Big Fish, Bigger Smiles

Big Fish, Bigger Smiles
Keith Combs averaged 7 pounds a fish on Day One. (James Overstreet photo)

Texan Combs taps into Falcon history to lead Elite event

ZAPATA, Texas — Nine times out of 10, the strategy of “fishing your history” turns and bites the angler who tries to rely on past success.

That didn’t happen to Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs on Thursday, not on Falcon Lake, where he’s been a guide for years.

Combs of Huntington, Texas, took the first-day lead by 4 pounds in the Rigid Industries Falcon Slam on Falcon Lake out of Zapata, Texas. Unlike Combs, the pro in second place, Cliff Prince of Palatka, Fla., had not only never competed on Falcon Lake before this week, but he’d also never even seen the big Rio Grande impoundment.

Combs had 34 pounds, 13 ounces; Prince had 30-13. Right behind them was Elite rookie Josh Bertrand of Gilbert, Ariz., in third with 30-5. Settling into fourth place with 28-15 was another Elite rookie, Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla. Finishing fifth was Jonathan VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., with 28-12.

The Elite pros are competing on Falcon for a first-place prize of $100,000, an instant entry in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and 100 points toward the coveted 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.

Combs’ strong Falcon history stems from working as a Falcon guide the past nine winters when he wasn’t competing.

“I didn’t feel like that [his history] was going to be a big factor, but I think it was,” he said. “After my practice doing other things, I knew I couldn’t catch them doing anything new, so I lived off history today. I felt it was my only chance. I knew if I caught them out there today, they’d be big.”

He said his entire first-day weight came from two deep, offshore spots. Both are about 100 yards long, he said, and he had them mostly to himself.

“I did catch two right off the bat, and that helped me so much because they were two big ones,” Combs said. “It was a grind after that. I went an hour and a half to the next bite. Then I got two within 10 minutes of each other.”

Combs had a limit by noon. He was able to cull three more times. He ended up with what he called “a sack of 7s,” five fish that were almost all 7-pounders.

Prince said he caught two of his fish on a Carolina rig early in the morning, then went to shallow water to flip.

“I moved up about 10:30 and started flipping,” he said. “I only had a couple places to catch them deep, and I’d had some good bites in practice flipping, so I figured I’d better move up quick to get a limit,” he said.

He flipped to deadwood that’s showing since the lake’s level has dropped nearly 30 feet due to drought conditions. He paid attention to the mesquite trees that looked the most twisted. “The [more] gnarly, the better,” he said.

By the end of the day, he had caught enough fish to make two or three limits, he said.

The two largest bass of the day were a pair 9-11s weighed by Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., and Rick Morris of Virginia Beach, Va. If 9-11 holds, they’d split the Carhartt Big Bass award worth $1,000, plus another $750 if they were wearing Carhartt apparel.

The leader’s 34-13 was Thursday’s entry in the event’s Berkley Heavyweight Award competition for a $500 bonus.

The full field of 100 Elite pros will return to the water Friday for the second of four days of competition. Fans who want to watch how the competition unfolds can come to the Zapata County Public Boat Ramp (3079 County Road, Zapata, TX 78076). The pros will leave the docks about 7:15 a.m. CT, and weigh their catches beginning at 3:15 p.m. CT. Starting at noon, the Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will showcase new boats, tackle, Rigid Industries LED lighting systems, vehicles and other equipment for fishing and boating. All Bassmaster events are free. will provide extensive coverage of the event all four days. Access to all content is free.

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