40-pound bag of bass does not happen consistently, but it happens more at Fork than most water bodies in the country. For most anglers, an eight-pound bass is the fish of a lifetime. That’s why Fork continues to be nationally recognized.”
10 For Texas
As earlier mentioned, 10 Texas lakes earned spots in the 2021 Top 100 rankings. Three of them made the overall Top 10 — Fork, Sam Rayburn (No. 6) and O.H. Ivie (No. 9). Texas accounts for more lakes in the Top 10 than any other state and tied California for the most entries in the Top 100 this year.
Sam Rayburn has been solid in the annual rankings from get-go, ranking outside the Top 10 only three times in 10 years.
The lake was No. 2 in 2017, No. 1 in 2018, No. 3 in 2019 and No. 7 in 2020. After a banner spring, I’m surprised it didn’t go higher than No. 6 this year.
In January, the lake produced pair of 13 pounders for the Toyota ShareLunker program along with some remarkable back-to-back tournament weights that made Broaddus angler Derek Mundy famous.
Mundy, 32, won a Phoenix Bass Fishing League event on Jan. 2 with an enormous five-fish limit weighing 40-10. It may be the heaviest single-day total ever recorded during a tournament on Sam Rayburn by one angler.
Three weeks later, Mundy won a three-day Toyota Series event with 70-11. The total was anchored by a 39-7 limit he brought to the scales on Day 2.
In April, about 3,400 anglers competing in a three-day Sealy Outdoors big bass event turned in 854 bass totaling about 3778 pounds — an average of 4.42 pounds each. The Top 5 ranged from 11.29 pounds to 9.47 pounds.
Lake O.H. Ivie’s first-ever Top 10 ranking isn’t founded on tournament weights; its built around ShareLunker giants and epic pleasure fishing recaps that read like fairy tales.
The 19,000-acre reservoir near Lubbock had the hot hand for Toyota Legacy ShareLunkers this year with 12 entries including a new lake record 16.40 pounder, a 15 pounder, four 14 pounders and six 13 pounders.
Joe McKay’s 16.40 pounder reeled in on Feb. 19 from ‘Ivie kicked off a remarkable big bass flurry that saw six Toyota Legacy ShareLunkers caught at the West Texas lake over a 10-day span. McKay’s fish is the No. 16 heaviest Texas bass of all-time. It anchored what is being touted as the heaviest five-fish, single-day catch ever documented on video — 60 pounds.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com.
Here’s how 10 Texas lakes ranked among the Central Region Top 25:
1. Lake Fork
2. Sam Rayburn
3. O.H. Ivie
6. Toledo Bend
8. Ray Roberts
14. Lake Conroe
19. Choke Canyon