2014 Qualified Anglers
*Subject to change
2014 Qualified Anglers
*Subject to change
QUITMAN, TX (ARPIL 14, 2014) – The Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC), the World Championship of Professional Bass Fishing, brings the best set of qualified Anglers to Lake Fork, May 9-11. The three-day tournament combines the Top 15 in Angler of the Year (AOY) points from all three major tournaments including the Walmart FLW Tour, Bassmaster Elite Series and The PAA Tournament Series. Daily tournament weigh-ins, outdoor expos and country music concerts will add to the daily excitement of this event.
“We’re extremely excited to have the most outstanding anglers in the world competing in the 2014 Toyota Texas Bass Classic. This tournament can truly say that we have the best of the best competing on the most historical bass fishing lake in Texas. From legendary anglers to Lake Fork rookies, the competition will be fierce, the bass will be enormous and I can’t wait to see who will take home the trophy and title of World Champion,” said Tournament Director Lenny Francoeur.
Final field qualification for both last year and this year’s TTBC events are based on 2013-2014 Angler of the Year points races. The 2014 TTBC field is one of the strongest to date; field accomplishments include a combined $64 Million in career earnings, 234 tournament victories, 21 AOY titles and 18 Major Championship wins.
Keith Combs, the only two-time Champion in the history of TTBC (2011, 2013), will defend his title in his home state of Texas. Former Champions, Brian Thrift (2012), Brian Snowden (2010), Kelly Jordon (2008) and Terry Scroggins (2007) will also compete. Both Jordon and Scroggins qualified as sponsor exemptions in addition to fan favorites Mike Iaconelli and Gerald Swindle.
“TTBC is my favorite event of the season! Considering how an angler has to qualify for this event it is the strongest field that we compete against all year,” Combs said, “I spent some time this past winter familiarizing myself with Lake Fork. It will be a late spawn/early Summer tournament which means a lot of movement and it will take big weights to win.”
Due to the 16” to 24” slot limit on Lake Fork, there are no professional competitions held there, so this will be the first time, since the 2008 TTBC, that professional anglers will take to the water for a pro competition. They will compete on Lake Fork for three days, May 9-11, 2014, with the field being reduced to the top-10 for the final round on Sunday, May 11. The tournament will remain a non-entry fee event and all 50 competing anglers will receive guaranteed prize money.
Through a continued partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), TTBC will continue its focus on conservation efforts and adhere to a strict catch, weigh and immediate release format.
The Toyota Texas Bass Classic will be located on the grounds of the Sabine River Authority (SRA) just East of the Lake Fork dam in Quitman, TX. The Outdoor Expos, TPWD Adventures Area, Bass Pro Shop’s Kid Zone, and the live concerts will all take place at SRA.
The TTBC tournament functions are operated by the Professional Anglers Association with technical assistance and support from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries Division. Toyota is the title sponsor for the event. Official sponsors of TTBC are ATX Wheels, Bass Pro Shops, Nitro Boats, Geico, Leer Truck Caps, Republic Services, HOLT CAT, Shakespeare Ugly Stik, Tellespen, Yamaha, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Brookshire’s, TLC Radio, KYKX 105.7, 104.1 The Ranch, KMOO 99.9 & the Coca-Cola Company. Tickets are currently on sale. For more information visit www.toyotatexasbassclassic.com or call 1-866-907-0143.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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).”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Keith Combs wins the 2013 TTBC on Lake Conroe by over 12 pounds.
Conroe, TX (October 6, 2013) – Entering the final day of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) on Lake Conroe, tournament leader Keith Combs was comfortably on edge. He led his closest pursuer by 7 pounds, 8 ounces, but on a lake where a 9 pound largemouth crossed the stage on Friday, he knew that it would be a mistake to relax on the final day and coast to his second TTBC victory in the past three years.
After opening round limits weighing 24 pounds, 8 ounces on Friday and 23 pounds, 4 ounces on Saturday, the Texas pro went to work on Sunday and put together a 15 pound limit on Lake Conroe. Combs’ cumulative weight of 62 pounds, 12 ounces easily outdistanced the 2nd place weight of John Murray by 12 pounds, 8 ounces.
The wire-to-wire victory this week capped off a stellar 2013 season for Combs that included a Bassmaster Elite Series win on Falcon Lake this past March and a 5th place finish in the Elite Series Toyota Angler Of the Year point standings. Combs also became the first angler to earn a second TTBC championship ring after winning on Conroe in 2011.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Combs after lifting the TTBC trophy. “I know how good the other anglers in this tournament are, and it’s very humbling to come out on top. Winning this title for the second time is definitely a major career accomplishment for me.”
Combs began the week as one of the tournament favorites, and he went on to execute his Lake Conroe game plan to perfection. “My entire week was incredibly smooth,” he explained. “I never lost a single bass the entire week, and I was able to fish anywhere I wanted from the first cast of the tournament to the last cast.”
Just as he did in his 2011 TTBC victory, Combs primarily targeted main lake structure throughout the tournament. He caught the majority of his offshore fish throwing a crankbait in 8- to 15-feet of water. “I was fishing trash that was located on sand flats,” explained Combs. “I fished rock piles, brush piles, stumps, gravel, and anything that would hold a fish. It took a lot of patience because I spent a lot of time hung up.” Combs used a variety of deep-diving crankbaits including a Strike King Series 5XD. He cranked with a Power Tackle rod and Seaguar fluorocarbon line. He also caught some deep fish on a Strike King Rage Recon Worm.
When the wind was blowing, Combs spent some time cranking shallow rocks, docks, and seawalls with a Strike King KVD 1.5 crankbait in chartreuse/black.
Combs was quick to point out the benefit of the Humminbird bow mount 360 Imaging. “That unit was definitely a huge asset this week. Yesterday, I was looking at a brush pile in front of me and I noticed a brush pile on my left that I didn’t know was there. I cast to it and caught a 7 pounder.
“What a way to end the year,” concluded Combs, who earned $100,000 and a Nitro boat powered by Mercury.
2nd Place: John Murray
John Murray started Sunday on Lake Conroe with nothing to lose. Tied for 9th place with a two-day total weight of 28-8 and nearly 20 pounds out of the lead held by Keith Combs, the Arizona pro had nowhere to go but up.
Murray took full advantage of the opportunity, boating the heaviest limit on the final day weighing 21 pounds, 12 ounces to climb all the way up to a 2nd place with a final weight of 50 pounds, 4 ounces.
With overcast skies, cooler temperatures, and a stiff wind to start the final morning of competition, Murray went to work early and boated a small limit within first two hours. After a mid-morning lull, Murray realized that the wind had positioned the bass higher in the water column.
“At 1:00, I pulled up to a spot where I had been catching fish on a drop-shot, and I never got a bite,” he explained. “I picked up a ChatterBait and immediately caught a 6 pound, 12 ounce bass. I caught a 6 pounder two casts later and lost another big one on the following cast. I caught 13 pounds in the span of about five minutes.” Murray stuck with the ChatterBait for the remainder of the day and was rewarded with a 4 pound, 12 ounce bass that bit within sight of the check-in point at the end of the day.
On Friday, Murray caught his two biggest keepers drop-shotting a Gene Larew Tattle Tail Worm on deep brush piles. On Saturday, he alternated between a drop-shot, crankbait, and River2Sea Bumbershoot umbrella rig. “I had about 20 rods on the front deck,” he stated. Murray would start each day fishing deep water and then transition to shallow water as the day progressed. He fished with Lew’s rods and reels and relied on Toray fluorocarbon line.
“I lost three giants yesterday, but other than that I’m really pleased with my week,” he concluded.
3rd Place: Jacob Powroznik
Virginia’s Jacob Powroznik bounced around the top five in the standings for the duration of the tournament. He landed in 4th place on Friday, moved up to 2nd place on Saturday, and eventually finished the tournament in 3rd place with a total weight of 47 pounds.
Lake Conroe was not kind to Powroznik on Sunday, as he managed just 6 pounds, 12 ounces for the day. “I knew that today was going to be a struggle for me when I didn’t get my first bite until an hour into the morning,” admitted Powroznik. “The fish should have been biting early and they just didn’t show up.”
Powroznik fished two main patterns throughout the week that included targeting isolated rock piles in 18- to 25-feet of water and flipping shallow docks that were located over subtle depressions in the bottom. The majority of his big bites came from the offshore rock piles. “I had to fish extremely slowly to get a deep bite,” he explained. “I didn’t get many fish to commit to my bait, but when I did get a bite it was a big one.”
He primarily used a ½-ounce football jig with 17-pound-test Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line, but also mixed in a 12-inch Berkley Power Worm in Blue Fleck and a large trick worm. When he was flipping docks, Powroznik relied on a ½-ounce flipping jig.
“I did the best that I could,” he concluded. “It was a great tournament, and I can’t wait to go to next year’s TTBC on Lake Fork.”
By: Matt Pangrac
Texas Gulf Coast BBQ Cookers Assoc.
Cook Off: Toyota Texas Bass Classic
# of Teams: 55
Judging Official: Mary Lynn Gammill
Brisket Pork Spare Ribs
1 We Be Smokin – Don Canterbury 1 Lady M & M Cookers – Robin Myers
2 Texas Pepper Jelly – Craig Sharry 2 JetStream – Ken Polka
3 We Be Smokin Too – Jan Canterbury 3 We Be Smokin Too – Jan Canterbury
4 Lady M & M Cookers – Robin Myers 4 Texas Pepper Jelly – Craig Sharry
5 Hatters & Catters – Chris Poehl 5 Hot Damn Cookers – Will Bankhead
6 Dry Creek Cookers – George Feist 6 We Be Smokin – Dona Canterbury
7 Lazy Boys – Steve Glezman 7 Texas Hillbelly BBQ – Seth Acker
8 Pollacks with a Pit – Mike Glezman 8 Lone Star Smoke Syndicate – JD Marsh
9 Pancho & Lefty BBQ – Pete Martinez 9 Buzzard Cookers #2 – Jeremy Knippa
10 Hey Boys BBQ – Donald Winford 10 The Original Knob Creed Cookers – Scott Rhodes
1 Lady M & M Cookers – Robin Myers
2 M & M Cookers – Ed Myers
3 We Be Smokin – Don Canterbury
4 Texas Pepper Jelly – Craig Sharry
5 Midmight Smokers #2 – Aaron Butler
6 Hatters & Catters – Chris Poehl
7 Outcast Cookers – Don Russell
8 Scope Em Out Cookers – Todd Walker
9 Lone Star Smoke Syndicate – JD Marsh
10 Don't Have a Clue – Robert Christ
Grand Champion - Lady M & M Cookers – Robin Myers
Res. Grand Champion – We Be Smokin – Don Canterbury
3rd Overall Texas Pepper Jelly – Craig Sharry
4th Overall We Be Smokin Too – Jan Canterbury
5th Overall Hatters & Catters – Chris Poehl
6th Overall Jet Stream – Ken Polka
7th Overall M & M Cookers – Ed Myers
8th Overall Hot Damn Cookers – Will Bankhead
9th Overall Midnight Smokers #2 – Aaron Butler
10th Overall Dry Creek Cookers – George Feist
By: Russ "Bassdozer" Comeau
The mystique of big bass is alluring. If someone guaranteed that you could exchange a season's worth of small bass for just one chance at landing a teen-sized whopper, what would you do? Before answering, consider that not a single teen-sized bass has ever been documented in 28 states, and only a handful of teen bass have ever been documented in most of the other 21.
Two big exceptions exist. First, California has produced over 20 of the 25 largest bass on record in the USA. Second, over 500 teen-sized bass have been documented through the Toyota ShareLunker program in Texas.
Let’s review that again:
Of course, many big bass go undocumented. There’s no proof of them. Fact is the big bass in Texas, California and most anywhere else are transplanted Florida largemouth bass, a subspecies native to Florida that grows many times faster and much bigger than the largemouth subspecies originally found outside Florida. So Florida has big bass. What Florida does not have are the records and data to document trophy catches in its state. Only recently has Florida established a program similar in some ways to the Texas ShareLunker program to record and promote big bass catches.
As far as bass being bigger in Texas today, it’s attributed mainly to the introduction of the Florida bass into the reservoirs across the state.
TPWD first introduced Florida strain largemouth to Texas in the early 1970s, stocking many of the man-made water supply reservoirs throughout the state. The Florida strain proved to be the “magic seed.” By 1980 (it takes about 10 years for a Florida strain bass in a productive Texas lake to reach teen size), the first-ever teen bass in Texas was recorded – a new 13.5 pound Texas state record bass. Historically, a teen bass had never been documented in Texas before 1980, but as the Florida bass stocked during the 1970s began reaching trophy proportions all across Texas, fishing changed forever in the Lone Star State. Fast forward to today, and as we said, over 500 teen-sized bass have been documented in Texas now.
Juan Martinez, ShareLunker Program Coordinator for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) explained, “How the Toyota ShareLunker program has proven to be most helpful, it has allowed Texas to document its big bass and to promote that locally, statewide and nationwide. Without the ShareLunker program, we would not be able to document how many and where these big bass are caught.”
“One of the ways the Toyota ShareLunker program helps local economies is that we can actually document where these big fish are caught, and the lake communities can advertise what a great fishery they have: Come visit us and enjoy our lake and the surrounding communities and parklands, and catch the trophy bass of a lifetime. So it really helps municipalities and businesses to promote their lakes and services. A prime example of that is Lake Fork. How many people would have heard of Lake Fork if we did not document the big fish that were coming from this lake? We have other lakes in Texas which maybe never would have been heard of or were not well-known to anglers outside the local area, like Alan Henry and O.H. Ivie for instance. The Toyota ShareLunker program helped put them and many other Texas reservoirs on the map, in the minds and on the trip itineraries of bass anglers nationwide.”
“The ShareLunker program has helped promoted these lakes, and as we all know, it takes money to protect our great natural resources. The ShareLunker program has helped TPWD directors and fisheries biologists to pinpoint some of the better trophy bass lakes that we have in Texas, at the time during each lake’s lifecycle when they’re producing the most trophy bass, and therefore we can better align our department budget to help make fishing on those waters even greater through active management,” explained Martinez.
Other states have begun to embrace the idea of collecting data, engaging anglers and promoting trophy catches either on a body of water like Toledo Bend, Louisiana or statewide as in Florida.
“Louisiana has started a similar program for documenting and promoting big bass specifically on Toledo Bend Reservoir,” said Martinez. “It’s one body of water, so you could think if it as somewhat like a Lake Fork model.”
“Florida now has a program that’s modeled on ours (TPWD’s), and it’s called TrophyCatch. It’s brand new. The top tier of Florida’s program is similar to the ShareLunker program in terms of documenting and being able to promote trophy bass catches in Florida.”
None of these states are spawning these trophy fish however. Texas is.
Texan anglers know if they catch a teen-sized fish during the spawning period of October thru April, to keep it alive and call TPWD’s toll-free ShareLunker hotline. Fisheries personnel will rush over to pick the live fish up, transport it to TPWD’s facilities, use those with good Florida strain genes for spawning, and then return the ShareLunkers to their natal lakes. Meanwhile, TPWD will rear and stock the ShareLunker progeny back into waters where ShareLunkers were caught. Again that’s something no other state does. Only Texas.
“The ShareLunker offspring for the most part go into three different areas,” said Martinez.
“First of all, the priority is to put the ShareLunker fingerlings back into the lakes that any current ShareLunkers came from – because those environments have demonstrated they have the potential to produce big fish. So whether a ShareLunker was actually used to spawn or not, the lake it came from is going to receive a portion of any offspring that have been produced at TPWD’s facilities.”
“The second priority is a study lake. A big question people always ask is whether the ShareLunker spawning program works. So one other thing we’re doing is that we’re trying to evaluate the program and that takes time, measured in years to answer. We have our first, what’s called “Operation World Record” study in progress now. The program title is little bit deceiving because the first step is simply a study to compare the ShareLunker offspring with the resident bass that are naturally found now across the state. So far, we do see a significant difference in the growth of the ShareLunkers compared to the resident bass. The next question that is being answered right now is, are these fast-growing fish already found in our hatchery brood fish – or do the ShareLunker offspring really have something special? So we are comparing our hatchery Florida bass stockings with our ShareLunker stockings and once again, it will take at least four or more years until we begin to see any difference – or not.”
“The third priority, which doesn’t come around every day, is the ShareLunker offspring will go into any new lakes that are being created in Texas going forward, such as Lake Naconiches in Nacogdoches, TX which was recently impounded. We thought it was a great place to introduce ShareLunker fingerlings exclusively. Again, with a new lake that’s just being stocked, it’s going to be at least four years after the ShareLunker offspring have been introduced before any measurable results can begin to show.”
So where should you go to catch that teen-sized bass on your bucket list?
“Come to Texas for your ShareLunker,” Juan Martinez says invitingly.