No doubt, Keith Combs is a rock star. A new member of Bassmaster’s ‘Century Club,’ the Huntington, Texas, native recently cranked Falcon’s rock ledges to produce over 111 pounds of bass, earning his first ever Elite win.
“It was all about finding the little key spots on the big spots with Side Imaging, managing those waypoints and then making sure my head was in the right place when I got one of the five or six bites I’d get each day,” says Combs.
Recently, those ‘little key spots’ were the corners of rock piles that dropped from six to 10 feet.
“With my Side Imaging set to 85 feet off each side of the boat, I noticed fish on these slight drops. Once the tournament started, I simply went back to my waypoints and that’s where I got my line-ups and my fish,” says Combs.
Although finding them was easy for Combs, getting the big females to bite—still energy-sapped from the spawn—was another story.
“Since I was targeting big post-spawn females, I knew I was only going to get five or six bites a day. That meant if I lost a fish it was going to cost me huge. So I concentrated on my waypoints and making key casts. If there were fish there and they wouldn’t bite I’d move and then come back two or three times later. The biggest challenge was just trying to keep my head right,” says Combs.
In pursuit of big bites, each day Combs travelled 20 miles south, making more five- and 10-mile runs as sun climbed higher, logging as many as 70 miles a day. “There was a lot of run time and not a lot of fishing time,” says Combs.
Although he logged nearly 350 waypoints during practice on his two Humminbird 1198 units, he kept them manageable by using different symbols to classify the spots, thus maximizing every second his crankbait was in the water.
“I used one symbol for rock ledges, one for isolated rock piles and another for gradual drops,” says Combs. “But it didn’t take long to figure out rock ledges were the real key,” says Combs. “The symbols made it easy for me to identify exactly where I needed to be.”
Once on potential money-winning micro-spots, Combs says boat control was key.
“I kept my Minn Kota pointed into winds up to 20 mph, positioning in the 20-foot range off the rock ledges, lining up my angles to crank over those 4-foot corner drops,“ says Combs. “The Fortex kept me right on the waypoints to put that crankbait on every mark. Lining up my angles was super important. If you didn’t, you just wouldn’t get bit.”
Although he experimented with matching the predominant forage, crawfish and tilapia, Combs thinks chartreuse blue got the most bites due to Falcon’s water stain.
“I caught 95% of my fish on the Strike King 6XD crankbait in chartreuse blue,” says Combs. “I fished the crank really aggressively, making sure every angle was right.”
When asked if he tweaked his electronics for the event, Combs shakes his head.
“Other than choosing the green palette for Side Imaging, I don’t tweak anything. For my eyes, I prefer the green color palette choice on the 1198. It really shows the shadows well. But I suggest fishermen play with the colors to see what looks best to them. Other than that, I run ‘em how they come out of the factory,” says Combs.
Everything said and done, Combs says his win on Falcon came down to finding big fish on small sections of very specific structure and making sure every cast was right over the top of it.
“I give a lot a credit to Side Imaging. Having this technology on my boat for the past five years has really helped me shine. Event after event I can find those small areas with fish like I never could before,” says Combs.
The third-year Elite Series pro says the Falcon win is a turning point in his career.
“Not only is it a huge win and a big payday, but the automatic berth in the next Bassmaster Classic is a huge sigh of relief. We stress about making it to ‘Big Show’ all year long. To get it done this early in the season, well, that’s huge,” says Combs. “Now I’m fishing for Angler of the Year or to win another event.”
At the end of Day Four, Combs weighed an impressive 20 fish for 111-05, edging out second place finisher Rick Clunn, who weighed an equally impressive 105-06 and was a serious contender in the exciting head-to-head, down to the wire finish.
Image courtesy Traditions Media