Outdoor Destinations: Lake Fork, Texas

James Caldemeyer with a monster Lake Fork largemouth bass, the kind that makes Fork continue to be a draw to fishermen from across the country.

Legendary largemouth haven has a never-say-die fishing story

The first time I drove down Texas Highway 154 north of Quitman, Texas, and saw the waters of Lake Fork, I got excited. I had heard it was like a Disney amusement park for bass fishermen. Not just bunches of fish, but giant fish.

My excitement grew as I pulled my boat through the parking lot toward the launching ramp at the Minnow Bucket Marina and met my fishing partner for the day. He had been there about 30 minutes and had already caught three bass, one over four pounds, casting toward a grassbed right beside the ramp while he was still standing on the bank.

That was 30 years ago. Lake Fork has had its ups and downs, but it is still a major player in the bass fishing game. And now it is just about as popular for crappie fishermen. Fork has a surface area of 27,264 acres of flooded timber (which is mostly gone) and creeks, old road beds, flats and grassbeds with a maximum depth of 70 feet near the dam. It was impounded in 1980 and within a decade, it was America’s bass fishing hotspot.

Thirteen of the top 20 bass caught in Texas have come from this northeast Texas reservoir, including an 18.18 pounder that is the state record. And we are talking Texas, where it takes a 15 pounder to even make the top 50 list!

Still a treasure

Lake Fork is still a fishing treasure today. The bass here aren’t smashing records anymore, but they are still being caught in bunches over eight pounds and regularly over 10 and 12 pounds. It’s kind of like the old country song, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m good once as I ever was.”

This next-door-neighbor lake is a relatively short drive for Louisiana anglers (two hours from Shreveport, four from Alexandria and six from Baton Rouge). It has a multitude of ramps, marinas and amenities. And there are dozens of  successful guides. One of those is James Caldemeyer who runs Lake Fork Trophy Bass Guide Service. His dad taught him the lake and he has been fishing there since 1993.

“When my dad introduced me to the lake, I just fell in love with it,” he said. “It has changed considerably. The trees are gone, but they left plenty of stumps. Droughts about 10 years ago reduced the amount of vegetation. But the lake is still full of fish. And the good news is that because of the ShareLunker program sponsored by Toyota  and the Texas Park and Wildlife’s slot limits, the big ones are being protected and put back to be caught again another day.”

April and May are great months to visit the lake because the bass are in pre-spawn and spawn mode, but they bite all year long. He recommends the first full moon and the new moon as top times to catch spawning fish. He said fishing lures like Senkos, wacky worms, Flukes and Texas rigged lizards are good, but he also likes to often focus just on giant bass. To do that, he fishes big glide baits up to eight or 10 inches long to help clients catch the bass of a lifetime. Those lures are pricey — ranging from $20 up to $200 each for custom lures, so he definitely fishes them on sturdy heavy pound test line.

Bass may be the draw for action, but it’s a mess of Lake Fork crappie like this one that puts the fish in a fish fry.

He doesn’t do guided crappie trips, when he gets a day off or needs a mess of fish or just wants to have fun, he often goes for the Texas sac-a-lait. He said with the new electronics like his Garmin, you can catch crappie all year long on Lake Fork. And they come in all sizes from half-pounder to two-pound plus slabs. Crappie move shallow in the spring to spawn. Post and pre-spawn crappie hold on brush tops and brush lines.

Big old bluegills

The lake is chock-full of big bluegill bream and also provides some exciting action for folks that like to catch catfish. White bass are a good diversion when other fishing is slower, especially in the summer.

Caldemeyer is familiar with anglers going to out-of-state destinations. He makes trips to the Louisiana coast for redfish and specks every year.

If you are making a week out of it, there’s always time for a side trip to the Dallas area, which is just an hour and a half away.

When traveling to a new destination like Lake Fork, make sure you are familiar with all the rules and regulations, including licensing and limit requirements.

There are dozens of sites on the internet to find out more information about lodging, camping, fishing and fishing guides and things to do in the area.

One good place to start is lakeforktexas.com and you can find out more about Caldemeyer at officiallakeforktrophybass.com or on Facebook.

About Kinny Haddox 595 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.