Combs aims to hit .400 in TTBC

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James Overstreet
Keith Combs shoots for his fourth TTBC win in the event’s 10th anniversary edition.

FRISCO, Texas -- The media guide for the 10th annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic reveals thumbnail-size photographs of the 38 competing anglers accompanied by a short bio on each.

A quick glance at the entry for Keith Combs catches the eye for several reasons – 10 years on tour, more than $1.5 million in career earnings, six Bassmaster Classic qualifications, two entries in the FLW Forrest Wood Cup.

That’s all impressive, but perhaps what stands out most is that Combs has won the TTBC three times in its nine-year history. In baseball terms, he’s batting .333, which is a good enough lifetime average to get you in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. The blurb in the media guide even jokes that perhaps Combs should be referred to as “Mr. TTBC.”

But there’s no joke about his success in this event, which is among the most competitive in bass fishing. The top 15 pros in the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series Toyota Angler of the Year standings, as well as the top 15 in last year’s FLW Angler of the Year race, are competing in the TTBC on Lake Ray Roberts this year. They are joined by last year’s TTBC champion, Brent Ehrler, and seven exemptions who rank among the most renown names in professional angling.

And Combs, who hails from Huntington, Texas, has the most success of all of them in this event. Combine that with the fact he finished fourth in last week’s Elite event on Toledo Bend in Louisiana and the 40-year old seems to be in prime position to excel in the 10th annual TTBC.

But as Combs pointed out, he’s never won this event on this particular body of water. His wins in 2011 and 2013 came on Lake Conroe, and his 2014 victory was on Lake Fork. He also set a world-record weight for a three-day tour level event at Lake Fork in 2014 with a total of 110 pounds of bass.

Despite all that success, he’s not sure what to expect on Lake Ray Roberts, which is located an hour north of Dallas.

“(Being here) changes things a lot,” Combs said. “This is a lake I don’t have very much experience with. I had some familiar times with Conroe, but I didn’t really know much about Fork, and that worked out pretty good for me.

“Here, I think it’s going to be about getting two or so really big bites every day. But it’s going to be really random … I don’t think you’re going to see a guy pull up on a school and catch all 5-pounders like you would at Fork or someplace like that. I think you’ll have to catch a 2-pounder, a 3-pounder, and then get your 7-pounder.”

Variable conditions have made Lake Ray Roberts more difficult to read than usual, Combs said. A full moon, high water, colder than average temperatures, and rain earlier in the week may have changed traditional methods the pros might employ.

“It makes it a wild card,” he said. “Whoever can adjust to these conditions is probably going to prevail. We practiced during cloudy skies and wind, and now we’re going to have three days of sun, it looks like. And the water is dropping, too.

“So it can work in my favor. I don’t have a lot of history on this lake, but I’ve got 25 years of fishing on Texas lakes to draw from. It’s Fishing 101. It reminds me of some of the places I fished growing up, like Richland Chambers, and Lake Whitney. It’s a typical north Texas lake. And that’s pretty typical of them with not catching a whole bunch of big ones. But a kicker will go a long ways.”

So can Combs claim his fourth TTBC title in the 10 years of the event?

“The three wins were all really special,” he said. “I can remember the fish that sealed it up late on Conroe, then we had a fish-off one year on Conroe. And then Fork was amazing. I definitely remember those fish. But in those tournaments, I could do no wrong. It was great from start to finish … That’s what you have to do to win them.”

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