It is fair to say that Keith Combs has a love affair with Lake Conroe. A love and hate relationship sums up the state of emotions for Michael Iaconelli for the fishery set to host the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’s Sporting Goods, March 24-26.
Combs, a native Texan, twice won the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) on Conroe. Twice, Iaconelli finished right behind him in the final standings. The most famous of all happened in 2011. Combs and Iaconelli squared off in a sudden death fish-off after both anglers tied with 76 pounds, 12 ounces.
Love and hate aside, Iaconelli really likes Conroe for multiple reasons. Topping the list is the lake’s history of producing big bass, for him included.
“This Classic will bring an interesting dynamic into the mix,” he said. “If a guy is behind after a Day 1 or 2 then he can get right back in the hunt with just one big bass.”
Iaconelli should know about those game changers. He caught an 8-pound or better in all three of the TTBC events he fished. Those tournaments were held in October, and he believes the potential is there to break a Classic record.
“March in Texas? Are you kidding me?”
Think back to what happened in 2006 Classic on Lake Toho in Florida. Preston Clark caught a largemouth weighing 11 pounds, 10 ounces. Terry Scroggins came close to breaking the 10-pound mark.
“The potential for guys to catch at least one bass like that every day could happen on Conroe,” predicted Iaconelli.
That lines up with the historical statistics of the Toyota ShareLunker Program. Conroe consistently ranks in the top five lakes for producing entry category fish weighing at least 13 pounds or better.
That is a lot of lunker love for a 21,000-acre fishery. Iaconelli, fishing his 18th Classic, also believes size will matter on Conroe.
“It’s going to fish smaller than other Classic lakes,” he said. “I idled the entire lake, from one end to the other, in just three days.”
That happened during the 2003 Classic winner’s scouting trip to the lake in December.
“The main difference for me is going to be the location of the fish,” he explained. “On all my previous trips there it’s been October when we fished the TTBC.”
He believes the bass will be on the move, postspawn, and that gave him all the more reason to methodically and systematically scout the lake. For Iaconelli, that combines old school with new, as in map study and setting lots of waypoints on the GPS.
“When we go the bass will be migrating up and down the contour changes, so knowing the most subtle of bottom differences could be a huge key,” he said.
Look in Iaconelli’s boat at any tournament and you will find paper maps folded up and stashed behind the dashboard. Maps, old school as they are, might have a bigger role in this Classic, at least for Iaconelli.
“Look at Conroe from afar and you see a lake that looks enclosed by a gigantic seawall with docks,” he said. “But what makes it different is there are very specific and productive seawalls and docks.”
That visual description is largely accurate for the bottom one-half of the lake, at least south from the FM 1099 Bridge. Beyond that the lake shares its shoreline with Sam Houston National Forest. Things begin to look more like Sam Rayburn or even Toledo Bend, the farther north you travel.
You can pinpoint a single rock with big bass potential on the GPS. Marking landmarks like a boat dock is not an easy task. That is all the more reason why Iaconelli likes his maps and marker pens.
“Manmade cover, docks especially, could play a huge role since the bass on Conroe relate to them as normal cover, migration points,” he explained.
The mix of manmade cover to the south and undeveloped shoreline and natural cover to the north makes Iaconelli hopeful Conroe won’t fish as small as he expects.
“It is small by Classic standards, but the mix of types of bass habitat should help balance it all out,” he added.
Iaconelli’s greatest hope?
That would be not having Combs, a heavy favorite to win and native Texan, ahead of him in the standings and in contention to win. Either way, Iaconelli hopes history swings in his direction this time at Conroe.