LAKE FORK — With two firsts, a third and a fourth, Huntington pro Keith Combs has owned the Texas Toyota Bass Classic since it went to an individual format in 2009.
Of course, all those finishes came on Lake Conroe. This year the tournament returns to Lake Fork for a three-day run Friday through Sunday where Combs will be competing against 49 of the top touring pros for the Professional Anglers Association championship.
Coming back to Lake Fork after a five-year absence and with a different format than when it was last here, Combs said there are no favorites going in.
“I think it is anybody’s tournament. It is hard to pick someone out,” he said.
The tournament field consists of fishermen from the BASS Elite Series, FLW and the PAA’s own tournament circuit based on angler of the year points. The tournament field has five fishermen from the current Elite Series angler of the year Top 10 and eight from the Walmart FLW Tour’s AOY Top 10.
In all, the field has a total of $64 million in prize earnings and 235 tournament wins, including Jacob Powrosnik’s Bassmaster Elite Series win Sunday on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Since fishing his first BASS tournament in 2008, Combs has finished in the money 32 of 40 times out. He has earned $439,000. He has won once, on Falcon Lake in 2013, and qualified for three Classics. He also has won $432,000 in FLW Tour events since 2001.
Although the 39-year-old has lived in East Texas the past four years, Combs doesn’t have any special insight into Lake Fork. In fact, the last time he really fished the lake was when he was in high school.
“I came to the lake three times to scout last winter, but it was real cold, and I hardly did any fishing. I bet I didn’t cast a hundred times,” Combs said.
Lack of familiarity isn’t an issue for today’s pro bass fishermen. Armed with a skill set from fishing all types of water and with modern electronics they can quickly adapt to new waters and changing conditions.
In the case of Fork this week, Combs suspects the tournament is going to be won with post-spawn bass.
“I think it is primarily going to be post-spawn bass. At Toledo Bend some bass had spawned, but hardly any had moved into their summer holes. With Lake Fork being farther north, I expect it to be the same there,” he said.
Combs added he expects fishermen to be looking for fish that have moved off the shore, but not all the way back into extremely deep water. He said that should mean some big daily totals.
“Fork has big fish potential and that is the stuff I like. It was like when I was guiding on Amistad. I was targeting 6- to 8-pound fish for my customers. Fork has that kind of potential,” he said.
The one thing that could hurt weights a little, Combs said, is rain, and that is in the forecast for both Friday and Saturday.
Combs also said he looks forward to the TTBC because unlike BASS and FLW tour events when fishermen are competing as much for points toward season-ending championship tournaments as they are for the winning cash, they can through caution to the wind.
“This is a big money tournament. We aren’t fishing for points or anything. You can go out there and fish, and if you bomb, there is nothing on the line,” he said. He won last year’s tournament by 12.5 pounds.
The full field will compete the first two days. Only the top 10 fishermen will be on the water Sunday competing for the $150,000 first-place prize package.
The TTBC benefits several Texas Parks and Wildlife Department programs including the Neighborhood Fishin’ Program and the State-Fish Art Contest.
The tournament’s launch and weigh-in will be at the Sabine River Authority headquarters off Texas Highway 154. The launch will be from 6 to 8 a.m. daily and is the only free activity.
Gates open at noon Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Weigh-in is at 5 p.m. the first two days and 4 p.m. Sunday.
Daily admission is $15 in advance or $25 at the gate for those older than 18. Those 17 and under will be admitted free with an adult. Admission gains access to a number of outdoor activities, Toyota and Yamaha test tracks, the weigh-in and concerts featuring Pat Green on Friday, Little Big Town on Saturday and Justin Moore on Sunday. Friday and Saturday’s concerts will follow the weigh-in. Sunday’s will precede the final weigh-in.
Advance tickets are for sale at participating Brookshire’s stores, Academy Sports + Outdoors and area Toyota dealers.
For more information go online to www.toyotatexasbass classic.com.
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