By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

The fishing was so hot at Lake Fork last week that there was almost no way to recover from even the slightest stumble on any day of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic. Fourteen anglers caught at least 30 pounds on day 1, and nobody who wasn't among that group ever saw the inside of the Top 10.

Keith Combs dominated the event from start to finish en route to his third TTBC title in 4 years. He predicted after day 1 that it would likely take a 3-day total in excess of 90 pounds to end up in the Top 5, and that estimate proved conservative – it took 97.

Following are some pattern details for the 2nd- through 5th-place finishers.

2nd: Stetson Blaylock

> Day 1: 5, 36-08
> Day 2: 5, 33-04
> Day 3: 5, 31-04
> Total = 15, 102-12

Stetson Blaylock alternated between two areas, both at the mouths of creeks, that big fish were using as stopovers on the way to or from the spawning beds. He said the majority of the fish he caught were in the post-spawn phase, but he's pretty certain that some had yet to undergo the annual reproduction ritual.

"I checked those places every day (in practice), and every day there were more fish," he said. "I started shallow, and then I just moved deep after I struck out. I'd just idle around and use the DownScan on my Lowrance (depthfinder) to find them.

"The fish were in anywhere from 16 to 25 feet of water, mainly just on offshore breaks where they sit when they're moving up or moving out. Most of the time I was maybe 300 yards from the bank."

Swimbaits produced the majority of his fish, but he also cranked up a few.

> Swimbait gear: 7'6" heavy-action 13 Fishing Envy Black rod, 13 Fishing Concept E casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, generic 3/4-ounce lead jighead, 5" Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits swimbait (cream white).

> He also threw several hollow-bodied swimbaits.

> Cranking gear: 7'6" medium-heavy 13 Fishing Envy Black rod, 13 Fishing Concept E casting reel (6.6:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, Livingston Lures DM 20 or other deep-diving crankbaits.

Main factor in his success – "The biggest key was boat pressure staying off my stuff. The locals and other tournament guys who found the same fish, everybody was real respectful and let me have it. I got on my spots every time I wanted to."

Performance edge – "Probably having the right rods and reels. I was able to make a lot of casts every day to real deep water without getting totally fatigued."

Russ Lane caught every ounce of his 99 1/4 pounds from a single area.

3rd: Russ Lane

> Day 1: 5, 38-04
> Day 2: 5, 31-08
> Day 3: 5, 29-08
> Total = 15, 99-04

Russ Lane didn't do a lot of running around once the tournament got under way. In fact, he was never away from his primary location for more than an hour on any of the 3 competition days.

"I found that place on the second day of practice," he said. "It seemed like the wind blew from the same direction (the south) all week and I was running windy points and idling around, looking for hard places like old roadbeds.

"I pulled up to this spot and caught a 5-pounder, then I changed angles and caught another 5-pounder. I ended up catching five fish in like five casts, and they were all good ones."

The place featured an old road coming off the end of a point, with big pockets that contained shallow grass and lily pads on each side of the point. The fish, some of which were likely still spawning, were in the 10-foot depth range.

"It was one of the neatest places I've ever found. The fish weren't on the road bed – they were off to one side. The wind blew so hard all week that it made the current sweep across the road, and they were sitting on the down-current side."

He had no trouble catching them on a crankbait early in the event, but was forced to slow down with a jig and a worm later on.

> Cranking gear: 7' medium-action CastAway Skeleton prototype glass or Skeleton composite rod, Shimano Curado casting reel (7:1 ratio), 12- or 13-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Spro Fat Papa 70 (mellow yellow or sneaky blue).

> Worm gear: 7'6" CastAway Skeleton flipping and pitching rod, same reel, 22-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 1/2- or 3/4-ounce homemade swing-hook football jig with 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook, 10" Big Bite Baits Kriet Tail Worm (blue fleck).

> Jig gear: Same rod, reel and line as worm, 5/8-ounce Buckeye Lures Mop Jig (PB&J), Big Bite Baits Real Deal Craw or Kriet Tail Worm trailer (green-pumpkin).

Main factor in his success – "I'd just say having the mindset to try to find a big school of fish instead of just fishing shallow."

Performance edge – "No doubt it was my Phoenix/Yamaha rig. The lake was so rough from the wind and there's timber everywhere – the boating conditions were rough, but my boat handled them all perfectly."

Jason Christie spent some time in shallow water each morning before heading offshore.

4th: Jason Christie

> Day 1: 5, 32-00
> Day 2: 5, 32-08
> Day 3: 5, 32-08
> Total = 15, 97-00

Jason Christie brought up a unique aspect of the TTBC as it relates to offshore structure fishing: Because fish measuring between 16 and 24 inches at Lake Fork must be immediately released, it's tough to keep them from "tattling."

"I love the format and I think it's the future of this sport, but it makes it difficult when you're fishing these schools," he said. "At other tournaments you catch one and throw it in your livewell and keep him quiet. But this way, when you let one go, he's going right back to the school and telling the rest of them that you're up there."

Nonetheless, the two-tour standout from Oklahoma figured out ways to entice a bunch of big ones, even if they were aware of his presence. He was incredibly consistent – he weighed 32 pounds on day 1 and 32-08 on each of the next 2 days.

"I probably spent 80 percent of my practice time just idling and trying to find smaller schools with three or four fish that other guys wouldn't be fishing for. On the bigger schools, I'd try to find that one sweet spot where I could pull up and make the same cast over and over and get them fired up.

"Sometimes I'd catch one or two and they'd spook and move maybe 10 or 20 yards. Then I'd try to find them again and mark a new waypoint."

He used both a crankbait and a swimbait to catch fish off of structure. In the early mornings he targeted fish that were feasting on the shad spawn and caught several good ones on a frog imitation.

> Cranking gear: 7'10" medium-heavy Falcon XD Cranker rod, Lew's BB1 Pro casting reel (5.1:1 ratio), 16-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Bomber Fat Free Shad BD7 or Silent BD7 crankbait (citruse).

> Swimbait gear: Same rod, reel (7.3:1 ratio) and line, 1-ounce homemade jighead, 6" YUM Money Minnow (river shad).

> Frog gear: 6'10" Falcon Jason Christie Signature Series rod, same reel (7.3:1), 50-pound Sunline FX2 braided line, Booyah Pad Crasher (black).

Main factor in his success – "A lot of guys fished all shallow or all deep, but I kind of mixed it up. I wanted to fish deep because I felt like that was the best way to win, but I ended up weighing three for fish 20 pounds off the bank with the frog."

Performance edge – "I'd have to give this one to the Lowrance StructureScan for helping me stay on those deeper fish."

Justin Lucas used swimbaits to catch all 15 of his weigh-in fish.

4th: Justin Lucas

> Day 1: 5, 32-12
> Day 2: 5, 35-04
> Day 3: 5, 29-00
> Total = 15, 97-00

Justin Lucas said Lake Fork reminded him a lot of the body of water he lives on.

"It kind of set up like Guntersville does, without the factor of the current," he said. "I kind of treated it like that. I knew there were a lot of fish leaving the banks and I got some shallow fish going (in practice), but in the tournament I really wanted to try to hit a home run.

"I knew the bank wasn't going to give me a chance to win and I never fished within a hundred yards of it."

He had four areas that he rotated amongst.

"If they didn't start biting in 10 or 15 minutes, I'd go to the next one. I'd just make my run and it might be the second or third time around before they'd turn on.

"It wasn't like I had a ton of spots, but it was enough that if somebody else was on one, I could run away."

He caught every fish he weighed on a swimbait.

> Swimbait gear: 7'6" heavy-action Abu Garcia Veracity rod, Abu Garcia Revo SX casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 17-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 3/8-, 1/2-, 5/8- or 3/4-ounce homemade jighead, various 6" hollow-belly swimbaits (variety of colors).

Main factor in his success – "I didn't lose a single fish all week that would've helped me."

Performance edge – "The Lowrance StructureScan was how I found everything."

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