By BassFan Staff
The Toyota Texas Bass Classic has returned to Lake Conroe for the fourth consecutive year, but conditions are a bit different this time than they were for the 2011 edition.
Keith Combs won last year's TTBC in a fish-off against Mike Iaconelli after both compiled 3-day totals of 76-12. Combs cranked main-lake brushpiles, while Iaconelli exploited a sandbar in one of the 22,000-acre lake's major creeks.
The water level is about 2 feet lower than it should be for this time of year, but it's much higher than last year. The 2011 event took place about a month later on the calendar.
One Way or the Other
Recent heavy rains that pounded Texas have taken a few degrees out of Conroe's water temperature, but the big fall migration of bass into the shallows to feed up for the impending cooler months has not yet occurred. The transition period has begun, but only a small percentage of the fish population has paid heed at this point.
The two best bets at Conroe in late summer/early fall are flipping and cranking, with the latter being the most likely route to victory.
"These fish are sort of still in a summertime pattern," said Bassmaster Elite Series veteran Zell Rowland, who's conducted many guide trips on the lake. "There'll be some flipping fish caught, but it'll probably be won cranking, I would imagine. A lot of big ones this time of year are hanging in that 12- to 15-foot range, ready to move up shallow.
"The guys who are looking on the breaks from 8 to 20 feet, those are the guys who should whack on them pretty good."
The flipping bite can be extremely productive, but it's not as reliable.
"The only problem with flipping is you've really got to know the lake to make it stretch out for 3 days," Rowland said. "If I caught a 5-pounder off a dock today, I probably wouldn't go back to that dock until the day after tomorrow.
"This lake is really unique because you can go into a creek, and there'll be five places in a whole creek that's 6 miles long that are any good. If I was fishing this week, I'd be doing both – flipping and cranking. But that's because I know which docks to flip."
Some Big 'Uns Out There
At Conroe, there's always the possibility of turning a mediocre day into a great one with a single massive bite. Dave Lefebre, a former champion of this event, boated a 9-pounder in practice and Rick Clunn, another former Conroe guide, popped an 11.
A 10 1/2 took top honors at last weekend's Oakley Big Bass Tour derby.
"For summertime fish, those are giants," Rowland said.
Here are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
"It's different this time. Last year I felt like I could stay with (a crankbait) on the piles all day, but this year I don't necessarily feel that way. I don't plan on sticking it out deep offshore all day. I think I'm going to mix it up. I've caught some good ones shallow and I think the bites are more plentiful up there.
"The biggest fish I boated in practice was a 4-pounder, and last year I was getting one or two big bites every day of practice. I really came down here with the intention of staying off all the stuff where I'd caught big fish before. But the first day I only caught four keepers, and the second day I started going to more of that stuff, and it's definitely not as good as it was.
John Crews said he hasn't had a lot of trouble catching shallow fish, but their quality hasn't been superb.
"I'm just excited to get out there – it's fun to come down here and fish this deal. Whoever wins this year will dang sure deserve it because it's going to be a grind. The deal with Conroe is it can throw out some big fish, so it can make you look like a stud even though you might've only gotten five bites."
"I don't know much, to be honest with you. It could be one of those tournaments where I catch them really good, or I could do really bad. Guys with more experience here know the good spots, but I'm kind of clueless.
"I fished all shallow here 2 years ago and I caught a lot of fish, but no good ones. This year I didn't catch any big ones in practice. I fished a lot out deeper, but I didn't get many bites. I think I can catch them shallow, but I don't think there's any size to them.
"I've got a couple of deep places that I think might be pretty good, but I didn't sit there and pound on them in practice. I'm pretty sure there's some potential on some shallow stuff, too, but I don't think it'll be won strictly doing that."
"It's just like last time for me – not very good. I spent a lot of time shallow and I can't get the (quality) bites, and I spent some time deeper and I can't get them there, either. All I managed to do out there was hang up crankbaits in brush and break them off.
"I'm present and accounted for, but that's about all I can say. I haven't found anything to get excited about. I've tried skipping frogs under the docks, throwing topwater and flipping plastics, and you get an occasional bite. I've been catching two or three keepers a day and they're all small, which is pretty much on par with what I normally do here.
"I'll just go fishing and see what happens."
"I haven't done very well at all. This is the fourth time I've been here and I've yet to catch them. I just end up driving around in circles and it doesn't work out.
"I've caught one 7-pounder and that's been it. I'm pretty certain that I'm not going to be fishing deeper than 15 feet. I'll try to swing topwater for a little while and pray that I can get a big one doing that. After that, I'll fish whatever looks good.
"It's still Conroe and it's still small – I can drive around it about five times in 1 day."
"I didn't really practice much – that's pretty useless in a way. The lake's so small and I've already been here so many times that I know where I'm going to go and what I'm going to do. There's no real reason to go somewhere that you might actually catch fish.
"I went deep some and they aren't out there thick, but I guarantee there are some holes where you can waylay on them. I may have found one of those holes and we'll find out how good it is tomorrow."
> To see the full schedule for the 3 competition days, click here.