LAGRANGE, Ga. — Zero.
By 1:30 p.m. Thursday, that’s how many bass Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas, believed he’d end up weighing in on the first day of the West Point Lake Battle, the fourth event of the Bassmaster Elite Series season. In six hours of casting, he had not had one bite.
Suddenly, “Things just started to roll,” he said.
Combs ended the day leading the tournament after weighing 15 pounds, 14 ounces. He was 4 ounces in front of Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala., who turned in 15-10. Behind Combs and Vinson was the 2013 Bassmaster Classic champ, Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., who was third with 14-2
“I have some sight fish, I had some flipping fish, I had some fish in the current, I had some cranking fish — and I ran all that stuff and didn’t catch any. I thought I wasn’t going to catch a fish today,” Combs said.
Fishless, he re-ran all the same water, trying all his different techniques again and again. His breakthrough was a largemouth off a spawning bed. Then he moved and was able to fill his five-fish limit with smaller spotted bass for about 7 pounds total, he estimated.
His day just got better and better. He saw a largemouth “cruising,” and made a cast to it.
“They don’t usually bite, but this one did. It was a 3 1/2. I caught my big one the same way,” he said, “but in a different place.”
His “big one” weighed 6 pounds, 9 ounces, and enabled him to cull another smaller spotted bass.
“It just was weird to go through all that stuff one time and not catch a fish, then come back to it again and whack them. I’d say I’m probably the luckiest guy in Georgia right now,” said Combs, who on March 24 won the Elite event on Falcon Lake in wire-to-wire fashion.
Vinson — who less than two weeks ago led the Ramada Quest Elite event for two days running at Bull Shoals Lake — said he’s fishing with confidence, and is tapping into his high comfort level at West Point Lake.
“Bull Shoals didn’t hurt my confidence, even though I fell as much as I did,” Vinson said, referring to his fall out of the (delete the word “the”) contention on Day 3 after his prime fishing spot filled with floating logs and debris.
“I’m building off Bull Shoals,” he said. “And here I’m on a lake I’ve spent a lot of time on.”
Vinson said he started his day on the areas and pattern as he’d planned and caught two largemouth, including his biggest of 4-14. But then the action stopped. He regrouped about 11 a.m.
“I finally realized that my primary pattern was a bust,” he said. “I went to another deal, totally different, and it worked out. Hopefully I’ve started to build a pattern that could work out.”
In fourth place was Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., with 13-5. Fifth place was claimed by Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., with 13-0.
The largest bass weighed Thursday was a 6-12. Caught by Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., it leads the Battle’s Carhartt Big Bass competition for $1,000 plus $500 if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing. Combs’ bag of 15-14 set the pace for the Berkley Heavyweight award of $500.
For many in the field of 100 pros, Day 1 of the Battle was a lot rougher. It took just 10-6 to get into the Top 12 in Thursday’s standings. Sixty-nine pros weighed five-fish limits.
The Elite pros are competing for $100,000, an instant-in for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and points that count toward the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title awarded at the end of the season.
The four-day event continues Friday, when the full field of 100 will return to West Point Lake out of LaGrange, Ga. The pros will launch at 6:40 a.m. each day from Pyne Road Park (4481 Roanoke Road, LaGrange, GA 30240). Beginning at 3:15 p.m., weigh-ins will be at the same location.
Fans are invited to watch. All Bassmaster events are free and open to the public.
Bassmaster.com will present live, streaming video of the weigh-ins, real-time leaderboards, blogs and catch reports from the water, video reports, daily results and much more.
The West Point Lake Battle will air on ESPN at 8-9 a.m. ET May 12 on The Bassmasters TV show.