BASS Falcon Lake Baits, Gear & Patterns

Keith Combs Wins BASS Falcon Lake

How big of a role did Keith Combs' vast experience on Falcon Lake play in his Bassmaster Elite Series victory there? It almost can't be overstated. "It was probably the only reason I was able to catch them the way I did," said the Huntington, Texas resident who spends much of the winter season guiding on the border impoundment. "Say if I went to Guntersville, which I've been to a few times, and pulled up on a ledge and fished it three to five times without catching anything, I'm going to scratch that ledge off my hit list. "At Falcon, there's 10 to 15 really good holes that I knew I had to have patience with - I knew the fish had to eventually show up. The place where I caught the bulk of my big fish I hit three different times in practice and caught one fish. But I made the decision to start there the first day, and it was on." The 37-year-old achieved his initial Elite Series victory in wire-to-wire fashion and broke the century mark with more than 11 pounds to spare. His lead over a hard-charging Rick Clunn had dwindled to just a pound going into the wind-delayed final day, but he caught a 28-02 sack to prevail by nearly 6 pounds with a 111-05 aggregate. It was his third significant triumph in his home state in the past several years, following a PAA Tournament Series victory at Tawakoni and a Toyota Texas Bass Classic win at Conroe. It gained him an early berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic at Guntersville. The standard 2 1/2 days that Elite competitors are permitted for practice were basically useless for Combs. "That tournament, I'd have been okay going into it without practice," he said. "When we got there everybody was trying to fish ledges and the first day I passed right by six or seven spots because I didn't want to pull in and catch a fish in front of somebody. You can find spots out there where you can sit there every day and catch them. "I drove around a lot and checked some of the long-shot spots and the more isolated stuff that people probably wouldn't find. Where I ended up fishing (in the tournament), though, were some of the best community holes - the places that look good on a map chip. Having that history, I knew where the exact waypoints were where I'd smashed them before. That was really the only reason I could catch them like that."

Competition:

Combs' day-1 bag was 4 pounds better than anyone else in the 100-angler field could manage, and he pushed his advantage to nearly 7 1/2 pounds the following day. He incurred a mechanical issue on day 3, however, which cut into his fishing time and forced him to spend the latter part of the day casting out of the boat of fellow competitor Clark Reehm. He picked up his fifth fish while aboard Reehm's vessel and he needed that one to stay in the top spot as Clunn came in with a tournament-best 36-14 stringer to take away all but a pound of his lead. The final round was postponed for a day due to winds that blew at a sustained 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 45. The postponement undoubtedly benefited him much more than Clunn, as the latter was working a partially protected area near the launch site and likely could've caught another big bag in spite of the conditions. When the Top 12 finally got back on the water on Monday, Combs had an early flurry and surpassed the 20-pound mark by about 9:30. He caught the fish that may have put him over the top - a 7 1/2-pounder - with just 10 minutes remaining in the day.

Winning Pattern:

One area near the dam at the south end of the lake produced nine of the fish that Combs took to the stage. The other 11 came from various places that were scattered all over the venue. "I had a milk run of about 15 spots that were all similar - underwater ledges with rock that quickly dropped off into 6 to 10 feet," he said. "Most of them were 5 to 8 miles apart." The dam area produced three weigh-in fish on day 1, none on day 2, two on day 3 and four on day 4. "The first and the third day I caught them off the exact same spot, but where I caught them (on day 4) was about a half-mile away on another ledge. The area hadn't been real consistent (during the winter) because of the low flow of water coming through. In my opinion, what makes that area good is when they're pulling water, the fish gravitate toward it. "When they're not pulling water, it scatters them out. Some might be on top, some might be suspended and some might be out deep, and you can't pattern them." His Humminbird electronics units with the Side Imaging feature played a huge role. He didn't look for fish, but rather the cover on which they were holding. "I very seldom look for fish on the graph at Falcon because there's so many species that you really don't know what you're looking at. The tilapia and the catfish are thick in that place. "I just look for the features and fish them. It can be too hard to interpret exactly what's there. Sometimes (the bass) are on isolated rockpiles, but this time they were on the ledges and there might be only one corner that has the right vertical break, and sometimes it might be on the shallower side of the point." Seventeen of his weigh-in fish bit a Strike King 6XD crankbait. Two fell for a big worm and the other was enticed by a creature bait on a Carolina rig. "Most of the time I was burning the crankbait as hard as I could. I think that was the key - it was a reaction deal."

Winning Gear:

Cranking gear: 7' medium-action fiberglass Power Tackle PGC170 rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, Strike King 6XD (chartreuse with powder-blue back). The creature bait for his Carolina rig was a Strike King Rage Hawg (green-pumpkin). His worm was an unnamed 10-incher (plum).

Main factor: "It was definitely spending lots and lots of time and gaining experience out there."

Performance edge: "My two Humminbird 1198s with Side Imaging, for sure. Without them, I would've just been kind of throwing my bait out there."

Falcon Lake Elite Series Winning Pattern Bassfan 3/27/13 (John Johnson)

Rick Clunn's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Rick Clunn was in 79th place after day 1, then made huge moves up the standings sheet on each of the next 2 days with monstrous sacks. His day-3 bag was the best of the tournament and he likely would've captured his first tour-level victory since 2001 if he hadn't come in two fish short of a limit on opening day, or if Combs hadn't caught a 7 1/2-pounder in the closing minutes of day 4. His failure to limit out on day 1 was not due to execution issues. Rather, he hadn't yet completely figured out what was going on in his best area, which was just a short boat ride from the launch in Zapata, Texas. While most of the field was catching post-spawn fish that were headed from shallow water to the depths, he was on a horde of pre-spawners moving in the opposite direction. "When I weighed in on day 2, guys were looking in my bag and saying, 'Dang, yours don't look like they've spawned,''' he said. "They must've been moving up on this last full moon and they might've been part of the last wave (of the year). The majority of the big ones all came off one spot and nobody else was even attempting to fish it." He had to relocate the fish several times throughout the event. "One thing to remember at this time of year when you're catching on structure: If the fish are fat, they're going to leave you. If they're skinny, they're coming to you and that's where you need to stay." It wasn't until about 1:30 on day 1, without a single fish in his livewell, that he realized exactly what he had. He pulled a 7-pounder and a 3 from the deep end of the point with a big crankbait, and then moved up higher and caught another keeper on a square-bill. He tried the deeper stuff again on day 2, to no avail. The 92-plus pounds he took to the stage over the final 3 days all came from the top of the point. "There was a bush here and a bush there, and that's where they were setting up to try to spawn," he said. "I never did catch another one out there deep, but that was how I'd found the spot (in practice)." His retrieve of the square-bill was quite specific. "The key was you had to burn it into the bush and then stop it, then burn it another 5 feet and stop it again, and then do the same thing again. Most of them hit it on that second stop. If they hit it in the bush, you just had to try to fight them out of it." He said the front that moved in and brought the violent winds that caused the postponement of day 4 made things much more difficult once the final round finally got under way on Monday. The water visibility had gone from about a foot to perhaps an inch. "I knew anything I caught before noon was going to be a bonus. The wind had died and everything finally settled at 1 o'clock when (the visibility) got back to about 6 inches. "I just ran out of time. If that had all happened by noon like I was hoping it would, I would've won it."

Cranking gear: 7' medium-action fiberglass Wright & McGill Rick Clunn Signature Series rod, inshore saltwater reel (6.2:1 ratio), 17-pound XL monofilament line, Luck-E-Strike Series Series 3 crankbait (copper green shad). "That's a bream color and it's good anytime around the spawn," he said of the bait. "Fish that are spawning hate bream." He replaced the stock hooks on his square-bill with 1/0 extra-strong Eagle Claw trebles to prevent bending while wrestling with giant fish in brush. "I would've used a TroKar, but they don't make a hook like that yet," he said. The larger bait that produced his first two fish of the tournament and with which he found his primary area during practice was a Luck-E-Strike Freak. He said he pulled off his fish when he had 34 pounds and some change on day 3 and began working some perimeter stuff with a jig and shaking off the bites. One fish wouldn't come unstuck - an 8-plus-pounder that resulted in a 2-pound cull.

Main factor: "Having that spot to myself and being able to make those transitions along with the fish."

Performance edge: "That glass rod is just a miracle rod for that type of fishing - it does things no other rod can do. It just hooks the fish and fights them so well. Also the Power-Poles because I could move here and move and stop and pick the place apart. I'd have won at least six more events if I'd had them my whole career. You can do so much more fishing."

Falcon Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 3/27/13 (John Johnson)

John Crew's Pattern, Baits & Gear

John Crews put together 3 stellar days en route to his best finish in 3 years. A lackluster day 2, however, prevented him from seriously contending for the crown. He split his time between shallow and deep-water haunts, where he did his damage with a crankbait and a flipping stick, respectively. "I was just flipping flooded mesquite trees and I caught them from 3 feet (deep) down to 10 feet," he said. "The offshore stuff was in about 14 to 16 feet of water. "I spent about 60 or 70 percent of my practice time offshore and I found three places that I caught fish off of out of all those hours of idling around."

Cranking gear: 7'8" medium-heavy Pinnacle Perfecta cranking rod, Pinnacle Optimus LTE casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon line, Spro Little John DD (root beer/chartreuse).

Flipping gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Pinnacle Perfecta flipping stick, same reel (7.3:1 ratio), 25-pound Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon, 1/4- or 5/16-ounce unnamed tungsten weight, 3/0 Gamakatsu Heavy Cover worm hook, Missile Baits Missile Craw (green-pumpkin/red or superbug). He flipped the green-pumpkin/red bait under bright skies and superbug when the sun was obscured by clouds. He caught two weigh-in fish on a Missile Baits Tomahawk worm (melon cinnamon purple).

Main factor: "Figuring out on the first day that they were really eating the Missile Craw. I didn't need to go around and shake off a hundred fish."

Performance edge: "I'd have to say my Bass Cat boat. (On day 4) I had all the confidence in the world to fly 20 miles down the lake and then all the way back in the last hour and 45 minutes."

Falcon Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 3/27/13 (John Johnson)

Josh Bertrand's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Josh Bertrand, a rookie from Arizona, achieved a single-digit finish in just his second Elite Series event. He spent the vast majority of his time away from the banks. "I pretty much just fished structure," he said. "I had one real long point with a hard break on the end of it, but the fish were up on top of it. The flat part had isolated trees, and some post-spawn fish were hanging in those trees in about 9 or 10 feet of water. "Those fish were coming from the back of a creek and stopping on their way out to deeper water. On the first 3 days I totally beat up an area about the size of a basketball court, and then (on day 4) I expanded a little farther. I found another set of trees about 200 feet up the point and I caught all five of my fish on it." He alternated between a crankbait and a Carolina rig.

Cranking gear: 7'9" medium-action Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Series rod, Abu Garcia Revo Winch casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), 12-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, Spro Little John DD (citrus shad).

Carolina rig gear: 7'3" Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Series rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel (7:1 ratio), 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon (main line and 2' leader), 1-ounce XPS tungsten weigh, red tungsten bead, barrel swivel, 6/0 Gamakatsu SuperLine EWG hook, 7" Yamamoto Senko (green-pumpkin/purple/green) or 10" Berkley Power Worm (plum).

Main factor: "Sticking to that one area."

Performance edge: "We had some rough water on a couple of days and my Nitro/Mercury got me there and back. My Navionics chip was real important, too."

Falcon Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 3/27/13 (John Johnson)

Cliff Prince's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Cliff Prince was another high finisher who went with a deep/shallow combo attack. He had an offshore spot near the dam that he worked each morning, then he spent the rest of the day flipping trees. "My first spot was maybe three-quarters of a mile from the dam, and then when I turned around and started back, I'd flip whatever looked good along the way," he said. "Some days I caught them all the way back up near the ramp and other places were a lot closer to where I was catching the deep fish. I tried not to flip the same stuff 2 days in a row." He boated a 9-06 brute on day 2 that kept him in contention at the midway point. "Without that, I would've been like a lot of other people and had 14 or 15 pounds. Getting one like that makes up a lot of ground." His second-biggest fish of the event was an 8-04 that took a spinnerbait over a rockpile on the final day.

Flipping gear: 7'8" extra-heavy Duckett Fishing White Ice Terry Scroggins Signature Series rod, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 60-pound Seaguar Kanzen braided or 25-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce unnamed tungsten weight, 5/0 Owner Straight Shank Wide Gap hook, Yum Wooly Bug or Yum Vibra King tube (green-pumpkin).

Cranking gear: 7'3" medium-action Duckett Fishing White Ice cranking rod, same reel, 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, Bomber Fat Free Shad (sexy shad).

Spinnerbait gear: 7'1" medium-action Duckett Fishing White Ice rod, same reel, 17-pound Seaguar Senshi monofilament line, 1/2-ounce Booyah double willow-leaf spinnerbait (white/chartreuse).

Main factor: "Just keeping a positive attitude about what I was doing and getting some really good bites every day. I made good decisions and I had some idea what it would take to get bit."

Performance edge: "I used good line. I didn't have any issues with breaking fish off and I think that was because of the line I was using."

Falcon Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 3/27/13 (John Johnson)