It was shaping up to be a lost day for Keith Combs.
Combs, a Texas native, is one of the 100 anglers competing in the West Point Lake Battle, the fourth event on the Bassmasters Elite Series, and for much of Thursday it was looking like he was going to end up at the bottom of the leader board.
As the clock ticked past 1 p.m., Combs had yet to bring in one fish that he could send to the scales, and he only had a little more than an hour left on the lake.
“I did not catch one until 1:30 p.m.,” Combs said.
Fortunately for Combs, he made the most of the time he had left.
After making his first catch, Combs said “things just started to roll after that.”
Indeed they did.
By the time Combs was done, he’d brought in 15 pounds, 14 ounces worth of fish, giving him the lead after Day 1 of the tournament.
“I returned to several spots that I had fished in the morning and didn’t catch ‘em,” Combs said. “The currents were a lot stronger and I was able to pull them in, and catch some good fish and catch a limit of fish.”
Alabama’s Greg Vinson is in second place with 15 pounds, 10 ounces, and Mississippi’s Cliff Pace is in third with 14 pounds, two ounces.
The tournament continues today, and the top 50 finishers will make it through to Saturday.
The field will be whittled down even further on Saturday, and the final 12 competitors will hit the lake on Sunday and compete for the $100,000 top prize.
Vinson put himself in contention with a terrific first day, although it wasn’t as big as his opening day in 2011, the last time the Bassmasters Elite Series came to West Point Lake.
On that day, Vinson had more than 18 pounds, and he was further back in the pack.
“The last time we were here, I had over 18 pounds, and I was in eighth place,” Vinson said. “Today, I knew I had a pretty good bag. I told my wife, maybe I’ll be in the top 20 when it’s all said and done.”
Turns out, he did a lot better than that.
“I’m real happy with it,” he said.
Vinson said when his initially strategy didn’t pan out, he went to Plan B, and it worked out well for him.
Vinson said he “hopefully figured a little something out during the course of the day that might work out later in the tournament.”
Pace, who won the Bassmasters Classic earlier this year, is also in solid position after bringing in more than 14 pounds on Day 1.
In fourth place is Alabama’s Aaron Martens, whose five fish weighed 13 pounds, five ounces.
“I caught those pretty early, and I didn’t find much else,” Martens said.
Martens’ biggest catch of the day came early, and he put his time in trying to get it on the boat.
“I spent an hour and a half on that first one, minimum,” Martens said. “That first stop this morning, about five or 10 minutes into it, I saw it come up a little bit, it was four-feet deep.”
Martens went all-in to try to catch the fish, and the effort paid off.
“I knew I had to catch that one,” he said.
In fifth place is California’s Skeet Reese, who had 13 pounds even.
Marty Robinson and Tommy Biffle are tied for sixth at 12 pounds, 10 ounces.
Biffle only weighed four fish, but having the day’s big fish, a 6 pound, 12-ouncer, helped make up for that.
Hank Cherry is in eighth place with 12 pounds, four ounces, and Brandon Palaniuk is ninth with 11 pounds, five ounces.
Cliff Crochet weighed in just three bass, but they totaled 10 pounds, 13 ounces, leaving him in 10th place and very much in contention.
“I got hot for about eight minutes, and the rest of the day was horrible,” Crochet said. “It happened bang, bang, bang.”
Nine other anglers brought in at least nine pounds worth of fish, including Ish Monroe, who finished third in the 2011 tournament on West Point Lake.
In all, 33 anglers brought in at least eight pounds, and there were 53 competitors with seven pounds or more.
A bunch of other fishermen had five or six pounds, and they’ll try to climb into the top 50 today.
Even a guy like Ott Defoe, who is 89th place after bringing in four pounds, six ounces, doesn’t think he’s out of it.
Defoe figures because no one had a huge bag on Thursday that it’s still anyone’s game.
“That’s the thing about a tough tournament, you’re not far out of it,” Defoe said. “You can go out there and make it up.”
OF NOTE: For full results from Thursday, go to bassmasters.com