Big Bass Lake Still Feeling Stigma After 1999 Fish Kill

It was the hot destination for anglers as one of the best bass fishing lakes in the world. But seven years after a virus killed several thousand fish, those who live and work on Lake Fork say the bass are now biting better than ever.

Instead, it's tourism at the lake that is still in recovery.

Several who know the lake say only now is it shedding a reputation it didn't deserve.

"I knew this lake was going to come back. I wasn't about to take off," says Troy Young.

The retired steel worker heard the experts seven years ago when dead fish littered Lake Fork.  Biologists said in the end the virus only killed about four thousand fish on this huge lake. But word of mouth was more lethal.

"A lot of people did leave. That slowed things down. That's where all those stories got out, like 'That lake's no good anymore, the fish all died' and that's when they quit coming," he says of the die-off of tourism.

From the banner years in the late 90s, bookings were off at Lake Fork Lodge.

"The kill made all the bass sick, but only killed the weak," says owner Kyle Jones who says the cull of weak fish is a normal, good thing.

However, the aquatic water weed Hydrilla that bass love so much died back at the same time.

"You have to change with the lake and the lake has changed," he says.

Out-of-towners instead went back to where they hit the mother lode the year before.

"They fish that same spot and it doesn't have any cover to hold fish, and they assume 'Well, the fish kill. Everyone's right. This lakes not what it used to be.'"

The fish had simply moved.

At Fisherman's Cove, guide Tim Walker says the outlook for the summer is great.

"The fishing has made a really good comeback," he says.

The pictures from this year prove it. Those six to ten pounders have become 12 and 13-pounders. And only now, in the past few weeks, have crowds come back.

"Getting more people coming in, more tourists, more out of state, and we even have some people from out of the country," Walker says.

The heyday of the '90s might be over, Jones says, without the spread of good news.

"We're not sure if we're ever going to reach those number of people who were crazy to come down here at that time," he admits.

Kyle Jones at Lake Fork Lodge can be reached at (903) 473-7236.  Fishing guide Tim Walker can be reached at (903) 765-3613 or (817) 999-7876.