Heading to Houston

On Feb. 5, Houston will host an event some have come to know as “The Bassmaster Classic of Football.” Officially, it is Super Bowl LI.

I was fortunate to attend a Super Bowl game in the not too distant past, and I can assure you, it’s a pretty big deal for football fans. But so is another championship to be played out in Houston next spring: the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, which many refer to as the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.”

Only a city as vibrant and large (it’s the fourth most populous city in in the United States) as Houston can handle two such spectacular events in a six-week period.

Of course there’s a little hyperbole in those opening statements, but there’s no exaggeration in my prediction that the 2017 Classic in Houston, March 24-26, will be the biggest and best in the event’s 47-year history.

One Texan, Keith Combs of Huntington, is almost beside himself with excitement. A sixth-year veteran of the Bassmaster Elite Series, Combs was the closest challenger to Gerald Swindle for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title this season. Not only is Combs thrilled that the competition will be played out on Lake Conroe, where he has some winning history, but he’s also excited that his home state will finally host a Classic.

“I’m proud to have the Classic in Texas,” Combs said recently. “There are quite a few of us from Texas in the Elite Series. It’s been a long time coming for us to have a chance to fish in our home state.” (The only previous Classic in Texas was held in 1979 on Lake Texoma, on the state’s border with Oklahoma, and it was headquartered in Pottsboro.)

He notes that southeast Texas is a hotbed for bass fishing, and fans there are eager to see what some of the world’s best bass pros can do on their home fishery.

“No matter where I’ve gone since the Classic was announced, it’s all people want to talk to me about,” he adds. “Bass fishing is big out here. In high school fishing tournaments, we have over 500 teams competing. This region is just basically all about bass fishing. There might be standing room only at the weigh-ins.”

When I reminded him that weigh-in ceremonies will take place each afternoon in massive Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, he didn’t back down from the suggestion.

B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis is just as brazen, practically guaranteeing that total attendance at the Houston Classic — counting all those who attend the weigh-ins, takeoffs and Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods — will exceed 200,000. That’s almost double the 107,000 figure set earlier this year in Tulsa.

Of course, everything’s bigger in Texas, including the Outdoors Expo to be held in George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. With more than 300,000 square feet of exhibit space — largest in history — there will be plenty of room for those 200,000 fishing fans to spread out. Once again, numerous companies exhibiting there will be using the Classic Expo as the stage for introducing new boating and fishing products. You won’t want to miss the Expo.

Even more compelling, according to Combs and others, is the outstanding bass fishing Lake Conroe is capable of producing.

“Someone will catch a 10-pounder, and it won’t win big bass,” Combs predicted. “There might be multiple 10s. Someone will weigh-in a 32- or 34-pound bag [five-bass limit] one day, too. There’s no way the Classic will be won with less than 73 pounds, and it might push 80.” It should easily shatter Kevin VanDam’s Classic winning weight record of 69 pounds, 11 ounces, set at the Louisiana Delta in 2011.

Combs should know. He won Toyota Texas Bass Classic tournaments on Conroe in 2011 and 2013, once with a three-day winning weight of 78 pounds. And those tournaments were held in October, which is far from the optimal time for a “whackfest.” In late March, he said, “Anything can happen.”

If you’ve attended Bassmaster Classics in the past, you know what a memorable experience the event can be. If you haven’t been to one in the past, this is the year to go.