Taking stock of the Rock - Major League Fishing

Taking stock of the Rock

Setting up the Toyota Series Championship Presented by Simms on Table Rock Lake
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Table Rock is a good place to be in the fall, and while Cody Huff is the pre-tournament favorite, the Toyota Series Championship field is filled with other luminaries. Photo by Charles Waldorf. Angler: Cody Huff.
October 24, 2023 • Jody White • Toyota Series

BRANSON, Mo. – The biggest tournament of the fall starts next week on Table Rock Lake. On Nov. 2-4, the Toyota Series Championship Presented by Simms will gather the best from the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats and a few other qualification routes to hand out $200,000 (or more) and a REDCREST berth to the winner. The signature event of the fall, the Toyota Series Championship also hands out thousands in awards to the top finishers from each division, a new Phoenix boat to the Strike King co-angler champion, and serves as an introduction to fishing stateside for a bunch of international qualifiers.

See the field list

The history of Table Rock

Back in 2016, Zack Birge and others pushed full-sized bass boats to the limit to access shallow fish in hopes of winning. Photo by Jody White.

Table Rock isn’t lacking in bass fishing history, and has hosted several notable fall events in recent years that showcased the evolution of bass fishing. In 2016 the Costa FLW Series Championship took place in early November before forward-facing sonar took over. Then, top anglers ran way up the rivers to catch their fish, sometimes even into flowing water, and others ran bluffs or visible cedar trees with crankbaits and wake baits. Battling for the win and Forrest Wood Cup qualification, trolling motors didn’t have Spot-Lock and it looks like a different era.

In 2020, with schedules wrecked by COVID, the Plains Division visited Table Rock in November for a new-school and old-school clash. Cody Huff ended up winning pretty handily, scoping out deep, but Jason Lieblong finished second with another river run. Then, in 2021, the Bass Pro Shops US Open was won scoping deep by Tucker Smith and Logan Parks, firmly establishing the new normal for fall on the Rock.  

Still, though the Top 25 might all be scoping come Day 3, that’s not a foregone conclusion.

Assessing the situation

With the lake off-limits until official practice, Travis Harriman and Huff were kind enough to shed some light on the current state of the lake.

“Where Table Rock is at right now is not where it will be come tournament time,” Harriman said. “I think it’s going to be a whole mix of things. That’s the great thing about Table Rock, in that Toyota Series Championship, guys made their strength work, going up the rivers. Then you had the Cody Huff tournament, in 2020, which was dominated by forward-facing sonar.”

Harriman suspects that cooler weather will make the shallow bite get better than it currently is.

“There’s going to be some weather coming in, I think we’re having a cold front, that’s going to change things and open up a lot of opportunity for people,” he said. “That’s going to get the shallow game going, buzzbait, Plopper, jig. And of course, the forward-facing sonar is going to play, it’s a deep, clear lake, that always will.”

Huff also doesn’t think the lake is setting up for a LiveScope-only tournament.

“I fished enough, I spent enough time, looking at some really good places where I know they get, and the first places they get,” he said. “I think they’re not really thinking about that yet. I caught some in 6 inches, 8 feet, 20 feet, it seems like they’re very scattered.

“I think it leans more toward the bank, I think it’ll be a 70-30 Top 10, is my guess,” he said. “But, it may shake out 50-50, there are going to be so many guys trying scoping, somebody will catch them. In a local tournament, there are going to be maybe 70 or 80% of the Top 10 fishing the bank or junk fishing.”

While the odds are probably decent that Huff ends up relying on his graphs, he’s not necessarily expecting to be walloping fish either way.

“It’s going to be whoever figures out how to get that little better quality fish,” he said. “The way I see it now, I don’t see it being a barn burner anywhere. You’re not going to go to the bank and get 30 bites like it’s March. You’re going to pick up a Wart or a Plopper and get seven chances at good fish, I think it’ll be the same out deep.”

Table Rock can put on a show regardless

A sprawling lake, the White River reservoir has over 700 miles of shoreline. Photo by Rob Matsuura.

Even if the fishing is tough, which is not really a foregone conclusion, there’s a lot of potential for a very fun tournament. With all three species in play and a lot of variety, bites shouldn’t be too hard to come by.

“These fish up here, it’s not like Beaver Lake in the fall, there are so many shad, they look like they’re prespawn. The fish here do not miss many meals,” Harriman said. “I think the coolest part about it is you can catch any bass out of a brush pile or a treetop. Three casts in a row, you can catch three species. The largemouth are traditionally what wins the tournaments, but very rarely will you be able to catch all largemouth outside of going way up a river.”

The sheer size of Table Rock is a double-edged sword for locals. While Harriman, Huff and others have a backlog of sneaky spots, the lake is too big to fish in one day.

“This has the opportunity to be a junk fisherman’s dream,” Harriman said. “They could hit a bank, catch one on a Plopper-style bait, hit a brush pile, a point, this place is a junk fisherman’s paradise. That would be the local advantage, knowing what little stretch you can throw a certain bait on, what docks hold fish, I think that’s where the local advantage is at.

“But, there’s so many bass in this place, any given creek at any moment could fire,” he said. “You could win anywhere on the lake, that’s the scary thing about it. If you write something off, an out-of-towner could find it and have it be firing good enough to win on.”