By BassFan Staff
Keith Combs didn't need overtime this year. The rest of his competitors could've used some, though.
On a day where just six of the finalists cracked double digits, Combs caught 15-00 – by far his smallest bag of the derby – to run his tournament total to 62-12 and claim his second Toyota Texas Bass Classic victory in the last 3 years at Lake Conroe. He's the first two-time winner of the event that brings together the top 15 point-getters from each of the three major circuits (Elite Series, FLW Tour, PAA Series) each year.
Combs' winning weight was 12 1/2 pounds better than runner-up John Murray, who closed with 50-04 after mounting a giant rally today behind a day-best 21-12 that moved him up from 9th. Combs' winning margin was a far cry from his first TTBC triumph when he beat Mike Iaconelli in a sudden-death fish-off 2 years ago.
"I've never smiled for so many pictures in my life," he said afterward. "It means a lot. Very seldom in most of our major events does a guy win on a body of water and get to come back the next year to the same lake. It feels good to come here and do it again.
"It's a stout field. It's the guys that caught them all year long on every tour. I've dabbled in each tour at some point in my career and I know those guys. They've kicked my butt time and time again so it's special because you know when you get them all in one place, you're going to see the best the lake has to offer. It feels great for my confidence."
The victory capped off Combs' finest year as a pro – he won his first Elite Series event in March and finished 5th in Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) points – and he'll be at Lake Fork next spring to defend his TTBC title.
Jacob Powroznik scratched out 6-12 today to finish 3rd with 47-00. Bobby Lane racked up 16-12 on the final day to notch a 4th-place finish with 45-04 and Kevin VanDam caught 9-08 to finish out the Top 5 with 44-12.
Here's how the remainder of the field finished up at Conroe:
6. Chris Zaldain: 42-04
7 (tie). Mike McClelland: 42-00
7 (tie). Jason Christie: 42-00
9. Mike Iaconelli: 40-08
10. Bryan Thrift: 38-08
Fishing conditions today were a total opposite to what the anglers had been faced with over the first 2 days. It was rainy, cool and windy this morning and while the sun eventually burned through the cloud cover, the wind persisted throughout the day and had several of the finalists scrambling to get something consistent going.
Combs caught some of his key fish today and throughout the tournament on crankbaits.
The TTBC will shift to the spring in 2014 when the event will move back to Lake Fork on May 9-11. Lake Fork hosted the first two TTBC tournaments.
Combs Cruises To Win
> Day 3: 5, 15-00 (15, 62-12)
Combs said he fished by the seat of his pants moreso today than the first 2 days. He stayed with his junk-fishing approach of crankbaits, jigs and worms (additional details of his winning pattern will be published soon) and it produced another solid stringer.
"Nothing was scripted," he said. "I was fortunate this week to catch some key fish fairly early. Today with the clouds, I was able to fish some stuff that I had stayed off of. I caught one here and there and boxed a limit one a time fairly quick."
That left him plenty of time to go after a kicker. He caught a 5-pounder late in the day that proved to be the icing on the cake.
"I caught it on a place where I'd fished several times earlier in the tournament, but hadn't gotten a bite," he said. "Before that, I just felt like somebody, maybe Jacob, was going to make a run at me."
He caught nearly 30 fish in all today, about half of which were keeper-quality bass. He said he liked the change in weather because he sensed it made the off-shore fish more active.
"I kept thinking the next bite would be the big one, but I wound up not needing it," he said.
2nd: Murray Thrilled
> Day 3: 5, 21-12 (15, 50-04)
Murray was a late addition to the field and made the most of his first TTBC experience.
"I had plans to fish a team tournament at Lake Mead and to do other stuff, but when I got the call, I said, 'Sure, I'd love to come,'" he said. "I knew that even if I didn't catch a fish, coming for the concerts and hanging out with these guys would be a great time. Finishing where I did was an extra bonus."
A mid-day adjustment today resulted in a pair of 6-pounders and a surge up the leaderboard.
"At about 1 o'clock, I started running deep-water shade, but fishing shallow around the ends of docks and posts," he said. "I was throwing a white ChatterBait and banging off those posts and caught three big ones in the last half of the day."
His biggest was 6-12 and paired nicely with another 6-pounder and a 4-pounder he caught not far from the launch ramp. They were among the nine keepers he caught today.
"I'd been drop-shotting a Gene Larew Tattle Tail worm around brush all week and today they wouldn't touch anything on the bottom in that wind," he added.
3rd: Wind Hampered Powroznik
> Day 3: 5, 6-12 (15, 47-00)
Before he even got to Lake Conroe, Powroznik had a sense that the tournament would be won away from the bank and that's where he focused the majority of his practice time. It required plenty of patience, but it paid off for the Virginian who was making his TTBC debut.
"I wasn't getting as many bites, but when I did it was either a 14-incher or a 6-pounder," he said. "There was no in between. I only had four places that I rotated through, but today's weather made a difference. It wasn't a severe change, but the wind blew straight out of the north and that's the worst possible direction on this lake because it blew straight down the lake. I was out there in 4-footers and it felt like I was on Lake Erie. I tried to stay out there.
"I'm not mad. It's one of those things that happen. I put all of my eggs in one basket and the whole deal was Keith's a great fisherman anywhere, but on this lake I have like five places to fish and he has 150 places to fish in a day. That's a big difference."
5th: Small Ones For VanDam
> Day 3: 5, 9-08(15, 44-12)
VanDam was of the thinking the wind and clouds would trigger more fish to bite on the final day. He was right, but it wound up being the smaller fish that were more active.
"I thought the shallow fish or all of them for that matter, would've been biting," he said. "I had more bites than I'd been getting, but they would not eat the bait for me. The first four I had, I didn't get any of them into the boat. Two of them were on a jig and two were on a crankbait. I was thinking something was really wrong because it was like they didn't want the bait."
Still, he thought he could get something going in an effort to trim the margin to Combs.
After 10 a.m., he started fishing the conditions more and targeted areas that were being hit by the wind.
"It took me a while and toward the end I finally started to hit on something," he said. "It had the hardest wind blowing onto some structure. I caught a couple that way and broke one off in a brush pile and then just ran out of time."
"Conroe is a lake where you typically don't get a lot of bites, so it's hard to clued in when you're not getting bites. I got a lot of bites today, but like 20 of them were shorts. Normally, in a day's fishing you might catch two of those. It was weird because you'd pull up on a brush pile and cast a crank and hit the brush and catch a 10-incher or an 8-incher. You know it's unlikely an 8-pounder is sitting there with them."
After coming from the Elite Series All-Start event last week, his practice was abbreviated, but the low water gave him a clue that the lake was going to fish similar to it did in 2011 when Combs won.
"Going into this one, I only had one day of practice and when I got here and saw how low the lake was, I figured it was going to set up like it did 2 years ago when he won," he said. "I knew with his knowledge of this lake, he was going to be hard to beat. When you're on a tough lake in tough conditions, that's when the local knowledge really helps.
"In my mind, that's how I thought it would be won and it was the right guess, but I just wasn't able to execute on some key bites. At the same time, I wasn't catching them like he was, but I sure could've made it closer."
6th: Another Big Fish for Zaldain
> Day 3: 5, 13-00 (15, 42-04)
Chris Zaldain was fortunate to catch a fish 21 inches or longer each day – the type of specimens needed to contend for tournament wins at Conroe.
While he did fish a couple brush piles, his main strategy was skipping a black Strike King KVD Sexy Frog in the backs of pockets and around docks.
"The deeper and darker the pocket, the better it was," he said. "The brush piles were just on long, sloping main-lake points that ended in 16 to 18 feet of water. I fished those with a shakey-head."
Having never fished at Conroe, he got some tips from fellow Elite Series anglers who had qualified for the TTBC before.
"They all said you won't go out and catch 3- or 4-pounders for a 16- to 20-pound limit," he said. "It's more like West Point (Lake) in that you try to catch a couple keepers and then go looking for two or maybe three bigger fish."
Today, he caught a limit for about 7 pounds, then started throwing a big, jointed wooden swimbait and it produced a 7.69-pounder.
"You have to have those kickers to do well at that lake," he said. "Texas has always been good to me. I think it goes back to how I fished back home at the (California) Delta. If they're shallow, they're there to eat."
> Day 3 stats – 10 anglers, 7 limits, 1 four, 1 three, 1 two.
> For complete results, click here.