FRISCO, Texas – When the final day of the 10th annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic began, Matt Herren held a slim 12-ounce lead over Bryan Thrift.
When the day was done, Thrift had closed the gap – but not enough to win.
Herren, an Elite Series pro from Alabama, had a three-day total of 51 pounds, 12 ounces, which was eight ounces more than Thrift. The victory netted Herren a $100,000 cash prize, a Nitro Z20 boat with dual Power-Poles, and bragging rights in one of the most prestigious bass fishing tournaments.
But most importantly, it got Herren his first professional level win in nine years (he previously won an FLW stop in 2007). He has never won a B.A.S.S. Elite Series event.
“Man, it’s incredible,” Herren said, after weighing a 17-4 limit on Sunday. “A lot of hard work goes into this, and there’s a lot of people who pay a big price to let me do what I do. They all know who they are … It’s amazing. You always wonder every day when you get up; you finish second, you finish third. It’s like ‘When? When is my time?’”
The top 15 anglers in the 2015 Bassmaster Elites Series and FLW Tour angler of the year standings were eligible to fish on Lake Ray Roberts in the TTBC, which is a benefit tournament for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Eight additional top-flight anglers were granted exemptions to fish in the event.
The star power on display in the 38-man field was not lost on Herren; a 14-year pro fishing in his fourth TTBC. But he brought some of his own expertise to the tournament, with five Bassmaster Classic berths and six Forrest Wood Cup appearances on his resume.
“These guys are too good to give anything away,” Herren said earlier in the week, while keeping secretive about his techniques on Ray Roberts. After Sunday’s win, he revealed that there wasn’t a heck of a lot of intricacy to his practices.
“Dude, I junk-fished the whole tournament,” he said with a smile. “The first day of practice on Tuesday, I figured out the big fish were up in the shallows and up in the willows. About mid-day on the second day of practice, we started losing a lot of water. They were draining Ray Roberts. So I started looking for someplace where the big ones would go.
“I got on a deal looking at cedar trees in the back of the drains. In Texas, they call the little channels that run up into those flats drains. Well, the last two or three trees before you got to the willows, the bigger females had pulled up right there.”
Bright sun was critical to his 19-plus pound limit on Friday, however, when Herren didn’t get the conditions he was looking for later in the TTBC, he had to adjust from the jigs he threw on Day 1.
“On Friday, I couldn’t get bit,” he said. “I started to recognize I’d have to run new water … So I scrounged up 15 pounds, from 11 o’clock on, around those cedar trees and those drains. Today, with the cloud cover, I knew I couldn’t catch them … I ran up to a bridge with a little bit of a shad spawn going on.”
He said he first lost a 5-pounder first thing in the morning, but then caught a 3-pounder, a 3-8, and a 2-plug on a square-bill DH Custom Lures 2.0.
“Then I had to run around some more, and I decided not to fight it, and just go fish,” Herren said. “I just kept it down, and fought it and fought it. And I caught 17 something pounds. I’d like to tell you I knew right where I was going, but I didn’t.
“With the conditions we had, with the water dropping, (it was difficult). But I love to fish shallow, visible water. If I’m in anything that I can see, I feel as I am as good as there is walking. That’s how I was brought up fishing, and it suited me here.”
Thrift, who hails from North Carolina and won the TTBC in 2012, kept steady pressure on Herren throughout the day. It was in the final minutes of Day 3 (at 3:07 p.m. precisely), that he lit into a fish that looked like it might clinch him a second TTBC victory.
That bass, caught only eight minutes before anglers had to stop fishing, weighed 3-12, and it allowed Thrift to cull up 1 ½ pounds. That left him tragically short – a mere eight ounces – of Herren.
Thrift’s bag on Sunday weighed 17-8, and he caught the majority of his bass flipping with a Damiki Knock Out.
“The last two days, that definitely was my go-to bait,” he said. “I was making as many casts as I can. I would have loved to win it again.”
The remainder of the Tundra 10 was composed of Luke Clausen, 47-8; Andy Morgan, 47-0; Dave Lefebre, 46-12; Aaron Martens, 46-8; Cody Meyer, 45-8; Kevin VanDam, 44-12; Chris Zaldain, 41-12; and Greg Hackney, 41-0.
Zaldain, an Elite Series pro from California and the leader after Day 1, caught a bass weighing 7-12 on Friday that was the heaviest of the tournament. It won him the Big Bass Award and its prize of a 2016 Toyota Tundra truck.
Morgan won the LEER Heavy Weight Award for the 22-0 pound bag he caught on Saturday. That was the highest single-day total caught by any of the pros in the three-day tournament, and it earned the FLW Tour stalwart a new LEER truck cap.
The Toyota Texas Fest (and the TTBC, which is part of that event), is a significant fund-raiser for the TPWD. In 10 years, it has contributed $2.5 million to the department, which has put the funds to use supporting youth fishing and urban outreach programs across Texas.