For three days, Lee Livesay caught quality fish, but nothing close to the Lake Fork potential he intimately knows. On Championship Sunday, the third-year Elite Series pro and local guide showcased his home lake's treasures by winning the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork with a phenomenal four-day total of 112 pounds, 5 ounces.
As the 32nd individual to enter the prestigious Bassmaster Century Club (a five-fish limit of 100 pounds or more), Livesay outpaced Day 1 leader Patrick Walters by a 10-pound margin. Along with his second Elite trophy - his first came last fall at Chickamauga Lake - Livesay won a first-place award of $100,000.
For Livesay, it was a monster final-day limit that weighed 42-3 and ranks as the third-heaviest, single-day weight in Bassmaster history that sealed the deal.
"I have no words right now, it's amazing," he said. "I've been around them, but I haven't caught any big ones all week; I just survived. Everything just worked out and it never goes like that."
Hailing from Longview, Texas, Livesay made no assumptions and fished hard until the last minute. But when the smallest bass in your five-fish limit goes 7 pounds, 6 ounces, good things are likely.
"I caught big ones everywhere I went," he said. "I started off with big ones (a 9-2 at 7:14 a.m.) and ended with big ones (7-14 at 1:10 p.m.). It was just one of those surreal days, and it was amazing because I've spent a lot of time on this lake."
Spending his tournament in Little Caney Creek, Livesay rotated among several secondary points where bass were chasing big gizzard shad. His main spot - a bar extending off a small island - allowed him to sneak into range of bass schooling on the opposite side without spooking them.
Throughout the tournament, Livesay caught fish on a mixed arsenal that included a 3:16 Lure Company line-through Rising Son swimbait, a 3:16 Lure Company Work Horse glidebait, a Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait, a Carolina rig with a Netbait Little Spanky, a 6th Sense Magnum Squarebill and a bone color Heddon Saltwater Super Spook.
On Sunday, the latter produced all of his weight fish. A 7-foot medium-heavy Halo HFX cranking rod and 40-pound braided line was essential for reaching distant fish and keeping them connected.
"Those fish are wanting to feed up and they're seeing so many swimbaits, they're just not eating them," he said. "I kept getting bites and I kept throwing it.
"Working that big topwater really erratic and just getting them to react was the deal. I think they really think it's a shad."
Livesay kept himself in the hunt all week, starting with a seventh-place bag of 25-6 on Day 1. He slipped two spots on Day 2 after catching 17-14, but put himself within striking distance on Semifinal Saturday by adding 26-14 and improving to fifth.
Overcoming the hometown curse - succumbing to the pressure of local expectations - made Livesay's victory even sweeter.
"I've spent thousands of days with clients and fun fishing on this lake," Livesay said. "I never thought I had it. I knew I was around them, but I never thought I'd catch 42 pounds.
"So, doing it in front of family and friends, and a lot of sponsors were here, too, it's just amazing. I couldn't ask for anything better."
Notably, Walters claimed his second Century Club belt after earning his first at last November's Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with a four-day Lake Fork total of 104-12.
Hailing from Summerville, S.C., Walters started strong this week by leading Day 1 with 32-14. He slipped to third on Day 2 with a smaller limit of 15-7.
Walters got back on track Saturday with 22-13 and reached the final round in fourth place. Adding 31-3 Sunday, he tallied 102-5 and was the only competitor to break 30 pounds twice.
He did most of his work at the mouth of Little Caney where prespawners were staging on the breaks. Leveraging his forward-facing Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, he fished a mix of jerkbaits, swimbaits and topwaters.
After a slow start, Walters got rolling with a midmorning rally that produced several big topwater bites. He steadily chipped away at the lead Livesay had built for much of the morning until the leader's midday rally put the event out of reach.
"If you're going to get beat on Lake Fork, it has to be a 40-pound bag," Walters said. "Big hats off to Lee, he is the man. I had a great week; I really do love this place."
Quentin Cappo of Prairieville, La., held the second-place spot for the first three days and finished third with 99-6. He turned in daily weights of 28-15, 25-13, 19-4 and 25-6.
Cappo targeted shallow areas with shell bottom in Caney Creek looking for submerged root masses, where deflecting a Strike King KVD 4.0 squarebill triggered strikes. When bass drove gizzard shad topside, he threw a Strike King Sexy Dawg topwater.
"The topwater came into play huge today, as expected," he said. "One to 3 o'clock has been my window. I was just pacing around, hitting as much as I could and looking for bait activity.
"When that water temperature got warm throughout the day, they would come up and get active. And when the wind pushed those shad against the bank, they showed themselves."
Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 9-13 largemouth. He also won $1,000 for the biggest bass of Day 2. Walters claimed Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors for Days 1 and 4 (8-14 and 9-5), while Australian pro Carl Jocumsen took the award on Day 3 with a 9-5.
Brandon Card of Salisbury, N.C., took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.