Baits and Tactics of the 2013 Toyota Tundra Top Ten
By: Russ "Bassdozer" Comeau
With the seventh annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic now in the record books, it’s time for the Toyota Tundra Top Ten to share their baits and tactics, tips and tricks they used to ply Lake Conroe to perfection. The biggest challenge for the Toyota Tundra Top Ten was of course the weather change due to a cold front that stirred up the wind and whitecaps on Day Three. As Craig Bonds, Texas Parks & Wildlife Inland Fisheries Region 3 Director had predicted at the onset of the event, the passage of the severe cold front on Sunday did affect the top ten outcomes for all but winner Keith Combs who held steadfast. For the others, Sunday came down to who could master the radically-changed conditions that threw them a curveball for the exciting finish of this world championship event.
1st Place – Keith Combs
Combs won his second TTBC world championship on Lake Conroe this week. He used very similar tactics compared to his first TTBC world championship win in 2011. The major difference was time of season. Since the event was held almost one month later in 2011, there were more fish relating to creek channels then. He did catch some main lake fish in 2011, but he caught a majority of his fish on the creek channels then. This week, he couldn’t catch them on the creek channels because the fish just weren’t that far along in their fall migration yet this year. “Next month they’ll probably be on those channels, but this week I spent a lot of time wasted on them, trying to fish history instead of the present.” Otherwise, he fished the same way in 2011 and 2013. Whereas his mainstay was a Bill Norman DD14 in 2011, this year he caught some on his sponsor Strike King’s 5XD and also an array of other unnamed crankbait models. The 5XD accounted for one of his biggest fish this week. Combs caught one other of his big ones on a 10” plum Strike King Recon. However, the big worm was typically his follow-up bait after he cranked through an area. Mostly he caught a few small ones, and only the one big one with the worm.
The key was definitely cranking a variety of deep-diving crankbaits for Combs on Days One and Two when he weighed over 24 and over 23 pounds respectively. True, he did catch a big’un the first day in only two feet of water, but he caught the rest of his Day One fish in 8 feet. Day Two, he caught all his big ones in 8-16 feet of water. Whereas Combs caught most of his winning fish in 2011 off brushpiles, this year he credits “junk” for his win. Some were on brush; some were on hard spots, some on rocks. He caught one on a house foundation. He caught one off a sunken boat. He caught one off a used tire pile. “They wanted to be around something, whatever they could have near them, it didn’t really matter what it was,” explained Combs.
Day Three, Combs caught and released 15 even pounds of bass. The majority of his Day Three fish (all but one) whacked a black/chartreuse Strike King 1.5 squarebill except for one he flipped on a Strike King Hack Attack Jig in Okeechobee Craw color. He caught them in five foot of water on Day Three. The first two days he caught them mostly in 8-10 feet. On Day Three, they were again relating to junk (not residential docks), seawalls that had some depth on them, a couple of key marina docks that had some good depth and brush on them. He caught one on a big piece of concrete underwater that he didn’t know about previously. He caught his biggest fish on Day Three in 8 foot of water on a deep-diving crankbait on a house foundation. “Just a junk pattern,” was how Combs summarized Day Three.
Throughout the event, he probably never caught more than one fish at a stop on a spot.
“It was as smooth a tournament as you could script,” said Combs. “There was hardly anyone fishing the same water as I was, I had it all to myself. I didn’t lose any fish. I fished a perfect tournament this week, and everything went my way. In 2011, it seemed like I stayed hung up all the time, and this week wasn’t like that. I think I lost two crankbaits the entire week. It was like perfect. I’d pull up, bump the brush and – bang – there he’d be. I’d never get hung up. It was smooth.”
Practice was wasted time to Combs because he just didn’t want to hit anywhere he had ever caught one before as that would have meant spoiling those one-fish hotspots. Probably being able to fish this event for three years prior to this and being able to build off that acquired knowledge was the main strength Combs brought into the event as opposed to practicing. Also, getting off to a decent start with a few good ones every morning allowed Combs to commit the rest of the afternoons to staying out on his deeper stuff. On Day Three, he mixed it up shallow more just because of the windy and overcast weather; it was such a perfect morning to fish shallow. Other than his Day Three change-up, committing to staying offshore all day was Combs strong point this week – even though at times it was very difficult to do that because he would go several hours between bites.
2nd Place – John Murray
Having never been to Conroe before, Murray started prepping for the event with a quick Internet study. He determined if the lake level was going to be up, it would probably be won on the docks, and if the lake was down, it would probably be won offshore. Since the lake was down 3-1/2 feet this year, even before he got here, Murray planned to pretty much concentrate his time offshore.
Murray stayed below the big bridge that cut the lake in half, never venturing past it. By cutting half the lake off, he simply wouldn’t have to worry about what was above the bridge, greatly reducing the complexity of his fist time here. He spent three days practicing down in the lower half of the lake, covering as much as he could. The main pattern Murray identified in practice was dropshotting in brushpiles and on main lake points in 11-12 feet of water. He felt like he had an advantage by dropshotting since it turned out to be such calm weather on Day One and Two. He could catch fish out of his brushpiles on the dropshot every time he went to them. When it got windy, the crankbait would work better. He was dropshotting a Larew Tattle Tail worm and some assorted Roboworms. This worked good in the mornings until about 11 o’clock as his calm and sunny pattern during the first two days of the event. His afternoon pattern involved seawalls out in front of marinas that had some depth on them and had shadelines. He fished those with the dropshot when it was calm, but also threw the River2Sea Biggie crankbait and a Chatterbait in order to cover the water column at various depths as the fish moved up and suspended higher off the bottom during the day.
Like his brushpiles, the seawalls in front of the marinas were also sitting in 11-12 feet. He never went any deeper than that during the event. Keep in mind, the fish themselves weren’t necessarily that deep, because by the time Murray hit the seawalls after noon, the fish were suspended on them.
On the morning of Day Three, because of the windy and rough water, he changed up his morning plans. He flipped a Gene Larew Mega Tube with the rattle in it on the same brushpiles he had been dropshotting on Days One and Two. He caught and released his first limit of Day Three that way. He went to the bigger profile tube bait with a little noise in it, because of the weather.
They’d suspend over the brushpiles in the afternoons too. On the afternoon of Day Three when Murray made his final charge (amassing a limit of almost 22 pounds), it was really windy when he went to fish some of his good brushpiles. So windy, he decided to throw a Chatterbait, even though it was 12 feet deep. He ran the Chatterbait into a nearby post and caught two six-pounders back-to-back that were only two feet deep over a brushpile that was 12 feet deep. Murray didn’t know the reason why, whether they were up waiting to ambush high-swimming shad or whatever, but they wouldn’t stay down on the bottom later in the days.
Really what it boiled down to was they started deep in the morning for Murray, and after noon, they’d start moving up, at times suspending only about 2-3 feet subsurface. The fish never moved off the spots they were on, they just rose up in the water column above the spots.
His biggest frustration was boating fish. On Day One, when he’d hook them on the dropshot in the brushpiles, they’d rocket straight to the top, jumping wildly, losing some that way. On Day Two, Murray hooked two monsters that decided to go back through the brushpiles and broke him off. “There were some big, strong fish on those brushpiles, and I was overmatched with my finesse gear at times but overall, considering second place, I don’t feel too bad,” said Murray who also hooked and lost a seven-pounder on a River2Sea Finesse Bumbershoot umbrella rig.
3rd Place – Jacob Powroznik
Fishing his first TTBC and first time at Lake Conroe, Powroznik gave all the credit for his good practice to his Lowrance electronics. If it wasn’t for being able to idle around and being able to see what he was actually fishing for the first time, it would have been tough going for Jacob, especially since what he was keying on were just small little rock piles that were out in about 20-25 foot of water. Powroznik caught everything he weighed in this tournament either on a football jig or a big worm on a football head. He stuck to his spots and to those two baits for the duration.
It’s true he had heard of this lake and that they catch them on deep and shallow crankbaits here this time of year, but he elected not to go that route because he had gotten enough good bites during practice to stay out where he was; he felt he could do pretty good that way. He was throwing a ¾ oz football jig and then a big 10-12” worm on a ½ oz football head throwing them out on the rock patches, just dragging and scraping them around on 17 lb test Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line.
Every one he caught was on the rocks. All the big ones he caught were out deep. There were no brushpiles or anything like that in Powroznik’s spots; just rocky patches he had found out there on those deep flats.
In the final minutes of Day Two, around 4:35pm he pulled up on a deep place where he had caught a 6-pounder previously, and this time he caught an 8-4, his biggest and one of the second biggest overall fish of the event. “To be able to able to land a monster like that and bring it on-stage in front of so many fans here in Conroe, it was pretty cool,” said Powroznik as he relived the moment.
It was a fun event but very challenging for Powroznik. The most critical part for him was Day Three. The weather changed and got real rough out in the middle of the lake where he had been waxing them. Trying to stay on his deep rock piles proved hard to do in the 3-4 footers. He tried to adjust by fishing docks but didn’t do any good that way. He ended weighing a light 6-12 bag on Day Three, yet his Day One and Two big sacks anchored Powroznik into a solid third place finish
4th Place – Bobby Lane
“Big Fish” Bobby Lane came here straight from Toyota All-Star Week in Michigan, so he missed the first two days of practice. He got out real early and stayed out late on the third and final practice day. He’s been here 4-5 times before, so he knows the lake a little bit (to put it mildly). Lane also finished in the Toyota Tundra Top Ten here last year.
This year, all three competition days, Lane ran the same pattern. It garnered him over 17 pounds the first day, 11 even the second, almost 17 the third…just doing what he loves to do – fishing shallow. He caught them on different baits. Some on a shakey head with the Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper. A few on a jig with a green pumpkin Berkley Chigger Craw on the back, with the tip of the tails dipped in JJ’s Magic. First day, he caught two big ones on that jig. He caught two on a buzzbait the morning of Day Three. Also two on a Barry’s Custom Lures propbait on the morning of Day Three and one 5 pounder on the same propbait the first afternoon. Overall, this year was somewhat similar to how and what Lane fished last year, and it got him into the Toyota Tundra Top Ten both times.
All three days he started with Barry’s propbait and gave it a good hour every morning. The first two mornings he didn’t catch hardly anything on it. Late the first day, he caught a 5-pounder with it. Day Three, Lane caught one right off the bat – about 2-8. He switched to a buzzbait and caught a 4-12, then picked the propbait back up and caught another 4-8.
Lane stayed shallow all day every day, and it seemed like the later the afternoon got, the more bites he would get flipping, but it seemed like the size went down. He caught all his big fish this week (except Day Three) between 10 to 1. On Day Three, the big’uns came around 8 to 9 o’clock.
Docks, seawalls, anything that got in the way as he fished shallow, he’d throw around it.
What helped Lane most of all this week was having LakeMaster technology on his Humminbird unit. You can actually go to a setting in there, which is Navionics. It’s on a chip that shows you all the contour lines for Lake Conroe (and other lakes) but it has a setting where you can highlight the shallow water (which Lane didn’t want to fish) and highlight the water depth where Lane did want to maximize his fishing time. You can set that into your graph by making red the water that was too shallow and making green the water where he wanted to fish. Red was set to 1-2, and green was 3-5 foot. The outer edge of the green water had a black contour line on it.
“It made it easy as I’m cruising around the lake. Before I did that, I really wasted a lot of time in practice, and it was frustrating. When I remembered to set the graph, suddenly it got easy. I could run right to where I wanted to be, fish it, and 9 times out of 10 I would get a bite in practice and in the tournament. I’d keep my boat on the other side of the black contour line, so my boat may be sitting in four foot and I’d pitch to spots in the green band, being 3-5 foot. I knew I didn’t have to prospect any shallower than that (in the red zone).”
5th Place – Kevin VanDam
Coming here straight from Toyota All-Star Week in Michigan, KVD only had one day of practice, so he really relied on previous knowledge of Lake Conroe. He benefitted from remembering a lot of places that had cover on them that were too low to fish two years ago when the lake was almost 10 feet low, and now those spots had fishable water over them this year. He had GPS’ed some of them 2 years ago. Knowing where those areas had been when they were above water, KVD then spent his practice day using side-imaging to locate them underwater. He lapped the lake twice on his one practice day, mostly scanning just to mark those spots so he could line up on them good come game time. He pretty much had it in his mind with only one day of practice that he was going to fish offshore and crank. So he was mainly looking for brush, rocks, timber, anything hard that he could deflect a crankbait off. He really concentrated on 5-15 feet of water, but 10’ was his bailiwick, give or take a couple of feet. He basically spent his time throwing a Strike King 2.5 squarebill on some of the shallower stuff and then a Series 5 was his staple in deeper water, although VanDam tossed everything from a Series 5, 5XD and 6XD to the 2.5 just to cover all the different depth zones. He did throw a worm, a jig and slow-rolled a big spinnerbait, but everything he weighed in was on a crankbait. His best color was Summer Sexy Shad in all his crankbaits. He threw that and Chartreuse Sexy Shad.
The biggest obstacle he needed to overcome during this event was his own self-doubts every day and just knowing that he could go a long time without getting a bite but if he kept doing it, kept running good water, kept that crankbait hitting something hard, sooner or later he was going to get bit. He solved this mental challenge just by being hard-headed and stubborn about it.
“I would just keep my head down and go. You’d think you’d be able to duplicate what you did the day before, but it didn’t really work out that way. I had to keep moving and chunking and winding. You think you’re playing the wind or on a pattern or a hunch – but geez, I still don’t know what proved key – it was just sticking with it that mattered most in the end,” admitted KVD.
He shied away from Conroe’s docks but did dock fish here or there mainly since he knew a couple of docks had some good cover or rocks or water depth. However, he only caught one fish around a dock in the three days.
He caught his biggest bass – a 7-1/2 pounder on a Strike King Series 5 off a little break that had some standing timber on it, and the bass was suspended on the timber late in the day. It’s a spot he had caught fish on before, usually good ones.
Probably the biggest thing that really helped him here this week was the new Humminbird 360 Imaging he had on his trolling motor. KVD and Keith Combs are the only two that had it. “It’s one of those deals that when you are out there and trying to line up on these very isolated brushpiles and pieces of pole timber and such, it gives you that direction and distance constantly because trying to hit one piece of pole timber even though you know it is right there 23 feet from you is very hard to do. The 360 allowed me to see it and know the direction so I could make the cast. I was very persistent by making repeated casts. That’s how I caught all my fish just basically pulling up on isolated structure even though you’d have a waypoint there, it wasn’t enough. The 360 Imaging on my trolling motor really helped me to line up and to be that much more efficient,” revealed Kevin VanDam.
6th Place – Chris Zaldain
Only having two practice days, coming from the Toyota All-Star Week in Michigan, Zaldain’s first goal was to see the entire lake during practice. It was his first time here, and he hadn’t even seen a map of Lake Conroe prior to coming here. Practice helped him because he got to see the entire lay of the lake.
His primary pattern for the first two days of the tournament was skipping a black Strike King KVD frog far underneath docks and working them close to any seawalls in back. That’s how Zaldain caught the majority of his fish the first two days.
His second go-to pattern was just a ¼ oz shakey head with a KVD finesse worm in green pumpkin color that he fished on brushpiles. Zaldain had located two productive brushpiles in practice and caught two of his biggest ones there during the event. The brushpiles he fished were about 16-18 feet deep and again, just dragging that ¼ oz KVD finesse worm through them.
Zaldain caught an “over” (fish over 21” length) each day – 2 of the 3 overs came on the KVD finesse worm. An 8-pounder came off the top of a brushpile on that worm and a 5-1/2 pounder was his biggest bass the first day. A third bait which came into the clutch with a big’un for Zaldain is a Roman Made 6” balsa jointed gizzard shad shaped swimbait that runs down about 3’ deep. Slinging it under docks, he caught his second biggest fish during the event – a 7 pounder on the Roman Made.
Every morning he’d rotate what he was doing. If Zaldain felt the fish were out deeper, he’d start on the brushpiles, confident he could always fall back on that frog skipping pattern because not a lot of guys were doing it, and he kept switching back and forth all day. The frog bite was unique because the farther back you could skip that thing, the better the bites were. With 95 degree heat and sun on Days One and Two, the deepest, darkest pocket you could find was what Zaldain targeted. It didn’t matter if it was in 6-7 inches of water; the fish were far back in the darkest shade.
The other big key for Zaldain was realizing the right type of docks. It wasn’t the ones with pilings. The best docks were the ones with seawalls that were indented. Those were by far the best producers for Zaldain and his frog because the bass were holding tight to the indents in the seawalls.
The wind on Day Three completely screwed up all the docks he was fishing with the frog. “You cannot skip anything, I don’t care what kind of skip bait you have, when there are waves crashing all around you” he laughed. Instead he tried some of the docks on north banks that were protected from that north wind, but it just wasn’t happening. “With a 30 degree air temperature drop overnight, that frog bite is the first to go,” Chris said. He finally overcame this windy adversity by running that big Roman Made swimbait under the docks in place of the frog.
7th Place – Jason Christie
“One big challenge about Lake Conroe is its small and it gets fished hard, not only by the pros but by the locals. It’s highly-pressured, so these fish here see a lot of baits. You really have to figure out each day what these fish want. Some days you figure that out, and some days you don’t,” says Jason Christie who weighed 19-12, then 12-8 and 9-8 on Days One, Two and Three respectively. The key pattern for Christie this week was flipping docks with a Booyah jig as well as a Big Show worm and he was cranking Fat Free BD6 and BD7 crankbaits over deeper brushpiles. He caught every fish that he weighed this week on those baits, and he just bounced back and forth all week trying to figure something out, fishing shallow and deep, trying to put the puzzle together. Once he got a bite, he just rolled with it. The problem he felt he had on Day Three was he just didn’t get that key bite he needed until right before weigh-in. “I just wasn’t able to put it together soon enough to roll with it on Day Three,” he said.
During practice, he assessed the water level, found the docks that had deep water close to them and idled around and found some brushpiles. He didn’t do a whole lot of fishing in practice, just enough to get a bite or two, and then fished what he found that had looked good during the tournament. “It’s about getting oriented, so you’ll know if a dock’s got wind on it, and then when you’re looking for wind, you know where to go to,” Jason explained.
He was fortunate the first day to catch a big one weighing over nine pounds – the biggest one caught by a pro during this event. It gave him a boost and he pretty much rode out that big sack from Day One throughout the event. His best periods were early in the morning and late in the afternoon. There was a lull every day right in the middle of the day for Christie. “This event is fun for us, it’s fun for the sponsors. It just seems like it’s a party from the beginning to the end. It’s an event I really enjoy fishing,” Christie exuberantly said.
8th Place – Mike McClelland
McClelland’s been here every year that we’ve had the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Conroe (which is five now) and he’s always had really good practices but has never fared well in past tournaments here. So many places that you fish on this lake, it’s a one-fish spot, maybe two at most, so when you practice on the good stuff, if you do catch a fish or two, the chances of catching that fish again in the event are pretty slim. So this practice, McClelland avoided all of the spots and types of spots that he’s gained knowledge over the past years at this event, and he basically went out and started “practicing” on Day One of the tournament by hitting the places that had worked out well for him in the past – and it worked our swell for him this way.
McClelland mixed things up throughout the course of each day, but he did start every morning shallow with a War Eagle 3/8 oz black buzzbait with a gold blade. He got 2 to 5 bites every morning on the buzzbait. He didn’t catch them all but he had the opportunity every morning to catch a few good ones.
The buzzbait bite definitely was a big deal for McClelland. It let him get a 3 or 4 pounder under his belt early. He managed a 4-pounder, a 3-pounder and a 4-8 that way on the buzzbait through the course of the week.
After that, he threw deep-diving and shallow crankbaits a bunch but never got a bass that counted toward his score on a crankbait. Probably the key bait for McClelland this week was a 5/16 oz Bass-X brown jig, just a little roundhead jig using a variety of trailers such as the Zoom Super Speed Craw as well as a few other trailers that had a lot of action.
Losing some fish the first day was rough on McClelland. He had a good Day One start with a 3 and 4 pounder, and then lost a big one he never got to see. The next dock, over, he also lost one estimated between 4.5 to 5.5 pounds. “It was disheartening because you can’t afford to lose fish like that.” Mike had just a mediocre weight until he pulled up on a brushpile and flipped a 4-8 and a 5-4 on back-to-back casts with his little brown jig, which put him back in the hunt on Day One.
He fished docks, brushpiles on points and brush around other objects. The key for him seemed to be flipping less than seven feet of water. McClelland never caught any fish that helped in water deeper than about 7-10 feet.
Day Three was the one day he did try to change up due to the high winds and cloud cover that morning. McClelland picked up a lot of moving baits – crankbaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits – slinging them all morning to no avail. “I felt like it was the absolutely perfect morning to do that but I never had a keeper until I slowed down and started fishing the jig,” he said. Around 11 o’clock he started flipping boat docks, connecting with a number of short bass, until he finally caught his first keeper of the day, and then ended up completing a limit anchored by a 4-8 pounder in a matter of 30 minutes.
9th Place – Mike Iaconelli
Practice was important for Iaconelli because it helped him narrow down three different patterns. Iaconelli feels it’s always good to go into an event with multiple things working for you. In practice, he found deep fish in 10-14 feet of water, and they were mainly on secondary points with isolated brush. That was his number one pattern. His second pattern was fishing around isolated stumps in the backs of pockets and catching them on a squarebill. His third and final pattern was fishing around rocks which are a scarce commodity on Lake Conroe; there’s not a lot of rock. He was able to identify some areas of rocks and catch those fish there on a shakey head. That’s what he found in practice, they were the three patterns he had going into the tournament.
A little more on the baits are that he fished a Rapala DT14 in a faded blue/chartreuse color called Caribbean Shad on 12 lb Berkley Trilene Fluorocarbon, making real long casts along the secondary points and just trying to contact that brush and make it deflect to create reaction strikes. The secondary points were both on the main lake as well as inside creek mouths. What Iaconelli believes happens here, especially when you get 50 guys that really know what they’re doing and then you know everybody’s got the same Navionics mapping applications, the real obvious main points, the real pretty-looking points, they get the bejesus beat out of them. Iaconelli thinks because of pressure, he’s forced to look instead at those points and lake features that aren’t so obvious. The ones Ike targeted, they’re almost sand bars as opposed to secondary points, that’s what he focused on, and the less brush they had on them, the better. He just wanted one or two brushpiles because it concentrated the fish, didn’t make it confusing and Ike could get his crankbait through it without snagging it. So that was his primary pattern. The first day when he weighed in 21 pounds, al his fish came on that pattern.
Over the last two days, it got tougher on him; that deep-cranking pattern kind of fizzled and Mike went to his other two techniques. With the squarebill, he fished a Storm Arashi in the same color, chartreuse blue back on a little heavier 15 lb fluorocarbon following the same kind of theory. He’d target isolated stumps. So anywhere there was a stump in five feet or less of water, he’d burn the squarebill by it, with the interesting thing being he’d have to make multiple casts to get the bite. He saw a lot of guys go by a stump, throw once, then go to the next one. For Iaconelli, it was critical to try different angles, making 5-10 casts to each stump. Over the final two days, he caught some good fish doing that.
His third reliable pattern was just a shakey head on rock. It’s something he’s had success with here before, and he did it again. He used a 3/16 oz VMC Rugby head, which is a football-shaped shakey head with an offset shank hook. It’s perfect on rock and he fished it on a spinning rod with 8 lb Trilene. He sweetened it with a Havoc Bottom Hopper in Red Bug color. Most of the rock was a combination of either natural rock or riprap rock. If you think of any place like an entrance to a marina, a flooded highway, bridge or even along seawalls…when they put in seawalls and other man-made structure, they have to dredge out a little bit to put the footings in for the seawalls, and if there’s rock in that area when they dredge it, a lot of times what they’ll do is instead of removing it, they’ll put that refuse out front, so it ends up in front of the seawall –and Iaconelli sought out those little piles of dredge tailings.
Between those three patterns, that’s how Mike Iaconelli caught the majority of his fish this week.
The hardest part for Iaconelli was staying on top of the changes from day to day and not continuing to fish “yesterday.” Iaconelli’s fish changed every day, and he thinks it was not only because of the weather but because of the time of year we’re in. During practice, his water temperature gauge said 86-87 degrees in many spots, and by Day Three, the gauge was reading 76-78. So that gives you an idea of what was happening – classic fall turnover. “They were still in that period when they’re still a little tricky,” concluded Iaconelli.
10th Place – Bryan Thrift
2012 Toyota Texas Bass Classic world champion Bryan Thrift practiced differently this year, trying to fish stuff he had never fished before in practice. He found a lot of new stuff and that’s where he caught a lot of his fish during the event. “This was the fifth year I’ve been here, and I’ve pretty much fished every square inch of this lake before. I tried to purposely look for out of the way stuff that I never had time for before. I found some stuff like that and caught a couple of good fish on those new spots,” he explained.
Thrift mainly caught them throwing the new Damiki Brute squarebill crankbait shallow and also caught them on the deep-diving squarebill Bomber Fat Free crankbait.
Pretty much every fish Thrift weighed were on those two – although Thrift had up to 15 rods out at times.
He did catch a 4-1/2 pounder on an Alabama rig with the Damiki Anchovy Shad on it. That was late on Day Two and it’s the fish that got Thrift into the Toyota Tundra Top Ten this year.
Day Three proved to be Thrift’s biggest frustration. It started good with two 4-1/2 pounders right off the bat, one throwing that Damiki Brute squarebill around. The other on a Chatterbait. After that, Thrift just never could get dialed in again. “It seemed like when I’d pull up on a brushpile, I’d get hung first cast, just one of those days you can’t explain,” Thrift shook his head side-to-side.
The Damiki Brute will run about five feet deep, and Thrift was catching them fairly shallow with that and other baits, but he was also fishing semi-offshore where he had some isolated brushpiles on flats that were like 4-1/2 to 5 feet deep. Also with the deep-diving squarebill Bomber, he was fishing offshore brush with it in the 8-12 foot range.
As mentioned already, Thrift had up to 15 rods on the deck every day, although the shallow and deep-diving squarebills proved most productive. Still, he threw everything including the kitchen sink out there. “There isn’t really a technique to it. It’s just seeing an opportunity and making the most of it. If you pull up on a dock, skip a jig under it. See a rock? Throw a crankbait on it or whatnot. See a brushpile? Throw a deep-diving crankbait. I just kind of run a bunch of different stuff and sometimes it will pay off big, which was how I won the TTBC in 2012,” Bryan explained.
“The biggest challenge for me here this year was keeping an open mind when I was going 2-3 hours without a bite. Because this lake has so many big fish in it, your next stop, you can pull in there and catch an 8 or 9 pounder – and it’s a lot harder than it sounds to keep your mind sharp and stay focused mentally when that one big bite is probably all you’ve really got when you least expect it over the next several hours,” concluded Bryan Thrift.