Combs overcomes early obstacles to earn AOY ticket

Texas’ Keith Combs has an impressive resume with more than $960,000 in earnings and a 78 percent in-the-money ratio. He’s won two events, including the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs Lake.

He placed second in AOY points in 2016 and was ninth last year.

When he shows up for a Bassmaster Elite Series event, he means business.

But this year, things derailed early — and he was on the outside looking in until the last regular-season event, when he moved from 60th to 46th in the points to eek into the 2018 AOY event.

“It started out bad, that’s the bottom line,” Combs said of his 2018 season.

The season opener at Lake Martin just wasn’t in his wheelhouse, but when he arrived for practice he was pleasantly surprised. He was confident he would bag valuable AOY points even though the fishery didn’t fit his style.

Then he lost two fish — a 3-pounder and a 2 1/2-pound bass — on a lake where there’s not a lot of make-up room.

“They weren’t game changers, but they were points changers,” Combs said. “Those two fish that came off cost me 30 points.”

Instead of salvaging a tournament, he finished 98th putting him behind early.

Grand Lake, a fishery he loves, turned out to be pretty much a repeat. After a decent practice, he lost a 6-pounder and a 3-pounder on the second day of the event.

“I don’t know what happened,” Combs said. “They just came off.”

The loss couldn’t be made up, and he closed out the event in 87th.

So he stopped looking at the AOY race, choosing instead to focus on fishing hard and making up ground.

A month later, the seven-year Elite Series veteran put in a 30th-place performance on Kentucky Lake.

And then he had a breakout performance at Texas Fest, logging a fourth-place finish. Combs said the event shaped up to be the kind of tournament at which he excels.

“The weights weren’t huge, but for Travis it was a slug fest,” Combs said. “There’s a certain kind of tournament I excel at fishing, and that’s it.”

The top five finish moved him into 55th in terms of AOY points and infused him with fresh enthusiasm.

“That was one of the ones that got me back in there,” Combs said. “You’re back in it; you kind of get rejuvenated.

“It was a big deal.”

The celebration was short lived, with the Sabine River stop ending with an 85th-place finish.

That was the story of the season.

“It was up and down,” Combs said. “One good one; one bad one. A good one, and then a bad one.”

It was a season the likes of which he hadn’t had to contend.

“A bad (finish) doesn’t scare me,” Combs said. “But I usually only have one bad one a year — until this year.”

He redeemed himself a bit at the Mississippi River before faltering again on Lake Oahe, but he was confident going into the final two events. He was sitting in 60th in the points, so two good finishes would have been huge.