Toyota Texas Bass Classic Born of Dreams

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 5/5/2015, 10:48 a.m.
The Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) scheduled for May 23—25 on Lake Fork is the world championship of bass fishing, ...
Donato Ramos, a TPWD commissioner

ATHENS—The Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) scheduled for May 23—25 on Lake Fork is the world championship of bass fishing, but it was born of a dream to involve more youth in fishing. And that dream was based on the work of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) fisheries biologists who had a vision to make Lake Fork the best bass fishing lake it could be.

Those dreams came together as a result of a chance meeting at a ranch gate in South Texas, and the results went far beyond what anyone dared dream of.

Professional angler Kelly Jordon happened to be entering his deer lease through a gate shared with a neighboring ranch when the owner of that ranch drove up and saw Jordon’s wrapped truck promoting his sponsors. The ranch owner was Donato Ramos, a TPWD commissioner. “I asked him to dinner that night, and we talked about ways to better utilize resources and get the word out about how great Texas fishing is,” Jordon recalls. “The biggest priority for him was to find ways to involve more youth in fishing in Texas. I told him of my dream to have a tournament on Lake Fork to showcase my home lake. He liked the idea of showing people what we had in Texas and suggested that we make it a celebration not just of Lake Fork but also of TPWD’s efforts to improve fishing and the economic benefits of fishing to Texas.”

The result of that conversation was a fishing trip on Lake Fork. Jordon hosted Ramos and TPWD commission chairman Dan Friedkin. “We caught a lot of fish, and it went from there,” Jordon says. “They are businessmen and know how to make things happen. That’s why it has really been awesome.”

Lake Fork was planned from the beginning to be a special place. Prior to impoundment, TPWD biologists worked with Sabine River Authority (SRA) to make Lake Fork into bass heaven. “We knew Lake Fork would be a good lake even if we did nothing,” says Allen Forshage, who was TPWD’s Inland Fisheries regional director at the time. “We decided to do everything we could to make it a great lake.”

SRA agreed to leave most of the timber in the lake standing rather than clearing it in order to create habitat for fish. Forshage and his team stocked Florida largemouth bass into farm ponds in the lake’s footprint to jumpstart the fishery when the lake filled. Then Forshage went one step further. At the time anglers in Texas could catch and keep 10 bass a day 10 inches or longer. Lakes would boom for a few years, but because few fish survived to spawning age, the fishery would quickly decline. Forshage fought for and won a five-fish daily bag with a 14-inch minimum length for Lake Fork, which was later changed to the present 16- to 24-inch slot with only one fish per day over 24 inches allowed to be harvested.

The result was spectacular. With its fish living in ideal habitat and protected from harvest until they had time to reproduce, Lake Fork shot to the top of the nation’s bass-fishing destinations. TPWD estimates that the lake produces 15,000 fish a year weighing seven pounds or more. Lake Fork has produced more than 250 entries into the Toyota ShareLunker Program, which requires that fish weigh 13 pounds or more. Both the first ShareLunker, a fish weighing 17.67 pounds, and the current state record largemouth bass of 18.18 pounds were caught from Lake Fork.