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Toyota Texas Bass Classic Wrap-up

Lake Fork event proved it’s possible to hold a successful tournament on a lake with strict, fish-friendly rules.

By Larry D. Hodge

Some said it couldn’t be done, but the first major bass fishing tournament held on Lake Fork proved that holding tournaments on lakes with slot limits can be not only possible but also highly successful and perhaps change the way all tournaments are held.

Despite Lake Fork’s reputation as perhaps the best bass lake in the United States, major tournaments avoided it because the lake’s 16- to 24-inch slot limit, coupled with a daily limit of one fish over 24 inches, meant that most fish caught especially crowd-pleasing lunkers could not be brought to weigh-ins.

After fishing on Lake Fork with Professional Anglers Association member Kelly Jordan, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commissioner Donato Ramos enlisted the help of Commissioner Dan Friedkin to find a way to hold a tournament on the lake while observing the regulations that made the fishery what it is.

The result was the first Toyota Texas Bass Classic, a three-day event in which 160 anglers competed against each other in 40 four-member teams. Financial support from Toyota and other sponsors made possible a $1 million total purse, with $250,000 going to the winning team, while anglers paid no entry fee.

Survival of tournament-caught fish was maximized by limiting the number of fish brought to the weigh-in. An official observer in each boat measured and weighed each fish caught using a BogaGrip fish handling device with built-in scale. Fish caught were immediately returned to the water, with the exception of fish longer than 24 inches, which were brought to the weigh-in.

The team concept was also new to major tournaments. Instead of fishing against all the other entrants, each angler was a member of a team that competed against the other teams, with every angler’s catch contributing to the team’s total. Numerous anglers expressed positive opinions about the team format, since it allowed them to learn from each other and also to get to know other anglers better.

The tournament was designed with both on-site spectators and television viewers in mind. Teams fished in two shifts each day and held strategy sessions between shifts to share information and plan their next move. Spectators were allowed to listen in on these sessions, which were also videotaped, as was the on-the-water action, for broadcast on Versus and CBS. Hands-on activities, fishing industry displays and free concerts by top-name entertainers such as Clay Walker and Tracy Lawrence meant the fun went on all day.

The team of Terry Scroggins, Chris Daves, Frank Ippoliti and James Niggemeyer caught 54 fish weighing a total of 244 pounds, 12 ounces, over three days to take home the top prize. One of the biggest surprises of the tournament came when Scroggins revealed where the team caught some of its fish off a point near the dam, in sight of the weigh-in area.

Lake Fork is known for producing big fish, including 230-plus fish weighing 13 pounds or more that have been entered into the Budweiser ShareLunker program. While no ShareLunkers were caught during the tournament, John Sappington was happy to win the big fish award a Toyota Tundra and a pair of Lucchese boots with his 11-pound, 2-ounce fish.

TPWD received $250,000 for its inland fishing and youth outreach programs, but in the long run, bass and bass fishing stand to be the big winners. The Toyota Texas Bass Classic proved that it is possible to hold a tournament that furnishes ample entertainment while being fish-friendly. Bass tournaments may never be the same again.

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