By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

In the midst of amassing the biggest Elite Series stringer of the decade today, Brandon Cobb somehow didnt feel like he was dialed in at Lake Fork.

I never felt like I was on 'em, Cobb said. I know that sounds crazy.

Yes, it does, especially considering he had two 8 1/2-plus pounders and an 11-01 behemoth anchoring a whopping 37-15 stringer that saw him soar to the top of the leaderboard after an explosive day 3 at the Toyota Texas Fest.

Cobb, a 29-year-old newcomer to the Elite Series (via the FLW Tour) barely a month removed from his first tour-level win, started the day in sixth place, more than 16 pounds behind day-2 leader Chad Pipkens. After catching his personal-best stringer for the second time in four days, eclipsing the 31-11 he bagged on Thursday, he now has 84-01 and a lead of more than seven pounds over rookie Garrett Paquette.

The nearly 38-pound effort is the heaviest stringer in an Elite Series event since Terry Scroggins caught 44-04 on the final day of the famous Lake Falcon tournament in April 2008, back when Cobb was finishing up his senior year at Greenwood (S.C.) High School.

Not only is he in position to capture his second victory and secure a berth in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic (the Texas Fest winner claims an automatic invite), Cobb can head home with the keys to a new Toyota Tundra if none of the other finalists catch a fish bigger than his 11-01 on Monday.

I caught fish all day and it just gradually came together, just not by ounces. It was by pounds, Cobb said. It seemed like Id catch a few 2-pounders, then a great big one. Then it would be more 2-pounders, then another big one.

Cobb wasnt the only competitor to have a spectacular day and its not a stretch to think multiple anglers will eclipse the 100-pound mark Monday.

Paquette sacked 28-15 to push his total to 76-12. Brandon Card caught 26-05 and moved up to third with 73-04. Drew Cook saw his run of 25-pound bags end with a 19-12 stringer that had him in fourth with 71-06. Like Paquette and Card, Micah Frazier also caught his heaviest limit of the event today, a 28-01 bag that pushed him up seven spots to fifth with 70-13.

Keith Combs, a past winner of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic at Fork (2014), carded 29-08 today to improve 10 spots to 6th.

While Cobb was making his ascent, Pipkens struggled mightily. He caught his first keeper a 1 1/2-pounder just after 11:30 a.m. and managed to land just three other sub 2-pounders to finish with 5-08, knocking him down to seventh with 68-06.

Cory Johnston was the third competitor to move into the top 10 today, tallying 24-14 to push his total to 66-04, good for 10th. Hes one of three finalists to have cracked the 20-pound mark all three days (Card and Drew Benton are the others).

Chris Zaldain (8th to 13th), Derek Hudnall (9th to 14th) and Jamie Hartman (10th to 15th) all caught bags in the high teens, but it wasnt enough to keep them in the top 10.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Cobb caught the three biggest fish on day 3 at Lake Fork.

While hes competed in Texas only a handful of times, Cobb said the current scenarios at Fork align with how he likes to fish in the spring at home in South Carolina.

I feel like I see a lot of similarities to back home, but the fish are a heck of a lot bigger, he said. I like to fish the shad spawn and I like to fish shallow, throwing a frog and looking for bed fish. Everything I like to do is working.

After catching just 14-07 on day 2, Cobb said his confidence wasnt shaken coming into today when high skies and blazing sun replaced the overcast, rainy conditions that were prevalent over the first two days.

What kept me feeling okay was they just didnt bite, he said. I know others are doing similar stuff to me and Friday was off for a lot of people. Its not like my places werent any good. They just didnt bite and that was true for a lot of guys.

His two 8-pounders came fishing shallow. He added a 4-04 on a frog around noon, then caught the 11-pounder off a bed at 2 oclock.

He said he fished for it for 20 minutes before it finally bit although it seemed pretty eager to eat each time he pitched a bait to it.

I started with a flipping bait, then picked up a spinning rod, he said. I realized thatd be a bad idea if she did bite.

He went back to flipping a tilapia-colored Zoom Z-Craw before it finally committed. After watching a video clip of the fish catch, Cobb said he underestimated how big and powerful the fish was.

It about pulled my little butt in the water, he joked. It was a little more aggressive than I thought it would be.

While hes firmly in the drivers seat entering the final day, Cobb acknowledged there are plenty of variables outside of his control that will have him slightly on edge Monday.

One thing that concerns me is I dont have a lot of new stuff and today I had a lot of boats following me, so I hope people give me some space, he said. Its not like I have some secret stuff I havent touched yet.

There are a lot of variables out here and that makes me uneasy. Between the bite windows and fishing pressure and not being able to get on your stuff, well have to see how it works out.

While disappointed that he squandered such a big lead, Pipkens kept a big-picture attitude about it. Cobb was more than 16 pounds off the lead before today and Pipkens enters Monday facing a deficit of 15-11. At Fork, anything is possible.

I felt like I made good decisions, Pipkens said. I stayed positive and tried to grind it out. It was just one of those days.

After amassing most of his weight through days 1 and 2 cranking, he opted to start shallow today, checking areas that were loaded with fish in practice. He lost a couple decent fish on a wacky worm, then moved offshore to see if more fish had moved out to where hed been. He hooked a 2-pounder on a crankbait, but it came off as he was trying to land it.

Just a weird day, he said. I dont look back and say I shouldve done that. I made the top 10 and felt like I did what I needed to do to stay on top and win. Its been a phenomenal week. I did what I thought I needed to keep myself in position to win.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Elite Series rookie Garrett Paquette is just over seven pounds behind Cobb entering day 4.

Paquette and Pipkens, both Michigan natives, had been sharing an area earlier in the tournament and Paquette noticed right away this morning that the activity around where theyd been catching fish a couple days ago had tapered off.

That main area, they were gone, he said. I figured that could happen. It was way up a creek and I thought it was a couple day sort of spot. Thats what happened.

He opted to scan around for other areas and came upon a spot around 1 oclock that had a few fish on it. He fished it briefly and caught a 5-pounder and a smaller keeper. He moved on to another spot and came back later, catching a pair of 7-02s in the matter of three casts and then a 4-12 five minutes later.

Its a pretty good group of fish, he said. Its more near the main lake.

He believes if hes going to win Monday, itll be by catching fish offshore. Hes relied mostly on a crankbait and 7-inch Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad so far.

If Im going to win, it wont be shallow, he said. My favorite thing to do is get offshore and fish how Im fishing. Ive stuck with it every single day. You can only think about the process. You cant force the end result against these guys. You have to stick with what you do and let it all play out.

Combs shares Paquettes feelings that if hes to overcome a sizable deficit Monday, itll be offshore. Hes roughly 14 1/2 pounds behind Cobb, but hes aware of what Fork is capable of producing. He won the 2014 TTBC with 110 pounds over three days.

Im very frustrated with how the week has gone, he said. The potential for 30 each day has been there. I dont know what happened on day 2. I caught a lot of fish, but just no size. Today, every fish was barely hooked and I lost five. I shouldve had 36. I could be right there.

Notable

> Cobb and Luke Palmer entered day 3 tied for the big bass award and Cobb said when he asked B.A.S.S. officials Saturday what the tiebreaker process would be, the response was that the prize a new Tundra would be split. Im not sure how wed do that, Cobb said, so I think they were really glad that I caught a couple bigger ones today.

He said the lake was a little wavy when he caught what wound up being the 8-13 this morning. Upon weighing it initially, it wavered between 8-11 and 8-15. With two re-weighs allowed each day, the fish was weighed a second time and locked in at 8-13.

Weather Forecast

> Mon., May 6 Partly Sunny - 84/68
- Wind: From the SSE at 5 to 10 mph

Day 3 Standings

1. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 15, 84-01 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 31-11 -- Day 2: 5, 14-07 -- Day 3: 5, 37-15

2. Garrett Paquette -- Canton, MI -- 15, 76-12 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 28-12 -- Day 2: 5, 19-01 -- Day 3: 5, 28-15

3. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 15, 73-04 -- 98
Day 1: 5, 25-11 -- Day 2: 5, 21-04 -- Day 3: 5, 26-05

4. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 15, 71-06 -- 97
Day 1: 5, 25-12 -- Day 2: 5, 25-14 -- Day 3: 5, 19-12

5. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 15, 70-13 -- 96
Day 1: 5, 22-13 -- Day 2: 5, 19-15 -- Day 3: 5, 28-01

6. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 15, 69-10 -- 95
Day 1: 5, 27-01 -- Day 2: 5, 13-01 -- Day 3: 5, 29-08

7. Chad Pipkens -- Lansing, MI -- 14, 68-06 -- 94
Day 1: 5, 31-15 -- Day 2: 5, 30-15 -- Day 3: 4, 05-08

8. Drew Benton -- Panama City, FL -- 15, 67-01 -- 93
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 5, 24-13 -- Day 3: 5, 20-12

9. Jeff Gustafson Keewatin, Ontario -- 14 -- 66-14 -- 92
Day 1: 4, 18-08 -- Day 2: 5, 26-05 -- Day 3: 5, 22-01

10. Cory Johnston Cavan, Ontario -- 15, 66-04 -- 91
Day 1: 5, 21-00 -- Day 2: 5, 20-06 -- Day 3: 5, 24-14

The following anglers missed the cut and will not compete on day 4.

11. Luke Palmer -- Coalgate, OK -- 15, 64-11 -- 90 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 26-14 -- Day 2: 5, 15-15 -- Day 3: 5, 21-14

12. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 15, 63-15 -- 89 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 17-04 -- Day 2: 5, 18-04 -- Day 3: 5, 28-07

13. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 14, 63-10 -- 88 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 30-10 -- Day 2: 4, 14-01 -- Day 3: 5, 18-15

14. Derek Hudnall -- Baton Rouge, LA -- 15, 62-12 -- 87 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 21-02 -- Day 2: 5, 22-08 -- Day 3: 5, 19-02

15. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 15, 62-10 -- 86 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 17-14 -- Day 2: 5, 25-06 -- Day 3: 5, 19-06

16. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 15, 62-08 -- 85 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 17-00 -- Day 2: 5, 23-02 -- Day 3: 5, 22-06

17. Jay Yelas -- Lincoln City, OR -- 15, 60-11 -- 84 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 22-05 -- Day 2: 5, 13-13 -- Day 3: 5, 24-09

18. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 15, 60-08 -- 83 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 19-11 -- Day 2: 5, 21-00 -- Day 3: 5, 19-13

19. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 15, 59-15 -- 82 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 13-04 -- Day 2: 5, 22-08 -- Day 3: 5, 24-03

20. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 15, 59-14 -- 81 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 15-02 -- Day 2: 5, 22-11 -- Day 3: 5, 22-01

21. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 15, 59-02 -- 80 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 13-04 -- Day 2: 5, 20-01 -- Day 3: 5, 25-13

22. Shane LeHew -- Catawba, NC -- 15, 58-06 -- 79 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 20-13 -- Day 2: 5, 13-10 -- Day 3: 5, 23-15

23. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 15, 57-01 -- 78 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 20-10 -- Day 2: 5, 17-13 -- Day 3: 5, 18-10

24. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 15, 55-13 -- 77 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 14-06 -- Day 2: 5, 23-04 -- Day 3: 5, 18-03

25. Kyle Monti -- Okeechobee, FL -- 15, 55-10 -- 76 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 12-03 -- Day 2: 5, 20-02 -- Day 3: 5, 23-05

26. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 15, 55-01 -- 75 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 15-15 -- Day 2: 5, 24-12 -- Day 3: 5, 14-06

27. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 13, 54-05 -- 74 -- $13,500
Day 1: 3, 14-03 -- Day 2: 5, 18-11 -- Day 3: 5, 21-07

28. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 15, 51-08 -- 73 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 16-13 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13 -- Day 3: 5, 17-14

29. Patrick Walters -- Summerville, SC -- 15, 51-05 -- 72 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 19-02 -- Day 2: 5, 15-13 -- Day 3: 5, 16-06

30. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 15, 50-07 -- 71 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 20-06 -- Day 2: 5, 11-13 -- Day 3: 5, 18-04

31. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 15, 49-03 -- 70 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 17-07 -- Day 2: 5, 15-08 -- Day 3: 5, 16-04

32. Mike Huff -- Corbin, KY -- 12, 48-05 -- 69 -- $13,500
Day 1: 3, 13-14 -- Day 2: 5, 21-14 -- Day 3: 4, 12-09

33. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 13, 45-15 -- 68 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 19-08 -- Day 2: 3, 12-01 -- Day 3: 5, 14-06

34. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 14, 45-11 -- 67 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 12-14 -- Day 2: 5, 18-14 -- Day 3: 4, 13-15

35. Bernie Schultz -- Gainesville, FL -- 15, 44-12 -- 66 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 15-05 -- Day 2: 5, 16-08 -- Day 3: 5, 12-15