In the waning sunlight of an early spring afternoon, the kind where the light is warm and golden, where the wind dies to a steady breeze, and where sound carries a heck of a lot farther than most would believe, the inevitable finally occurred.
The inevitable, that is, at Lake Fork where the big bass spawn is on.
“Hey look, those two guys are fly fishing.”
I shot a quick glance at Rob Woodruff, my longtime pal and Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide (http://flyfishingfork.com; (903) 967-2665) and smirked.
He smiled knowingly.
Because we both knew what those two guys behind us really meant.
“Hey, look at those two idiots who are fly fishing on Lake Fork! Geesh! Why fish for the little guys with those buggy-whip sissy rods when you can fish for the real giants like the ones we’re after.”
The truth was little did they know.
Because little was hardly the word to describe the kind of day that we were having.
To start with, little is a word rarely applied to any of the bass fishing still found at Fork.
By now, you probably know that Barry St. Clair’s Texas state record largemouth, an 18.18-pound behemoth, hails from Lake Fork.
Ditto for the previous record, a 17.67-pound lunker caught by Mark Stevenson, and some 30 other members of the state’s “Top 50” largemouth bass list.
You probably also know that out of the 522 ShareLunkers caught to date, a full 247 of them have hailed from Fork.
But what you may not know is that amid whispers – and even columns by well-respected Texas outdoor writers – that the reservoir’s best days are behind her is that Fork is still going strong.
Case in point: since 2003, more than 11,368 trophy largemouths weighing seven-pounds or better have been caught and documented at Lake Fork.
And those are just the ones that have been entered into the voluntary reporting program that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department operates in cooperation with several Lake Fork area marinas.
Many more fish weighing seven-pounds or more – thousands more, perhaps – are caught, released, and never reported every year.
Put simply, while Falcon, Amistad, and O.H. Ivie anglers will undoubtedly howl at this claim, Lake Fork is still the best overall big bass lake in the Lone Star state.
If that was the first truth apparent to me a few days ago, the second was that my pal Woodruff knows the 27,264-acre Fork extremely well, having fished and guided on his home water for the last two decades.
The accumulation of knowledge and experience that thousands of days on the waters of Fork brings is quickly noticeable when I spend a day there with Woodruff.
He points things out that I am apt to miss like a submerged roadbed, the stumps of an old fence row I’ve never noticed, and even an old water gap and how they all factor into the travels that bass will make from deep winter haunts to shallow springtime spawning flats.
Like a sponge trying to absorb every last drop, I always come home after such a trip and drag out my Fork maps, having learned specifics about the lake itself and more about bass fishing in general.
On this particular March morning, Rob points out that so early in the spawning game, the cloud cover and cool temps will likely lead to slow fishing.
But then he adds that when the sun pokes out for good in the early afternoon, the fishing should improve as we throw big flies looking for big fish.
True to form, the morning was slow. But after enjoying a hot lunch at a nearby marina, we hit a secondary creek for the first time that day as the sun finally arrived in full force.
A half-hour later, as Woodruff worked a fire-tiger hued Patassa fly (his own hand-tied rabbit-strip/deer hair sub-surface fly that mimics the action of a jerk-bait) along the deep end of a lay down, there was a sudden tell-tale flash underwater.
Which was quickly followed by a grunt at the front of the boat as Woodruff strip-set the hook and said “There she is!”
One splashy thrash later and we both knew that this is the kind of bass people come to Lake Fork to catch.
After a minute or two, Woodruff finally won the battle with his Orvis Helios eight-weight and 15-pound test leader as the big fish protested her way into the net.
A second later, Woodruff’s Boga Grip told the numerical tale of this hefty bucketmouth bass: a big female tipping the scales at just a hair over seven pounds.
After a few pictures, the CPR (catch, photo, and release) process was completed and the big girl slid away.
We both smiled as she swam into the depths to sulk for a few moments before heading back towards her pre-spawn staging spot just off the bank.
But that fish hardly marked the end of our day. Instead, it really marked the beginning.
An hour or so later, it was my turn.
One minute my bluegill colored Patassa fly is being stripped through the water, the next a lightning bolt is at the end of my rod as I strip-set the hook.
This fish, one that later weighed four and a half pounds on the Boga, wasn’t eager to come to the boat, splashing its protest a couple of times, diving under the rig, and then heading for the motor’s prop to saw the leader in half.
Fortunately I kept the bass from getting there, all of the knots held true, and the fish was finally scooped up to be admired.
But even then, our day was not done.
Because an hour later, in another of Woodruff’s favored early season spots, he suddenly exclaimed “There she is!” and reared back on the hook-set.
One splash later and I was the one exclaiming “That’s a huge fish!”
This fish used brute strength to head for the bottom, then for deeper water, then for timber that would fray the line.
But Woodruff calmly played the battle out on his fly rod, kept the fish from line breaking cover, and I was finally able to scoop the net under the big girl and bring her into the boat.
Where we admired an epic fish, a giant female that would go just past the nine-pound mark on the Boga Grip.
(Editor’s Note: FYI, that’s just a few ounces below the current Lake Fork fly rod record largemouth bass mark of 9.52-pounds. That’s a mark that Woodruff and his clients have broken several times over the last few years. Despite that fact, Woodruff nor his clients have yet elected to pursue such a record.)
After a few high-fives and pictures, Woodruff slid the big gal back into the water. With a tail-slap splash, she slid away into the depths.
That’s where the late afternoon sun revealed a truth that the two snickering anglers mentioned earlier couldn’t understand.
But it was a truth that seemed readily apparent to both Woodruff and I after having landed three big fly rod bass in an afternoon of fishing, bass that tipped the scales at more than 20 and a half pounds.
And that truth is this: big flies, big bass, and the legendary Lake Fork still add up to extremely big smiles.
Texas sized big smiles, that is.