ATHENS—The Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) world championship bass tournament will return to Lake Fork May 9—11, 2014.
Designed to showcase one of the best trophy bass lakes in the world and the fisheries management that developed it, the TTBC has raised over $1.75 million for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) fisheries programs. This year’s tournament is expected to bring in an additional $250,000 in funding for the department’s youth fishing and outreach programs.
The TTBC was conceived on Lake Fork during a fishing trip involving professional angler Kelly Jordan and then TPWD commissioners T. Dan Friedkin and Donato Ramos. The first two TTBC tournaments were held on Lake Fork in 2007 and 2008 before moving to Lake Conroe.
The TTBC is much more than just a fishing tournament. The partnership between TPWD and Toyota and the Toyota Texas Bass Classic is designed to support programs that encourage people, especially youth, to get outdoors and fish. An Outdoor Adventures Area will feature displays and outdoor activities that give attendees opportunities to experience fishing for catfish, archery, kayaking and more. Sampling is encouraged at the barbecue cook-off, and visitors can test-drive the latest ATVs and Toyota trucks. Country music concerts by top entertainers cap each day’s events.
The TTBC also gives financially supports TPWD’s Neighborhood Fishin’ Program, which regularly stocks fish into 16 urban-area lakes that allow people to fish close to home. The newest Neighborhood Fishin’ Lake is Woldert Pond in Tyler, just down the road from Lake Fork. Some 85,000 people a year fish in Neighborhood Fishin’ ponds, and about half those are youth or people new to fishing.
Another program supported by the Toyota Texas Bass Classic is the Texas division of the State-Fish Art Contest. Students in grades K-12 submit drawings of fish and compete for scholarships. Artwork from that contest appears on Toyota Texas Bass Classic tickets. Research shows that students who take part in this contest are more likely to become interested in fishing. More than 1,100 youths entered the Texas division of the State-Fish Art Contest just ended, more than any other state.
The partnership between TTBC and TPWD exemplify TPWD’s core messages. Everything is connected. Everyone does play a part. But when you have a big bass on the end of your line, life isn’t just better outside, it’s AWESOME! Nowhere in Texas is that more likely to happen than on Lake Fork, and the reasons are the partnership between TPWD and the Sabine River Authority (SRA), geography, and TPWD’s management of the lake.
Lake Fork’s outstanding bass fishery was made possible by a number of factors. Fork is located in a watershed that provides important nutrients to the lake, and TPWD and the SRA cooperated to build on that base. Much of the timber was left standing in the lake, and Florida largemouth bass were stocked into farm ponds in the reservoir basin prior to impoundment. Progressively restrictive harvest regulations have protected fish of breeding size. In recent years, TPWD has partnered with SRA and the Lake Fork Sportsman’s Association to enhance fish habitat.
Lake Fork has produced 256 of the 557 entries into the Toyota ShareLunker program, an angler recognition and selective breeding program that uses angler-donated 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass to produce fingerlings for stocking into Texas public waters. Fork produced 33 of the 50 biggest bass ever caught in Texas, including the current state record of 18.18 pounds.
Conservation is at the heart of TPWD fisheries management, and the TTBC tournament format furthers that effort. Fish 16 to 24 inches long are weighed on the water and immediately released; anglers are allowed to bring one fish over 24 inches to the weigh-in. Fish brought to the weigh-in are cared for by TPWD biologists and returned to the lake.
The payoff for these efforts can be seen in the local economy. Lake Fork’s economic impact on Wood County is estimated at more than $23 million annually, and the 2008 TTBC brought 30,000 people to the area and generated nearly $2 million for the local economy.
“None of this can happen without public support,” said Dave Terre, TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Chief of Management and Research. “By attending the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, you are also supporting TPWD programs such as Neighborhood Fishin’ and the State-Fish Art Contest. In addition to helping make possible these programs that benefit your own family today, you will play a part in passing on the traditions of fishing and good management of our natural resources to future generations. They and we thank you.”
Information on the 2014 TTBC is posted at www.toyotatexasbassclassic.com as it becomes available. Videos of previous tournaments can be viewed on YouTube.