By BassFan Staff
Keith Combs was sure someone was going to unload on a sack of Sam Rayburn Reservoir giants at some point this week.
Several fish in the 6- to 7-pound range had been weighed in, but those were kickers accompanied by four other 2 1/2-pounders mostly. Nobody had been able to put together a 20-pound bag or better through 3 days. The lake just wasn’t showing its true potential, Combs kept saying.
Turns out he was right. Someone finally did have one of those magical days, but that someone wasn’t him.
Phil Marks, a 47-year-old lure designer for Strike King who’s fished Rayburn for 20 years, saved his best for last today, crushing a 32-12 limit that turned what was supposed to a be final-day duel between two Texans into a Texas-sized blowout. His 4-day total of 82-00 was more than 16 pounds heavier than that of Combs, who caught 17-05 and settled for 2nd with 65-11.
Who says Rayburn’s fishing tough these days?
“I have had a couple of dream days like this in the past, but none of this magnitude,” Marks said. “After I caught my third fish I knew I had about 20 pounds and thought I probably had a good chance of winning and could relax a little. But then I started to think about it and realized that days like this just don’t come very often, so I kept fishing.”
When it was time for Marks to bring his fish to the stage, two separate weigh bags were needed to accommodate his five bass. His haul of 6- and 8-pounders came on a trio of Strike King baits – a football jig, the Series 6XD crankbait and the yet-to-be-released Series 10XD crankbait (it dwarfs the popular 6XD). His final-day stringer was nearly 13 pounds heavier than the next-best limit of the week – a 19-15 effort turned in by Jacob Wheeler on day 2.
Wheeler boated 14-14 today and claimed 3rd with a 53-13 total. Landan Ware held onto 4th behind a 13-06 sack to finish with 52-14. Chad Grigsby jumped from 9th to 5th, courtesy of a 14-15 stringer that pushed his weight to 52-08.
Here's how the Top 10 finished up:
1. Phil Marks: 82-00
2. Keith Combs: 65-11
3. Jacob Wheeler: 53-13
4. Landan Ware: 52-14
5. Chad Grigsby: 52-08
6. Matt Herren: 50-09
7. Jason Wells: 48-04
8. Randall Tharp: 47-09
9. Darrell Davis: 46-15
10. Ray Hanselman: 46-05
A morning thunderstorm followed by intermittent clouds and rain through the day threw the anglers yet another curveball in a week that was seemingly full of them weather wise. It seemed to activate the bite across the board, especially for Marks.
There were no changes at the top of the Open points standings, meaning the five early-bird berths to next year’s Forrest Wood Cup officially belong to Open points Angler of the Year Larry Nixon as well as John Cox, Dave Lefebre, Bill McDonald and Bryan Thrift.
Morning Flurry Set Tone For Marks
> Day 4: 5, 32-12 (20, 82-00)
When Marks woke up this morning and saw what Mother Nature had served up for weather, he couldn’t wait to get on the water and run to his offshore areas. He just knew the fish would be in a feeding mode with cloud cover and wind.
For all intents and purposes, this tournament was over before 9 a.m. Central time today. In the first 90 minutes, he had the five keepers he brought to the scale, the biggest of which was an 8-pounder that fell for the 10XD, a lure he helped develop for Strike King.
“I am glad it’s over with,” he said while driving back home to Dallas. “There was a lot of nerve-wracking time this morning. I had the right weather and they were just going crazy out there. It was over pretty fast.
“I knew they were going to bite. I’ve seen it like that before. It’s the same thing when it gets stormy and cloudy and guys go, ‘Well, the topwater bite’s good.’ They bite out there deep, too. There were more fish there than I thought. I caught all five of them off one little area.”
Keith Combs (left) had his best day of the event, but he settled for 2nd.
He said he saw an 8-pounder chase a 12-inch gizzard shad straight up in the air about 5 feet. He knew he was in the right area.
“It looked like a yellowfin tuna chasing a flying fish,” he said. “I had two other big ones pull off all in the same little area. It was crazy.”
Once he finished his limit, he headed back to the ramp and grabbed a change of clothes since he didn’t quit fishing to put on his rain gear during the height of the storm since that’s when the bite was at its best. He then poked around within sight of the ramp the rest of the day, trying to lure a 9- or 10-pounder. After all, another 6 only would’ve given him another few ounces.
As someone who knows the potential Rayburn holds for one of those once-in-a-lifetime limits, he didn’t expect it to happen to him today.
“I wanted it to and I knew it could, but to that degree I didn’t think I’d catch 32 pounds,” he said. “I knew I’d get a couple of them this morning to bite. The place I caught them was a spot I found in practice, but I had several others where I felt like I could’ve gotten a good bite or two. I just didn’t need to go to any of those.
“When I saw the weather, I knew I had a chance to catch them.”
2nd: Another Solid Day For Combs
> Day 4: 5, 17-05 (20, 65-11)
Coming into the day, Combs felt like Marks had the upper hand on him and not just because there was a 14-ounce gap between them. He knew Marks was on areas that held big fish and his areas were maxing out at 17 pounds. So when he weighed 17-05 and then saw the scale go bonkers when Marks weighed in, he knew he’d done all he could do.
“It wasn’t really a big letdown,” he said. “I’d looked at what Phil had weighed in and what his co-anglers had been catching and I didn’t think I was going to have enough. I figured I was going to fall a pound or 2 shy. It kind of takes some of the sting off when somebody beats you by doubling your weight practically.
“I’ve known Phil for a while and being around this Rayburn and Toledo Bend area as a kid, I watched him catch ‘em out here when I was 15 and 16 years old. It’s nothing new for Phil Marks to catch ‘em here in east Texas. It’s kind of cool that he showed the true potential of this lake. It didn’t show up this week, but it’s a great place to fish. That kind of sack, of course, is not an everyday type of thing, but they’re here when you can dial into them.”
He caught a 4-pounder right away today on a big worm and thought the weather would open up opportunities for him to catch a kicker or two.
“It was crazy for me,” he said. “I thought that maybe I could catch a couple bonus fish on a crankbait, but never really caught anything other than a couple spotted bass.”
Later in the day, he moved to an area where he’d gotten some good bites in the afternoon all week and it produced three upgrades for him, including a 5-pounder.
“It was just another good day,” he said. “I just got beat. That’s all there was to it.”
The runner-up finish pairs nicely with his 3rd-place effort at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic 2 weeks ago and will send him into the offseason with a good bit of confidence.
“It feels good to end the season on a high note,” he said. “It’s a big confidence booster because when you miss a check three or four times you start to wonder, ‘Am I any good anymore?’ You want to win, but I feel like I had a great tournament over here. When you get beat like that, it’s just not your time. There’s nothing else to it.”
Reading the conditions helped Jacob Wheeler climb three spots to 3rd today.
3rd: Wheeler Happy
> Day 4: 5, 14-14 (20, 53-12)
Wheeler was thrilled to close out his season with a 3rd-place finish, which gave him three Top-8 results in his last four FLW events.
“I’m feeling pretty awesome right now,” he said. “It’s a great way to end the season. For the final FLW event of the year and to finish 3rd, that’s unbelievable.”
Noting the conditions were conducive to shallow-water power-fishing, he stuck to what he’d been doing and flipped grass all day. He went through about 13 keepers and had 12 pounds by about 11 a.m. When the sun broke through about midday, he targeted mats and caught a couple upgrades.
“This morning, I had a decision to make,” he said. “I’d been catching a lot of my fish flipping and you have to play the conditions. The best anglers out there play the conditions and don’t get caught up in what they caught them on yesterday. The conditions called for shallow water and power fishing. When that thunderstorm came through, I caught a few good, quality fish that really helped me.”
4th: Ware Had A Blast
> Day 4: 5, 13-06 (20, 52-14)
Ware was thrilled that he was able to maintain his place among the Top 5 on the final day of his first Tour event.
“It’s a great accomplishment for me,” he said. “I’m a weekend guy. I don’t fish for a living. For me to fish one Tour event and come in the top 5 is great. That’s a big accomplishment for someone who’s never fished one before. It’s not like I’m a big-time local over here. I don’t fish over here all the time living in central Texas. I feel good.”
He knew the change in weather would help the bite and he made some progress working a topwater bait early on, catching a 3-pounder right away and finishing his limit within a couple hours.
“A lot of the places I was fishing were getting wind blown real bad and the wind changed a little,” he said. “I had something to build on early.”
When the clouds broke up around noon, the shallow bite tailed off, prompting him to go to deeper water. He boated 10 more keepers on a Carolina rig and crankbait.
Chad Grigsby went to new water today and climbed four spots in the standings.
5th: Grigsby Had Fun
> Day 4: 5, 14-15 (20, 52-08)
Give Grigsby the opportunity to catch fish with a flipping rod in his hand and he’s a happy guy. That’s how he made the Top-20 cut at the Wheeler Lake FLW Tour Open last month and he closed out his season at Rayburn doing the same thing.
After losing some good fish across the first 2 days of the tournament, he fished clean on the weekend, but couldn’t wrangle anything other than 3-pounders into the boat. He tried to get on a topwater pattern this morning since it had worked under overcast skies on day 3, but it didn’t materialize again.
He moved to some new flipping water as he and Matt Herren and Randall Tharp had shared water the first 3 days.
“I thought it was getting beat up so I figured it wouldn’t do any good to do the old merry-go-round so I went down the lake more into some pockets where there weren’t any boats,” he said.
He went through 10 keepers and caught them consistently all day.
> Day 4 stats – 10 anglers, 9 limits, 1 four.
1. Phil Marks -- Dallas, Tx -- 17-01 (5) -- 14-02 (5) -- 18-01 (5) -- 32-12 (5) -- 82-00 (20) -- $125,000
2. Keith Combs -- Huntington, Tx -- 16-12 (5) -- 16-11 (5) -- 14-15 (5) -- 17-05 (5) -- 65-11 (20) -- $25,210
3. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, In -- 9-13 (5) -- 19-15 (5) -- 9-03 (5) -- 14-14 (5) -- 53-13 (20) -- $21,543
4. Landan Ware -- Jewett, Tx -- 13-13 (5) -- 14-01 (5) -- 11-10 (5) -- 13-06 (5) -- 52-14 (20) -- $17,877
5. Chad Grigsby -- Maple Grove, Mn -- 13-07 (5) -- 12-11 (5) -- 11-07 (5) -- 14-15 (5) -- 52-08 (20) -- $14,210
6. Matt Herren -- Trussville, Al -- 14-13 (5) -- 15-11 (5) -- 7-15 (4) -- 12-01 (5) -- 50-09 (19) -- $12,010
7. Jason Wells -- Center, Tx -- 12-00 (5) -- 17-02 (5) -- 11-02 (4) -- 8-00 (5) -- 48-04 (19) -- $11,277
8. Randall Tharp -- Gardendale, Al -- 11-04 (5) -- 15-07 (5) -- 12-01 (5) -- 8-13 (5) -- 47-09 (20) -- $10,543
9. Darrell Davis -- Dover, Fl -- 13-01 (5) -- 14-13 (5) -- 11-03 (5) -- 7-14 (4) -- 46-15 (19) -- $9,810
10. Ray Hanselman -- Del Rio, Tx -- 8-07 (5) -- 16-09 (5) -- 12-07 (5) -- 8-14 (5) -- 46-05 (20) -- $9,077