Keith Combs fought off the frustration.
He would’ve preferred wrestling fish into his boat, but for five hours Monday the fish had left his line in the Falcon Lake alone.
“I tried to have fun with it,” said Combs, a 1994 Killeen High School graduate. “It’s the final day of a Bassmaster Elite series (tournament), you’re in the lead, the camera’s on you, the eyes are on you. I really tried to have fun with the day, but at some point, frustration kind of sets in.
“You go to your best places and you don’t get bites and you know all you’re looking for is one or two good fish. You’re thinking, ‘Why can’t I get on my game.’ You’re working hard for them, you just can’t make it happen. ... You can only take so much.”
With the tournament day winding down, Combs drove his boat 25 miles back toward his final fishing hole, a small spot just a little ways from the weigh-in tent. It’s not a spot where he can spend the day. He’s never caught a boat-load of fish there, but he’d always managed to get one or two keepers. And trying to hold off Bassmaster legend Rick Clunn, Combs figured his catch was about six pounds too light.
With his line back in the water, Combs thought he had time enough for one more cast. Just as soon as he thought this, his line pulled.
“And it was a good fish, got him into the boat, that’s when I knew I had a chance,” Combs said. “I wasn’t getting too confident, but I knew I at least gave myself a chance when I caught the last one.”
His final catch put him over the 28-pound mark for the day and Combs finished with more than 111 pounds total to win the Bassmaster Elite Series’ Falcon Slam on Monday at Falcon Lake in Zapata.
Combs, who’s been a guide on the lake for the last 7 to 8 years, led the tournament from start to finish and won his first Series event in three years fishing on the Elite level. He won $100,000 in prize money and automatically qualified for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic Feb. 21-23 in Alabama. He also received 100 points toward the 2013 Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
Combs’ tournament total weighed 111 pounds, 5 ounces, nearly six pounds more than Clunn’s 105-6. Clunn trailed Combs by just a single pound going into the final day of the tournament following his 34-pound, 16-ounce catch on Saturday. The tournament cancelled Sunday’s fish because of unsafe weather conditions.
“It’s huge to win one of those things and then, it was kind of a two-man race with me and Rick Clunn, who is really one of the legends of the sport,” Combs said. “The way the weights were laying out, it kind of looked like me or him were going to win the tournament. That made it even more special because I grew up watching Bassmasters and watching him win bass tournaments 20 years ago.”
Even with his final catch, which he estimated weighed about seven pounds, Combs wasn’t sure he’d done enough to hold off Clunn. But waiting in the tent, Combs started looking around and specifically noticed Clunn’s bag looked about five pounds lighter than his.
“That’s when it kind of sunk in that I won. I was just sort of speechless,” Combs said. “It’s such a big deal and it’s been such a big dream of mine for a long time to win at that level. I was kind of numb. I just couldn’t weight to get up there on stage and weigh my fish and actually make it official. It seemed like it was eternity from that point when I knew I had won to the actual time they made it official.”