Normally this time of the year, Keith Combs would be criss-crossing the country fishing B.A.S.S. Elite series tournaments. Instead the Huntington resident and his wife, Jennifer, have spent the last two months crappie fishing on Lake Sam Rayburn.
“I was just thinking how crazy this is. This is the first time in 30 years I have not fished a tournament in April. Even when I was a kid we were always fishing a team tournament or whatever. It is strange, but you can’t do anything about it,” Combs said.
That is not to say Combs does not have competition while serving the state’s Covid-19 lockdown. Fishing waters and parking have come at a premium on Rayburn.
“You know that weekend Bob Sealy has his spring tournament every year, I say that is the weekend I am not going to Rayburn because all of the ramps are full. It has been that way every day. We haven’t parked in the parking lot in a month,” Combs said.
The B.A.S.S. Elite series started the year on the St. Johns River in February where Combs came in 28th before moving to Alabama’s Lake Guntersville for the Bassmaster Classic in March. Combs finished 14th fishing in his eighth Classic appearance. And then the season was put on hold. Three tournaments, Chickamauga, Eufaula and Santee Cooper, were cancelled because of concerns over the pandemic.
“I was already packed and retied and ready to go to Chickamauga and we got the word it was postponed,” Combs recalled.
Next up on the schedule is the Texas swing, the HUK Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River May 29-June 1 followed by the Toyota Texas Bassmaster Festival on Lake Fork June 5-9. At this point both events are still planned, but not certain.
“Nothing is firm. B.A.S.S. is keeping us in the loop the best they can, and they intend to finish the season and fish into the fall. If we don’t go to the Sabine, they are saying here is what the schedule looks like. If we don’t go to Fork, here is when it will be,” Combs said.
He added depending on how long the quarantine continues, B.A.S.S. has told the fishermen the season may last into November or December, but there will be a complete season.
There are a lot of questions that have to be answered before the tournaments are held in Texas. One of those, a self-quarantine for people coming from Louisiana to Texas, became moot last week when Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded that order. That would have impacted several Elite series anglers.
Also, if the events are held will fans be able to attend and will marshals and camera people be allowed on competitors boats?
B.A.S.S. Elite events are built around attracting crowds to a weigh-in event and fan expo. Not having a marshal in every boat is possible at events where the fishermen bring in their entire catch to the weigh-in. However, for integrity sake it may not be ideal.
The Fork tournament is a little different because it is also catch-and-release and requires a marshal on boat to record each fish. Fishermen are also allowed to bring in one fish over the slot limit to show the crowd during on-stage interviews.
Combs said not having a crowd at a weigh-in would be a loss for both fishermen and fans.
“It would definitely take away a big part of the fun for the angler. When you catch a big bag the first thing on your mind is to it take it back, put it on the scale and talk to the fans about it. If you win it is still going to be exciting, but I think you are going to miss something,” he explained.
South Carolina fisherman Brandon Cobb won last year’s tournament on Lake Fork with 20 bass weighing 114 pounds including an 11-1 big bass.
Combs won the tournament twice on Fork when it was the Toyota Texas Bass Tournament, the predecessor to this event. One of his wins came in late May and he won with 111 pounds. With this year’s June dates he is expecting more big daily weights than last year.
“That was some of best fishing I ever seen in my life, and for a lot of the other guys. I think it is a prime time to go to Fork for a tournament,” Combs said of the year he won with 111 pounds. “The big fish should be grouped up whether you are fishing deep or shallow. I definitely think we will see multiple guys weighing over 100 pounds.”
While realizing it is a high risk-big reward option, Combs is expecting to target the deeper water fish. He thinks that is his best option for bringing in the 30- or 40-pound daily weights it could take to win the event.
If the Toyota Texas Bassmaster Fest is held activities will be at the Sabine River Authority headquarter grounds. The full field will fish June 5-6, and then there will be a Fan Appreciation Day June 7 with the anglers being on the grounds giving seminars and more. The top 40 fishermen in the tournament standings will be back on the water June 8, with the top 10 finishing the championship round June 9.
The Toyota Texas Bassmaster Festival is an important tournament for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department because it provides nationwide publicity for the state’s bass fishing. Also the tournament’s naming sponsor, Gulf States Toyota, has donated $3.25 million to the department during the event for various fishing programs between 2007 and 2019.