LUFKIN, Texas – Keith Combs wasn't completely convinced that his shallow bite was off, but today it took him less time to decide than yesterday. The decision proved crucial, as he put together another solid limit that lifted him to the lead position at the FLW Tour Open on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
"Yesterday, I had a deep deal going and a shallow deal going," Combs said. "The shallow deal didn’t pan out yesterday and I spent about half my day doing it. Today, I spent maybe 30 minutes doing it."
Combs said he's been frustrated because the shallow action that was red-hot just a few days ago in practice has so far proven unproductive during the tournament. Monday and Tuesday found him shaking off big fish with amazing regularity, but with that action presently absent, he's had to make his weight over offshore wood and brush in 12-25 feet.
"I had a tremendous day the last day of practice," Combs said. "I could have had a 25-pound day shallow. That just keeps me going back and checking a few key things. And I'll check a few things tomorrow because if it turns on, I think that's my best chance to really whack 'em. To win doing what I'm doing now (offshore), I'm just going to have to get fortunate."
Combs based that opinion on the slow, arduous fishing he's experienced the past two days.
"It was a grind for a long time," he said. "I was catching like one fish per spot. I caught my first one about 9:30 and had a limit by 11. I caught a good one around noon and knew I was going to make (the top-20 cut for day 3). I was a little bit more comfortable so I tried some different spots and ran a lot of new water."
Working in Combs' favor is mathematical consistency. His day-one weight of 16-12 landed him in fourth-place, but with others above him having a tougher day two, his second-round limit of 16-11 was sufficient to move him up three spots with the top weight of 33-7 and a leading margin of 2-1.
The Strike King 6XD that produced for him on day one yielded a single keeper today. Combs caught his other four on a Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Recon Worm. Color was important, so Combs kept that under wraps. He did say that his success hinged on staying mobile and resisting the temptation to camp out on any one spot.
"I'm just trying to hit as many spots as I can," he said. "I don't stay around and catch them. I'm a two to five casts kinda guy and I run to something else. Sometimes, if it's really slow, I may miss them, but by the end of the day, I've got something."
Big comeback for second-place Castledine
A slow day one yielded a small limit that weighed 11-10 for Todd Castledine, but the Texas pro roared back on day two with the biggest catch of the event – 19-12 – and gained 22 spots with a second-place total of 31-6.
Calling Rayburn his home lake, Castledine said he thought he had formulated a solid game plan during practice, but when day-one showed him otherwise, he knew he couldn't depend on the creek mouth pattern he had intended to fish. The recent rains that raised the water level a foot or so were likely to blame.
"I was on them before the tournament," Castledine said. "When it rained, I thought that might mess it up and I went and checked it out in practice. I thought everything was going to be alright but I knew it wasn't going to be good yesterday about halfway through the day.
"Today, I tried to go make it happen again. I thought that with the low weights yesterday they just didn't bite. When I catch one (where I was fishing) it's a good one but I can't catch a limit up there. I only had four at 2:30 today and two of them would have been embarrassing to weight in."
Realizing he had to do something quick before his time expired, Castledine moved to an offshore spot he had identified toward the end of day one and quickly caught a 3-pounder. With another promising spot 50 yards away, he made a final move and caught two of his best fish – including a 7-pound 2-ounce beauty that nearly gave him the slip. With a legitimate day-changer on the line, Castledine was a step away from taking drastic action when fate smiled and cut him a break.
"I set the hook and she had me wrapped up and we went tug-of-war for at least two minutes," he said. "Then she stopped moving. I pulled on her and pulled on her and nothing. I knew how big she was so I said 'Man, I'm going to pull this whole brush pile up.'
"I put the rod down on the deck, got a rope and I was going to get an anchor and pull the whole pile up. It took about three or four minutes to do all that with the rod still on the deck. I went back to the front of the boat, picked up the rod. She pulled, I pulled back on her and she swam out."
Castledine finished out his day on a third offshore spot where he bagged his second biggest bass just before he had to head back. On his shallow spot, he used a new Kicker Fish prototype swimbait on a swim jig. Offshore, he used Texas-rigged Kicker Fish High Tail Worm (redbug).
Marks holds at third
Contrary to some of his competitors, Strike King pro Phil Marks fared better by fishing shallow today. That stood in stark contrast to his full commitment to offshore spots a day earlier, but when his deep spots shut off, Marks moved shoreward and caught a limit of 14-2 that increased his total to 31-3 and kept him in the third-place spot he acquired on day one.
"It's a pattern I'm running out deep and I went to my first four or five spots and never saw a ball of shad, I didn't see any fish," Marks said. "I caught one little 14-incher but he just kind of fell in from the sky. About 10:30 I pulled up the trolling motor and went to Plan B. I had some shallow fish and I went there and caught a limit pretty quick. I was going to run back out deep, but then I decided I was going to sit there and practice and figure out where they're all at. I culled a few times, but I just a bunch of 2 ¾-pounders today and just tried to stay as high as I could."
Marks caught four of his fish on a Strike King KVD 1.0 squarebill crankbait in summer sexy shad and the fifth bit a chartreuse/white Strike King spinnerbait.
"I was targeting clumps of grass with sand around them," he said. "I think it would have been better if we had more wind. There wasn't a lot of wind, so I have a lot of short bites on the spinnerbait. I probably caught 25 keepers in that last two hours and I feel like I have them pretty well pegged if I need to go back there again."
Kenney scrambles, slips to fourth
Day-one leader J.T. Kenney returned to the offshore spots that produced his 19-pound, 6-ounce bag, but found them practically barren. He switched gears and went to a shallow pattern that produced 11-7. With a two-day total of 30-13, he slipped three spots to fourth.
"I fished deep until like 10:30 and never had a bite but I almost knew I wasn't going to because I got out there on those spots and there was no bait on those spots anymore," Kenney said. "I went to the bank and caught three flipping. I fished another two hours and never had another bite so I went back deep and the fish were there, the bait was there and I caught quite a few in the afternoon so it must be a timing deal."
Kenney caught his shallow fish on a Texas-rigged plastics anchored by a 1 ½-ounce Reins tungsten weight. Offshore, he used a mix of moving baits and plastics.
Herren improves to fifth
Matt Herren, of Trussville, Ala., placed sixth on day one with 14-13 and gained one spot to fifth with a second-day limit of 15-11, which boosted his total to 30-8. Herren caught most of his fish shallow and getting things rolling quickly enabled him to expand outward.
"I'm dialing in a little better every day," he said. "I'm able to catch a few fish early and that's freeing me up to run the pattern and look for more stuff. I added a little more to my arsenal today. I'm having a good time and fishing like I like to fish."
Herren caught his fish in 8-12 feet of water. He said he used a mix of moving baits and plastics, but bait choice was not the key factor.
"It's not what I'm throwing, it's where I'm throwing it," he said. "It's kind of a combination of three or four things. It's the right depth, the right cover, the right area. It all adds up and when you find it, they're there."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the FLW Tour Open event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir:
6th: Mike Surman, of Boca Raton, Fla., 29-15
7th: Jacob Wheeler, of Indianapolis, Ind., 29-12
8th: Jason Wells, of Center, Texas, 29-2
9th: John Cox, of Debary, Fla., 28-4
10th: Darrel Davis, of Dover, Fla., 27-14
Lamonte Lloyd earned Big Bass honors for his 7-pound, 11-ounce largemouth
Farris drops key fish but retains co-angler lead
Clint Farris had "one of those days" yesterday and today, but he'd probably rather forget the day-two version. After posting a day-one limit of 16-2, which included an 8-11 that stands as the event's largest fish so far, the Joshua, Texas co-angler found just four keepers for 6-1. Fortunately, his strong opening effort put him far enough ahead that he maintained his lead with a total weight of 22-3.
"It was really slow and I didn't catch my first keeper until around 10 o'clock," Farris said. "I struggled, broke off two fish, jumped one off and didn't execute. If you don't execute, that's why everybody catches up to you. At least I'm blessed enough to get another day to try and execute tomorrow."
Farris caught his day-two bass on a Texas-rigged worm fished amid lily pads and moss. Tangling with the vegetation is what robbed him of several key fish.
Darrel Denton, of Georgetown, Texas took second with 20-8, while Jeff Gengler, of Fort Collins, Co. went to third with 19-11. Ben Todd, of Pierson, Fla. placed fourth with 19-11 and Alfred Williams, of Jackson, Miss., was fifth with 19-5.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 co-angler leaders at the FLW Tour Open event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir:
6th: Wilson Burton, of Groves, Texas, 19-2
7th: Tommy Mendoza, of Lake Charles, La., 18-15
8th: Scott Darragh, of Midlothian, Texas, 16-14
9th: Gregg Swindle, of Katy, Texas, 16-14
10th: Corbett Ross, of Port Neches, Texas, 16-1
Day three of the FLW Tour Open event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir continues at Saturday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 7:30 a.m. (Central) at Cassels-Boykin County Park located at FM Road 3123 (Off State Hwy 147) in Zavalla, Texas.