It was Thursday evening when I set sail to Lake Fork to fish the qualifying tournament for the Pro Crappie Trail. This tournament was a one man, one pole, artificial tournament only. This was my first time to fish Lake Fork and I was there to fish a tournament with some of the best anglers in the business. Many times on the drive down, I thought to myself, how are you going to pull this off? Where was I to fish? It is a huge lake so how do I find the fish so quickly? I had only 8 hours to pre-fish! So many questions raced through my mind that I was becoming anxious. Calming myself down, I started making phone calls to people I knew that had fished the lake recently or had fished the lake at all. After speaking with a few friends, I decided where I was going to start fishing (keep in mind they just gave me a general location).
The next morning, I hit Fisherman’s One Stop (a local bait and tackle store) to check out what the “shelves” looked like. See when I go to different lakes, I like to look for artificial baits that the stores are almost out of or has recently stocked up on. This is not a sure-fire way to find the right bait or color but it is a good start. Keep in mind I’m a MINNER fisherman and always will have minnows in the boat unless it’s not allowed. I arrived earlier because most local bait shops will have a table with a few chairs for the old timers to sit around and chat. Sure enough, I walk in and there is the table with 2 old gentlemen sitting and drinking their coffee. This is where I learn the most, sometimes. You have to be able to separate the truth from the stretched truth with fishermen. I introduced myself to them and they asked if I was here for the Bass Tournament or the Crappie Tournament. That excited me because they had already been informed of “a crappie tournament”. I confirmed I was there for the PCT and was very excited but nervous because I’ve never fished the lake. With a chuckle one of the men said son “I’ve fished all my life and all lakes are the same”. I knew this could be a “stretched truth” so I said the magic words, “interesting tell me more”. The gentleman said well a crappie is a crappie and if you know how a crappie behaves then it doesn’t matter what lake you fish you will do well. If you don’t then you know why because you know how a crappie behaves. We had some laughs and after a few more lessons I thanked the gentlemen paid for my items and left the store.
Arriving at the boat ramp around 0650 on Friday morning, I set out to the generalized area that my friends had spoken of. OH MY GOODNESS!!!! Standing timber everywhere. Had to lift the motor and creep around everywhere I went. This took too much time but this is Fork, and it wasn’t going to be easy. I searched and searched in the area that my friends had said the fish would most likely be but nothing but DINKS! I was getting discouraged but kept my composer and kept moving. Crappie fisherman have to pay attention to everything, water temperature, water depth, barometric pressure, thermocline, the list goes on and on. I had to make a move it was now 1130 and I only had until 1500 until I had to be off the water. As I was idling back to the boat lane and I remembered the water depth was 14’ 6” with the water temp around 86 degrees. That told me the fish would be deep. Whether they would be holding to trees or out in open water I didn’t know but I had to find out.
Arriving at the next location I told myself I was just going to fish the timber just off the main channel in deeper water. Well it wasn’t long before I knew I was on to something. Using my LiveScope, I found these fish were around 18’-23’ holding close to the timber. I didn’t want to disturb them. I would be back the following morning hoping to catch them. I searched other areas in hopes of finding fish but was unsuccessful.
Tournament morning, I went to Fisherman’s One Stop in hopes of learning some info on bait size, color, etc. I gathered some items I needed like water, a hat, more sunscreen and went to the counter. Mr. John was standing there ready to tally up the merchandise and told me he appreciated me stopping and shopping at his store.
He asked, “Richard do you need any minnows?”
I said, “No sir, I’m fishing that tournament that only allows artificial.”
He then remembered over hearing us the morning before sitting at the table. Mr. John asks, “What will you use?”
I said, “Probably, my hand tied jigs and my Jenko artificial baits.”
He said, “I would like you to give this a try.”
He reached behind the counter and handed me a few of his secret baits. I was excited and very thankful he wanted to help me. Now all I had to do is catch the fish.
Arriving at the location I scouted out the day before low and behold my fish were still there. I lowered the secret bait down and to my surprise BAM!!!!!!! A 1.90lb crappie was on my hook. I swung him in with my Jenko Kevin Rogers, tagged him and sent him to his home (my live well). Before I knew it, I had 8lbs with 5 fish in my live well. I fished and fished but couldn’t cull as all the fish I was catching was the same weight or a few oz’s shy of my lightest fish in the live well. Around 1300 2 hours from when the tournament would be over.
I’d gotten extremely hot. I thought to myself, Richard you have never quit anything in your life and you’re not quitting now!! So, I fished on. The heat was getting to me I was fighting myself and found that the distraction of the heat was affecting my skill level of catching tournament fish. Then a voice came in my head and it was my wife’s saying Richard you need to go in now do you realize I don’t have life insurance on you yet? With a quick laugh I said out loud “yes honey you are correct” I will go in.
Weigh in time was nerve racking knowing that I didn’t have the weight to win but hoped to at least obtain a top 5 finish. I weighed in with 8.03lbs. Watching each person weigh in was killing me. It was all over fairly quickly. I had received 7thplace out of 24 anglers. I was very happy with the results but disappointed that I didn’t qualify by being in the top 5.
I will be attending the next one in November at the Lake of the Pines to do it all over again as I’ve never fished that lake either.
~ Richard Faulk