After three days of fishing, Combs and Toyota Trucks pro Mike Iaconelli of New Jersey were tied with 76 pounds, 12 ounces. They returned to Lake Conroe in early November for a roughly 60-minute sudden death fish-off, with the first one to catch a 14-inch or better keeper verified by the TTBC judge in the boat to be the winner.
With 15 minutes remaining, Combs slammed his Nutter Shad colored Norman DD14 crankbait into a brushpile and connected. He said his mind was racing while reeling in the bass, whether to get the net or just boat-flip the fish. He chose the latter, and his heart was pounding as his judge called TTBC officials to listen as the fish was measured.
Combs beat 49 of the best pros in the three-day tournament that unified the PAA Tournament Series, Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour’s top 15 pros, along with defending champion Brian Snowden and four sponsor invitees. He won $100,000 and a new Legend boat with Evinrude outboard.
Combs had an idea of what he wanted to do after qualifying for the 2010 TTBC, and he honed that plan during this year’s pre-practice and tournament week practice periods. His favored style is to run ‘n gun, hitting key spots and moving on after 3-5 casts if a big bass doesn’t bite.
That may not work in every tournament and it’s something Combs probably will have to modify as he competes on the Elite Series in his sophomore season. But it worked to perfection for the TTBC on Conroe with his 300-plus waypoints and 50-stop tournament days.
“I really keyed on the main lake brushpiles and cover instead of going into the pockets or creeks,” Combs said. “I knew I could catch some fish in those areas but they weren’t what I wanted to key on. Nothing was extremely deep, either … probably from 4-9 feet, and a mix of old brush I knew had been there for a while and some new stuff. The older brush seemed to be the best ones.”
Combs struggled in the mornings, picking up a few keepers before seeing better results at midday and in the afternoon. On the final day, Iaconelli busted a 25-pound limit early and then struggled the rest of the day. Combs worked in reverse, going bananas in the final hour with a stunning flurry that propelled him into the tie and sudden death.
He threw a Norman DD14 crankbait in “Nutter Shad,” which has a bluish-green back, tinge of chartreuse on the side and red throat. It dives 12-14 feet on 10-pound test, which Combs said he was using and is most comfortable with.
With the crankbait’s ability to get deep, Combs slammed it into the brushy cover with a fast retrieve to garner reaction bites.
“I’d burn it through there without stopping and if it came through cleanly that usually was the best,” he said. “I probably lost 20 or more crankbaits during the tournament. Usually if I’m getting low and get hung up, I’ll move in and try to get it. But I found out if I did that (during the tournament), I’d never get a bite in there.
“I think the fish were in the top or just in front of the brush and if I moved the boat over it, they’d move away or get down in it. It had to be the perfect cast, coming through cleanly, and if I didn’t get a bite in a few casts I’d move on.”
Combs threw the crankbait on a 7-foot Power Tackle PGC170 glass rod. He said he also tried throwing a Carolina-rig a few times when his morning bite waned, but never got a bite and didn’t have as much confidence with it.
“I never lost a fish on that rod and if I had, that would have been the tournament,” he said. “The difference with the glass is you can feel the bite, but it’s forgiving enough to not pull the bait away from the fish.
“I just tried to fish as much water as possible. My (Yamaha) SHO performed flawlessly with as many stops as I made. That was as big as anything, being able to move around knowing it would get me there.”
Combs guides through the winter months in south Texas. Instead of resting on his successes this week, he’s on the water with clients.
“They booked some days at Falcon and I don’t see any reason to change our plans,” he said. “We’re going fishing on a great lake and you can’t beat that.”