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.
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
Bass really are Bigger in Texas
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:
- Texas – over 500 documented teen-sized bass
- 28 other states – zero on record
- The other 21 states – mainly only a handful of teen bass (except California)
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.
The Magic Seed
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.
The Toyota ShareLunker Program
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 starting to see the Benefits
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.
Raising ShareLunker Babies
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.
Catch me once. Catch me twice. Can Mike catch me thrice?
Bassmaster Elite and PAA pro Mike McClelland caught two “overs” (fish over 21” long) on Day One. The first one was a 4.8 pounder. Since each angler can bring one over back to the weigh-in, McClelland put the fish in his livewell and rerigged his jig. The second cast he made into the same place, he caught a 5.4 pounder, so he released the 4.8 and kept the 5.4. “I went back today, made the very same cast and caught the 4.8 again today. No doubt it was the same fish,” said Mike. Over 9 pounds of his two-day total weight was attributed to that one fish. Thinking on his feet, McClelland released it again today, and he’s going to try to catch it again tomorrow. McClelland made the Toyota Tundra Top Ten, currently sitting in 6th place. “Now I wish I had let the 5.4 pounder go as well; maybe it would have bit again tomorrow too,” he laughed.
Birthday Boy James Watson
James Watson of Waynesville, MO celebrated his 41st birthday on Day Two of the TTBC. He didn’t make the Toyota Tundra Top Ten but he did catch some birthday bass, and he has had quite a season so far. He qualified for his first FLW Forrest Wood Cup, his 2nd TTBC world championship and Watson won his first major tournament, the PAA event on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. Watson plans to fish the final PAA event of 2013 on Grand Lake, Oklahoma in early November, and he hopes to requalify to fish the next TTBC to be held in May 2014 on Lake Fork, TX.
Last Man in (times two)
John Murray of Phoenix, AZ was the last pro to qualify and to be invited to his first-ever TTBC – and Murray’s also the last man to make the Toyota Tundra Top Ten who fish again on Sunday. He pulled in a 4.5 pounder at the end of the day that saved his bacon. “I never thought of being last as being lucky,” said Murray, “but I get to fish again tomorrow, and that’s all that matters.”
First man out
Toyota pro Gerald Swindle finished in 11th place, just missing the chance to fish again tomorrow. “The TTBC is one of the most fun events that the pros fish all year. Because there are no points involved, you can fish your style, your strengths, and it’s fun. We fish for points so much during the rest of the season that it changes the way we fish,” he explained.
Swindle added, “I’m looking forward to the TTBC moving to Lake Fork in May 2014 – and I’m going to dish out some payback right there. I’m tired of fishing against all these Lake Conroe sharpies. Yessiree.”
Remember December 15th
For fishing fans that aren’t able to make it here to Conroe and the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center Outdoor Expo, we'll miss you but don't fret. You can watch all the excitement on December 15, 2013 in a one hour special that will air on NBC Sports.
Keith Combs widens his lead at the 2013 TTBC
By Matt Pangrac
Conroe, TX (October 10, 2013) - After Keith Combs recorded an opening day limit weighing 24 pounds, 8 ounces to take the lead at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Conroe, he cautioned that it would be difficult to turn in a repeat performance on Saturday.
“You have to time things perfectly in order to have a stellar day on this lake,” stated Combs, who entered the week as the competitor with the most experience and knowledge on the 21,000 acre fishery located an hour north of Houston, Texas. “If you fish enough spots over the course of the day, all you can hope is that you get it right once or twice.”
Combs’ timing wasn’t perfect on Saturday, but it was close to perfection. The Texas pro not only maintained his lead but also expand it heading into the final day. With another impressive limit weighing 23 pounds, 4 ounces, Combs pushed his two-day total weight to 47 pounds, 12 ounces and opened up a lead of 7 pounds, 8 ounces over his closest competitor, Jacob Powroznik.
“I caught a nice one at my first stop of the morning and I really felt like I was on my way to having another great day,” explained Combs. “After that, I didn’t catch much for the next three hours.”
Rotating through numerous offshore spots, Combs hit a midday flurry where he boated three small keepers. He caught 4 pounders of back-to-back stops at 2:00, and then closed out his day with a 7 pounder in the final hour. “I didn’t make any more casts after I caught my big one,” he explained. “I really had to work hard all day. For the longest time I was just worried about putting five keepers in the boat.”
Even with a 7+ pound lead, Combs believes that he’ll need at least 17 pounds on Sunday to win his second TTBC title in the past three years, the first coming in 2011. “I really need to have one more good day. Even though I’ve put together two great days, it’s not easy out there. I know that I’m going to have to fish hard.”
With a cold weather front expected to enter the area overnight, Combs is hopeful that his offshore cranking bite may actually improve. “If it’s windy and cloudy tomorrow, I’m totally cool with that,” he calmly concluded.
Entering Saturday in 4th place, Virginia’s Jacob Powroznik climbed to 2nd place on Saturday with an impressive limit of Conroe largemouth weighing 22 pounds, 4 ounces to remain within striking distance of Combs heading into the final day.
After opening the day with an early 5 pounder and methodically filling out his limit by noon, the FLW Tour pro relied on a late day surge to amass the majority of his overall weight. “I think that the boat traffic pushes the bass out to deeper water in the afternoon,” explained Powroznik. “I had to check-in at 4:50 today, and I pulled up to my best deep water area and caught an 8 pound, 4 ounce fish at 4:35.”
Powroznik’s key to success this week on Conroe hinges on the fact that he has forced himself to fish areas where he believes big fish live even though the bass rarely cooperate. “When I finally do get a bite, it’s a great big one,” he stated.
Even though he is facing a 7 pound, 8 ounce deficit heading into the final day, Powroznik is undaunted by the challenge that lies ahead. “We are fishing in Texas, and everyone knows that everything is bigger in Texas. On a lake like Conroe, there’s no telling what could happen tomorrow,” he said with a smile.
Lurking in 3rd place behind Combs and Powroznik is Kevin VanDam with a total weight of 35 pounds, 4 ounces. VanDam is 12 pounds, 8 ounces out of the lead, but the four-time Bassmaster Classic champion is fishing his strengths and said that a historic final day comeback is not out of the question.
“Especially with the weather change tomorrow, it’s very easy to run into a 30 pound bag of fish because that kind of quality bass live in Lake Conroe,” he stated. It’s going to be a whole new world out there tomorrow with just 10 anglers. The lake is really going to open up and I’ll be able to move around a lot more.”
On Saturday, VanDam boated just five total keepers en route to a 19 pound limit. “The fish were acting really funky today,” he explained. “I had quite a few bites and I just couldn’t keep the fish hooked up. I was fortunate that I had a couple big fish that really ate the bait, including a 5 pounder at the end of the day.”
Bobby Lane and John Murray each finished Saturday with a total weight of 28 pounds, 8 ounces to round out the Tundra 10 that will fish on the final day on Sunday.
The 10 remaining anglers will launch Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. from Waterpoint Plaza on Lake Conroe (free to public). The 2013 TTBC champion will earn $100,000, a Nitro boat powered by Mercury, and the TTBC Championship trophy.
2013 ATX Big Bass Award Winner: Jason Christie
By: Russ "Bassdozer" Comeau
CONROE, TEX., October 6, 2013 – At the awards ceremony following the final weigh-in of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic at the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center, ATX Wheels presented the ATX Big Bass award to the TTBC pro that caught the very biggest bass over the course of this exciting three-day world championship fishing tournament.
Jason Christie led the ATX Big Bass competition wire-to-wire with a nine-pounder he landed on Day One. It was the biggest bass Christie caught this year. The massive lunker hit when Christie least expected it. The bass was in a brushpile in 20 feet of water where Christie had caught a pile of two-pounders during practice. He said, “I was actually fishing for a limit (small keeper bass) at the time. I was expecting to catch two-pounders when that big one bit.”
For winning the ATX Big Bass award, Jason Christie received a set of premium ATX Wheels valued at $1,000.
Toyota pro Terry Scroggins tied with Jacob Powroznik for the second biggest bass of this event. The 8lb 4 oz big 'un hit a jig in a brushpile on Day Two. Terry had gotten his jig hung up in the brushpile and decided he’d have to break it off. Applying pressure to break the line, the jig suddenly popped free – but not for long as the 8-pounder pummeled it. Terry said, “It was a real big surprise and an exciting 30-40 seconds of tug of war as the brute tried to bulldog back down into the gnarly brushpile.” Scroggins seems to have a knack for catching big bass on Lake Conroe. Terry had won the ATX Big Bass award last year for the biggest bass at the 2012 TTBC on Lake Conroe, a 7.70 pounder. Scroggins loves the set of ATX Wheels on his Toyota truck that he won here last year.
Jacob Powroznik tied with Scroggins for second biggest bass this year. Jacob’s Texas-sized bass bit a big worm in deep water. It raced to the surface and leapt out of the water three times, jumping about three feet into the air. “It was an acrobat, and to be able to land something 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.
On Day Three, Chris Zaldain caught an 8 pounder as well. It hit a Strike King KVD finesse worm on top of a brushpile.
To round out the top five biggest bass from Lake Conroe this year, Kevin VanDam brought a 7-1/2 pounder on-stage to show the fans on Day One. It hit a Strike King Series 5 crankbait in Summer Sexy Shad color. It was pretty late in the day, and came off a low break that had some timber on it. The big’un was suspended in the tree, and it was a spot where KVD had caught big fish before.
1 Jason Christie, Park Hill, Oklahoma 9 lbs – 0 oz
2 Jacob Powroznik, Prince George, Virginia 8 lbs – 4 oz (tie)
2 Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Florida 8 lbs – 4 oz (tie)
4 Chris Zaldain, San Jose, California 8 lbs – 0 oz
5 Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Michigan 7 lbs – 8 oz
About ATX Wheels
ATX Wheels are stylish, rugged wheels for sports vehicles, pick-up trucks and boat trailers. A lot of fishing guys and gals are outfitting their recreational trucks and boats to match with the same wheels for a totally stunning look.
ATX offers many different models and finishes for fishing, hunting and outdoor enthusiast vehicles and boat trailers. Over twenty different styles with finishes ranging from heavy duty chrome wheels with a PVD finish that handles the water very well. It handles the road salts and that kind of stuff quite well too. Many models are also available in a Teflon-coated finish that cleans up very well even when they're in and out of the water all the time or driving through the mud, the grime wipes right off.
For anglers considering a new boat purchase, check with your boat dealer and ask if they have a dealer option where they offer ATX wheels as a dealer upgrade.
Headquartered out of Colorado, ATX has 26 warehouses throughout the United States and over 40,000 dealers sell their products in North America. With so many models, finishes and options, there’s sure to be a style of ATX Wheels that you like best. Why not check ATX Wheels out today. A most convenient way to find more information and to locate a dealer near you is via their website www.atxwheels.com.
By Russ "BassDozer" Comeau
Kandie D. Candelaria of Canyon Lake, Texas is an experienced Toyota Texas Bass Classic judge. She was a judge in 2012 and so far in 2013, Candelaria has been the judge for Mike Iaconelli on Day One. Indeed she’s such a good judge that Candelaria’s one of the hand-picked top ten judges that will be going out with the Toyota Tundra Top Ten finalists on Day Three.
“It’s both a responsibility as well as a thrill,” she said. “The responsibility definitely is tremendous. You want to be accurate, you want to make sure everybody is on the same page, and everything is on an even keel. What’s nice is it’s not only my eyes that see the weights. With Mike (Iaconelli), he’d come by and furtively glance at the scale once I would announce the weight, and he’d say ‘Yeah! Yeah! That’s good,” and he’d take off to the front deck just as quick. So that kind of confirmation is appreciated. The pros are really good about not challenging you on anything that’s the judge’s call.”
Candelaria’s a sportswriter and contributing editor for Texas Outback magazine and online destinations such as Anglers Waypoint also publish her stories on the Internet.
“As an avid angler myself and a sportswriter, it’s always a thrill to spend the day watching one of the best anglers in the world go to work. The knowledge that I gain from watching them is priceless. It's an awesome experience spending the day with any pro who has qualified for the TTBC. Of course, having someone you’re judging actually winning or scoring highly, and you were part of it with them, it’s something neither one of you will ever forget.”
In 2012, Kandie judged two really good picks. “One day I had John Crews who’s such a gentleman. In fact, I saw him here this year, and he gave me a big hug and everything. In 2012, I also judged Steve Kennedy, and he was really interesting. His whole family met him at the dock at take-off, and his kids told him, ‘Daddy, go have a good day at work,’ which I thought was so cute.”
“Of course, you worry; you want to be sure that you’re accurate. You know you can’t make a mistake. Any judge that doesn’t worry doesn’t take it seriously. You’re dealing with a big money tournament and people’s careers but in that respect, I believe I am very capable in what I am doing as a judge.”
All the Boga Grip scales used by judges are IGFA certified, so they all weigh accurately and consistently. IGFA or the International Game Fish Association is the official organization that reviews and approves word record catches. So IGFA certified scales are beyond repute.
“Great care goes into making sure it’s a level playing field for all the anglers,” explained TTBC’s official judge coordinator, Tim Cook. “The Boga Grip scale is something that the PAA Board of Directors had settled on in the beginning as being the most consistent and accurate measuring device of the time. We’ve stuck with it and we recertify the scales every year.”
“The judging process is reviewed every year, but the overall process hasn’t needed to be changed much over time. It’s bona fide. You’ve always got to kind of adapt to little things, but there haven’t been many if any changes (to the judging and scoring process) in recent years. We believe we’re doing everything we need to do,” stated Cook.
A smartphone-based and Internet-based app, designed and managed by Fishhound has been used every year since 2011 to report each fish as it’s caught. The technology in use is also sound and stable. It really hasn’t changed for the duration. Again, there’s nothing perceived to be missing or needed during yearly reviews of the Fishhound technology and process.
“We can send a mass text message to all the judges at the same time if we have an announcement. If there’s a change in something, we can convey that to them simultaneously. Again, it’s a level playing field,” said Cook.
“In the training that judges go through, I stress that the judge position at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic is much different than say the marshal position with Bassmaster events. We do not charge the judges to participate, and they have a much more important role and a day-long training process that we put them through – making them understand that each one’s a true tournament official that directly influences the outcome of the event – that’s extremely important. They must pass a thorough review by TTBC and PAA staff at the end of the training, including weighing and reporting live bass before they can be validated as capable judges,” Cook explained.
You are what you wear, and judges get an official uniform which must be worn that consists of a shirt, hat and a light jacket. Cook conveyed, “Donning the judge’s uniform transforms them. It makes them official to the pros, the fans and to themselves. They’re not just guys and gals sitting there in t-shirts and casual clothes. “
“It makes you more credible,” added judge Candelaria.
This year, the final ten judges who go out with the Toyota Tundra Top Ten pros are getting special Toyota jerseys to wear on the important final day.
FLW Tour pro Jacob Powroznik of Prince George, Virginia is fishing in his first-ever Toyota Texas Bass Classic and loving every minute of it. Not only is Powroznik a great angler, he’s also a big country music fan. He’s been enjoying the free concerts after the weigh-ins. He said, “It’s fun, this catch-and-release format. I like not having to worry about putting the fish in your livewell. You don’t have to worry about keeping them alive all day. How cool is that?”
“The judges are pretty cool too,” Jacob admits. “I had a good time with my judges, and we got to just talking about things, without having to worry about them actually fishing or getting in your way.”
On the FLW Tour, Powroznik usually has a co-angler along with him, catching fish out of the back of his boat, but not at the TTBC. “It’s a pretty neat deal, if the wind changes or spins your boat around, you can kind of fish over the top of the judge’s head if you need to. I could really get used to this.”
As mentioned, Fishhound is a big part of the scoring. The TTBC relies on Fishhound’s web-based app that is specially made for this event. The judges are able to report their catch, which is then instantly used to update the Live Leaderboard (online scoreboard) and website standings at www.toyotatexasbassclassic.com. Again this is different than say the Bassmaster BASSTrakk reporting system that Bassmaster marshals use to transmit unofficial weights that fans can see online at Bassmaster.com. The difference is that what TTBC judges report and what fans see on the TTBC scoreboard is the actual, official, verified and accurate results reported by the TTBC judges, fish-by-fish. It’s a great way of recording the catches so the fish may be immediately released, ensuring the highest possible tournament survival rate.
A technologist from Fishhound, John Loughlin, is onsite at the TTBC to manage the technology. He also trains the judges on the app. It’s pretty much real-time. If a judge on the water enters a catch, and someone looks at the standings on the Internet just seconds after that fish is caught, the fish’s weight is automatically added to the angler’s score (biggest five bass) on the Internet even as the fish swims away from the boat.
The TTBC format with the judges and the immediate release of the fish after they are weighed has been adopted by others already. Major League Fishing competition on TV follows the same format, and it’s believed that’s the direct result of the pioneering influence of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic.
“Judging and scoring the TTBC as we do is a very viable format,” concludes Tim Cook. “It is of course dependent on having judges who are impartial yet impeccable officials that are on the boat and trained to be able to weigh and report catches. It absolutely is a format that allows for the best possible tournament survival of fish. The whole goal of catch-and-release is to put the fish back so that somebody else can catch them – and with this tournament format, we accomplish that.”
If a reader is interested in being a judge at the 2014 Toyota Texas Bass Classic to be held on Lake Fork, TX (May 9-11, 2014), please contact the Professional Anglers Association.
Day Two Notes and Quotes
By Russ "Bassdozer" Comeau
Will Lightning Strike Twice?
One thing we've never had at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic is a repeat champion, but 2011 champion Keith Combs, in first place after Day One, has opened the door to that possibility.
“It’s a good start, I’m very happy with it, and I feel like I can keep on catching them tomorrow. I learned what to do out there today – and equally important, what not to do tomorrow. It’s not like I’m finding a big old school of them, but I am catching one here and one there, and they’re fairly big fish…it’s just like it was when I won in 2011.”
Happy First Birthday Kei Blaylock
Here’s a big shout-out to FLW Tour pro Stetson Blaylock and his wife Lindsey. Their son Kei turned one year old today. Dad says Kei goes to a lot of tournaments, all he can. Naturally, this was Kei’s first TTBC.
He came for the Country Music
This is FLW Tour pro Jacob Powroznik’s first TTBC. He’s a big country music fan. “I came here just to enjoy the country music each evening, but figured I’d try a little fishing during the days anyway.” So far his plan’s working out fine. Powroznik sits in a lofty 4th place after Day One.
Must be Nice to design your own Baits
Day One was kind of how Bassmaster Elite pro John Crews who’s on the PAA Board of Directors expected it to be. It was a scramble. Catching one here and one there, Crews was able to grind out some weight (17 lbs 4 oz), ending Day One in 6th place. He’s just junk fishing (fishing anywhere and everywhere) catching some shallow, some deep. He’s catching some on a SPRO Fat John crankbait, some on a Fuse worm on a Warlock shakey head, catching some on a Baby D-Bomb, some on a jig with the full-size D-Bomb. These lures are all Missile Baits, made by Crews’ own lure company, or ones he designed for SPRO. “I think every fish that I caught today was on a bait of my own design. I did throw a couple of other baits that I didn’t design, but I didn’t catch anything on them,” Crews chuckled.
Remember December 15th
For fishing fans that aren’t able to make it here to Conroe and the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center Outdoor Expo, we'll miss you but don't fret. You can watch all the excitement on December 15, 2013 in a one hour special that will air on NBC Sports.