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B.A.S.S. Report 

Lake Ray Roberts

Brandon Palaniuk says the 54-angler field for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk will arrive at Lake Ray Roberts with far more questions than answers.

Such is the case when a tournament is held three months later than expected.

Originally scheduled for March 19-21, the annual Super Bowl of Professional Bass Fishing was postponed due to pandemic-related restrictions on large gatherings until this week. Competition runs Friday through Sunday.

Takeoffs will be held each day at 6:15 a.m. CT from Ray Roberts State Park - Isle du Bois Unit in Pilot Point, Texas, and weigh-ins will be held each day at 4 p.m. at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth.

Palaniuk says the event, which features a total purse of $1 million and pays $300,000 to the winner, will feature as much intrigue as any Classic in recent memory.

“I went and I pre-practiced, mostly for navigational reasons,” said Palaniuk, the veteran Elite Series pro from Rathdrum, Idaho. “I was expecting to have to go to the backs of certain coves and sloughs, and that’s not always easy on Ray Roberts because it’s a tough lake to run.

“I don’t know if that’s where the fish will be now — I don’t think anyone does. It looks like nobody’s going to have a clue what’s going on.”

Mystery will indeed be the chief theme as the anglers descend on the 29,350-acre north Texas fishery.

For one, since B.A.S.S. has never held a major event on Ray Roberts, many of the competitors have either never fished the lake or only spent minimal time there during pre-practice or events held by other organizations. Plus, the water level is more than 3 feet above normal pool at the moment and not likely to stay there.

“My guess is we’re either going to have rising or falling water,” Palaniuk said. “There’s really no reason they would stabilize the water at 2 to 3 feet high and leave it there. Any time you have that, it’s going to change the fish.

“Guys will have to get an idea of what stage the fish are in, how they’re positioning, and then pay attention to how they’re adapting to the changing conditions.”

Conventional wisdom could also be out the window in terms of early-summer timing since Texas, like many states around the country, has had a mild spring after a particularly harsh winter. Palaniuk says more lakes were frozen over in Texas during mid-March than in his home state of Idaho, and that has put the traditional stages of prespawn, spawn and postspawn far behind.

He said the Bassmaster Elite Series event held in late April on Lake Fork was a prime example of Texas timing run amok.

“Fork was way behind when we were there,” he said. “I talked to a buddy of mine after the event, and he said there were more big fish spawning at Fork than he’s ever seen, long after we were gone. That alone tells me things are behind 100%.”

With little known about Ray Roberts, Fork has been a common comparison for bass fishing fans hoping to get an idea of what the Classic will be like. But despite some similarities, the lakes are vastly different.

While Fork has a stringent slot limit designed to grow scads of trophy bass, Ray Roberts has more relaxed restrictions with a 14-inch minimum limit on largemouth. It’s still blessed with big bass, but not as many as its trophy-rich Texas cousin.

“Ray Roberts doesn’t have the population of 3- to 5-pounders that Fork has,” said Palaniuk, who has five Elite Series victories and a Bassmaster Angler of the Year title to his credit. “It’s got quite a few 8- to 10-pounders, I think. So, it may be a deal where a guy gets six bites in a day and has 28 pounds.

“I honestly think a guy could win the Classic without having a limit every day if he’s getting the right bites. You could catch four for 20 or 21 pounds. It’s definitely doable there.”

Like Fork, Ray Roberts is loaded with standing timber that will add another air of mystery to the event. Sometimes simply getting from Point A to Point B without wrecking your equipment can be a challenge.

“On scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, the lower lake is like a 3 to navigate — not that bad at all,” Palaniuk said. “But once you go up in the top three quarters of the lake, it’s like an 8 or 9. If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I’m just gonna run back to the back of that pocket,’ it’s not happening.

“There are no boat lanes. Nothing’s been cut by TPWD (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department). You just have to create your own trails.”

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Herren, who actually won the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Ray Roberts in 2016, knew the dangers of exploring Ray Roberts — and he took extreme measures to protect his equipment when he pre-fished there last winter.

“I borrowed my son’s boat,” Herren said, laughing. “It is definitely a place where you can tear up not only a lower unit, but your prop, your hull — pretty much everything you’ve got.”

Palaniuk said he believes it will take an average of 20 pounds per day to have a chance to win, and the angler who separates himself from the pack might be the one who has a single earth-shattering day with a bag in the 28- to 30-pound range.

The full field will fish the first two days, and then the Top 25 will advance to Championship Sunday for a chance at the $300,000 first-place prize and the more-than-50-pound trophy that represents one of the biggest accomplishments in pro sports.

Whatever happens, fans can catch all of the action with streaming coverage all three days on Bassmaster.com. For the first time in history, the Classic will also feature four hours of live coverage on the FOX broadcast network Saturday beginning at 7 a.m. CT, as well as four hours of Championship Sunday coverage on FS1 beginning at 7 a.m.

The annual Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo will be held June 11 from noon-7 p.m., June 12 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and June 13 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Exhibitors will be on-site selling a variety of merchandise for fishing, hunting, camping and more. As part of the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo, the Go Out{side} Experience will offer fun options for families, including inflatable archery, cornhole, jumping dogs and knot tying. Kids can even catch their first fish at an on-site catfish pond.

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk is being hosted by the Fort Worth Sports Commission and Visit Fort Worth.