FORT WORTH – The eyes of the fishing world will be on Lake Ray Roberts June 11-13 for the 51st Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. It will be the third time bass fishing’s world championship event will be held in Texas having previously been held on Lake Texoma in 1979 and Lake Conroe in 2017.
Craig Bonds, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Director, is pleased to see this event return to the Lonestar state, “The exceptional bass-fishing quality in Texas is a reflection of the dedicated and capable work of our team of fisheries professionals and partners. I’m thrilled BASS chose to spotlight a lake and host city poised to put on a memorable show with a Texas flavor.”
The TPWD Inland Fisheries Division has worked tirelessly over the years to make Lake Ray Roberts a world class fishery. The Toyota ShareLunker program, which is coming off a record season, has been a part of that work. Fingerlings from the program and additional stockings have been placed in the lake over the years to help create “Bigger Better Bass.” Lake Ray Roberts has produced six Legacy Lunkers, including the lake record 15.18-pound Lunker #560 on March 7, 2015.
In addition, during the construction of the lake, TPWD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers teamed up to help preserve and develop good fish habitat. Selective harvesting of timber was done, and the Corps built massive mounds of brush piles. Ray Roberts Lake has approximately 2,000 acres of standing timber, located mostly in the upper reaches of both major arms. Rip-rap can be found along the dam and near bridge crossings and aquatic vegetation is present along some shorelines. Additional structure is provided by stream channels, flooded main-lake points, inundated pond dams, flooded rocks/boulders/stumps, and the 44 inundated brush piles constructed before impoundment.
Fish care is a top priority for both TPWD and BASS. The tournament was originally scheduled for March but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The potential June heat and the distance from Lake Ray Roberts to Dickie’s Arena in Fort Worth, created concerns for fish health. The two organizations worked together to develop procedures for how to best care for the fish in this situation and minimize any potential negative impacts to the fish population.
On the first two days of the tournament, each angler’s bag will be weighed at the lake and up to two of their largest fish can be returned to the livewell for transport to the arena. All remaining fish will then be immediately transferred to the live release boat and returned to the lake. If in the case an angler catches an exceptional bag, TPWD staff could allow that angler to transport their limit for display. These changes will reduce the number of bass being transported round trip from the lake to the arena by 50 percent during the full field portion of the tournament.
At Dickie’s Arena, anglers will display up to two bass to the fans and the official weight that was determined at the lake will then be officially revealed. Following some quick photos, the fish will be taken backstage and TPWD biologists will load the fish into hatchery trailers and returned to the lake where releases boats and personnel are waiting to place the fish back into Lake Ray Roberts.
On Championship Sunday, the 25 final anglers can bring a five-bass limit to the arena. The fish care protocol from the previous two days remains in effect. TPWD biologists will check for length and health at the lake, ice and distribute the fish between livewells. The catches will be weighed on stage Sunday and then returned to Ray Roberts for release. Through these measures, fish care and minimizing impacts to the fish population can remain as a top priority while still providing an outstanding experience for the anglers and fans who will be in the arena in Fort Worth.
Bonds believes the innovative collaboration between TPWD and BASS staffs was key to balancing fish care and the fan experience. “We knew moving the event to June was necessary to accommodate the in-person fan experience and were committed to coordinating with BASS in developing a creative fish-care process that also minimized potential impacts to a valuable public fishery resource. I think we arrived at an effective compromise approach.”
TPWD will have several programs participating in the expo portion of the event. The Toyota ShareLunker program, Angler Education, Life’s Better Outside activities, Operation Game Thief, and Aquatic Nuisance Species air boat will all be available for visitors to enjoy. The Toyota ShareLunker awards reception will be held on Sunday afternoon where the 22 anglers from this past season will receive their 23 replica mounts from Lake Fork Taxidermy and be recognized on stage as part of the championship weigh-in.
To learn more about this year’s tournament and the events surrounding it, visit the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk website.