Ironically, Keith Combs feels like a fish on a hook.
In the days since winning his second Toyota Texas Bass Classic, the Nolanville native has been frantically fighting for freedom to enjoy his victory while being yanked in multiple directions.
Unlike the 62 pounds of largemouth bass he reeled in to win the prestigious competition, at times, he struggles to keep his head above water.
But he would not want it any other way.
“This is the high point of my career,” Combs said of becoming the first angler to win a second TTBC championship. “It is just such a rarity in the sport. Usually, you win one time and whatever you did to succeed in that event, all of your competitors go out and do it next time.
“I’m just so fortunate to be able to pull it off twice.”
Combs sat atop the leaderboard for the entire three-day competition, pulling 62 pounds, 12 ounces of bass from Lake Conroe over the weekend to easily beat the second-place finisher by more than 12 pounds. In addition to the further cementing his status as one of the sport’s elite, Combs earned $100,000 in prize money, a Nitro fishing boat and a trophy.
So far, though, he has not been able to truly enjoy any of it.
After winning the tournament Sunday afternoon, Combs had a small, brief celebration with some friends before departing at 5 a.m. Monday for Tennessee, where he was required to fulfill a commitment to a sponsor.
“I actually just got the trophy out of the box for the first time for a photo shoot,” the 1994 Killeen High graduate said Wednesday.
“I’m looking forward to getting back home and getting to relax. I’ll go look at the articles on the Internet and the pictures to try and relive it a little bit because it was definitely a special time, but I just needed to race off.”
Combs hauled in the maximum limit of bass in each of the first two rounds, catching 24 pounds, 8 ounces and 23 pounds, 4 ounces on Friday and Saturday, respectively, to build a significant lead over the remainder of the field. The advantage never provided a sense of safety, though.
“Lake Conroe has some really huge bass,” Combs said. “There is the potential to go out and catch a 10-, 11- or 12-pound bass, and that could change the whole outlook of the tournament with just one fish. So, that is always in the back of your mind.
“The lead helps, but at the same time, everybody has their sights set on you.”
But nobody could catch Combs, who claimed his second TTBC win in three years after finishing first in 2011. Surprisingly, the same strategy responsible for Combs’ first title worked once again. All his favorite spots from 2011 yielded catches once again, and for some reason, nobody decided to follow his lead.
“Going into the event, I didn’t anticipate it going that smoothly,” Combs said. “I thought I’d have a lot of company in the areas I was targeting.”
With one tournament left on the schedule, the 2013 season proved the best of his career. In addition to his most recent win, Combs won the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Falcon Lake in March, finished fifth in the Elite Series Toyota Angler of the year point standings, qualified for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and earned over $200,000 in prize money.
“I’m just really not ready to let the season end,” he said. “I’ve got one more tournament to go, and, hopefully, it comes out in my favor, but even if it doesn’t I’m going to be ecstatic either way. It’s been a great year.”