Elite pros always surprise you

In this first-ever Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Lake Travis, expectations were low after three days of practice. In a random survey at the anglers' meeting Wednesdayafternoon, expectations were for a winning weight between 50 and 60 pounds.
"I don't think there will be one 20-pound bag caught this week," said one Elite Series pro, who has competed here on the FLW circuit in previous years. "And I think the winning weight will be 52 pounds."
Granted, that was on the low end, but not by much when compared with other predictions. So with four anglers catching over 60 pounds, and five bags over 20 pounds this week, Brett Hite's words of caution Wednesday proved right on target.
"These guys always surprise you," Hite said.
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Benton: 'It would mean the world'

Drew Benton is a half-hour away from his first Bassmaster Elite Series win. The Panama City, Fla., angler won the first tour level tournament he competed in - an FLW event at Lake Okeechobee in 2013 - when he was 24 years old.

Benton turned 30 on May 20. His previous Elite Series best of 4th place at Florida's St. Johns River came during his 2016 Rookie of the Year season.

"I won my first ever tour event, that was with FLW," Benton said Saturday. "I didn't take it for granted. But I didn't realize how hard it is to win one of these. It would mean the world to me. You have to put every ounce of your heart and soul into this to win."

Benton said that before learning he'd been assessed a 15-minute penalty for the start of today's final, and before knowing the stormy weather he would face. His secondary pattern this week had come during bright sunshine.

If he closes out this one, it will definitely mean the world to him.

Remember Elam's late lunker

Drew Benton started with a 2-pound, 10-ounce lead over second-place Jacob Wheeler. With 15-13 so far, Benton has increased his lead to 3-6.

However, no lead is safe at Lake Travis, especially today, where Keith Combs has topped the 20-pound mark and five other anglers are over 15 pounds now.

The ultimate reminder that anything is possible is James Elam's 9-pound, 2-ounce bass on Day 2. It was caught on his last cast of the day. Texas Fest certainly could be decided on a last cast today.

Results prove favorable conditions

As we approach the noon hour, there have already been three bags over 15 pounds registered on the scoreboard. And that's with only 12 anglers competing.

Yesterday there were five bags of 15 pounds or more with 50 anglers on the water. The heavily overcast skies and rain are obviously having a positive effect.

Keith Combs tops the list so far today with 18-10. Brent Chapman has 15-6 and Cliff Pace has 15-5.

Chapman making a comeback

Brent Chapman added a 3-pound, 1-ounce bass at 11:33 a.m. to give him 15-6 on the day and keep him in contention. More importantly, Chapman will leave this event ranked No. 1 in Angler of the Year points.

It's good to see him back up there. The 45-year-old Lake Quivira, Kansas, pro has been in a long slump since his Toyota Angler of the Year title in 2012. Beginning in 2013, he finished 19th, 52nd, 56th, 59th and 63rd in the AOY standings, a seemingly inexplicable decline.

"I told myself this year I'm going back to basics," Chapman said yesterday. "I'm doing what I like to do. When I saw that dirty water up the river at Lake Travis, I knew where I was fishing. It's what I'm confident in."

Chapman's previous finishes this season were 19th at Lake Martin, 29th at Grand Lake and 9th at Kentucky Lake.

Combs: "Anything is possible"

Keith Combs added his third 4-pounder of the day at 11:14 a.m., giving him 18-10 and putting him within four pounds of the lead. No one was more confident than Combs after yesterday's weigh-in. When he informed that he was 10 pounds, 10 ounces behind leader Drew Benton, Combs said, "Anything is possible."

Combs is targeting some of the deep brush that grew in Lake Travis when it went through the drought. He's cranking a Strike King 10XD primarily.

"I really feel like the brush positions them," Combs said. "The brush is 30 feet deep, and that's how deep I'm fishing."

Pace with a shot across the bow

If you didn't think this was going to be a Top 12 shootout, Cliff Pace just changed your mind. The heavily overcast, rainy conditions have kept boat traffic down and spurred big bass to bite, none bigger so far than the 8-pound, 1-ounce largemouth Pace landed at 10:25.

"You've just got to keep grinding, man. That's what this lake is about," said Pace.

Pace's other four bass in his 13-8 limit weigh 1-4, 1-5, 1-6 and 1-8. In other words, he's got plenty of room to move up.

Smallest limit of the week?

Of course, there's emphasis on the heaviest 5-bass limit in any bass tournament. Lake Travis has produced four 20-pound bags the first three days, with Ray Hanselman's 21-15 on Day 1 topping the list.

But as further proof of Brandon Palaniuk's quote about the fine line between 6 pounds and 26 pounds on Lake Travis, there's this: The lightest 5-bass limit caught this week belongs to Cliff Prince, who had five 14-inch keepers that weighed a total of 6 pounds even on Day 1. The second-lightest limit was Matt Lee's 6-5 on Day 1.

Few have been immune to a light limit on Lake Travis. Gerald Swindle had five weighing 7-1 yesterday, and Kelly Jordon had a limit of 7-5.

Wheeler's been a fish-catching machine

Jacob Wheeler has apparently changed tactics a bit today, looking for quality instead of quantity. But if this tournament were decided strictly by number of fish caught, Wheeler would be running away with it.

Wheeler estimated he caught 75 fish yesterday, and according to photographer Gettys Brannon, that's a conservative number.

"On three casts I caught six bass," said Wheeler, referring to three straight doubles. "I caught catfish, Guadalupe bass, crappie, white bass."

The crappie was a good one - 14 inches long - and it came at a depth of 42 feet. That's an indication of the wide range of depths that Wheeler is fishing - from the surface to 40-plus feet.

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Wheeler lands a 5-7

Jacob Wheeler lamented the fact that he was able to cull a 3-pound bass on Friday, but didn't even catch one that big on Saturday. But he was confident he'd be able to catch one today. He's done that already with a 5-pound, 7-ounce bass, which tops the 5-1, his previous best of the tournament.

And he's just getting started, apparently. After adding a 2-9, Wheeler looked over at photographer Gettys Brannon, smiled and said, "They're going to have to catch 'em today."

Wheeler is catching his fish on a Whopper Plopper.

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