Winning Baits

How Keith Combs won the Mille Lacs AOY tourney

Every smallmouth bass tournament is supposed to be a dropshot-fest. And I guess the Mille Lacs Bassmaster Angler of the Year tournament did do that, but Keith Combs won it dragging a jig. Seriously. Details:


> “Once in a while things from practice don’t change.

> “Last year it was ridiculous [easy bites], but this year it was a little tougher.

> “The second day of practice in 2016 I started to get bit on a jig, and the third day [of that tourney] I did pretty good on it — I had 22-23 lbs, and that gave me something to think about.

> “[Most of the time in the ’16 AOY tourney] I tried to fish shallow or dropshot, and I wasn’t catching the right size. So this year I decided to see if they’d still bite that jig. I caught a couple fish out in 20′ and thought, ‘Well that’ll still be a player.’ Every one that bit it was a 4.5- to 5-lber.

> “I went from 3/4- to 1-oz and could still get bit. I thought, ‘If I can commit to this, I’ll have a big bag every day.’

> “I found a couple other really good schools of fish and never really put the jig down because the size was there.”

His best spot

> “…a long reef that ran way out into the lake…several miles long. It had several high spots — I was on one of the last ones that had 20-22′ water on it.

> “I thought that the whole area would be good…but it was a very small, little spot. I’d catch them on that waypoint, and when I’d try to move off it I wouldn’t catch anything. I don’t really know why — it wasn’t the highest spot and didn’t have the thickest rocks….

> “That spot definitely carried me — it let me lay off some other stuff the first day. The first day I caught 23-24 lbs on my first 5 casts, then totally laid off on everything else.”

He had about 15 spots total, and all were in that 20-22′ range — “occasionally as deep as 24′. The main thing was they had to be at the end of a hump or point.”

How he fished it

> “I was in 24′ and casting to 20-22′, working that jig back to the boat. …dragging it, just trying to feel every rock, keep it moving along the rocks.

> “The fish were eating a lot of crawfish. Every day I had to clean out my livewell because it was clogged up with pinchers and stuff.

> “I didn’t lose many jigs, 2-3 a day, mostly because of zebra mussels. The jig didn’t get hung up too bad — I think with that 1-oz, the size of that head doesn’t get caught in crevices as much.

> “You wanted to keep that jig on the bottom. A long cast was key. It seemed like I was reeling forever…. A fish might hit it way out or midway through the cast….”

The jig

> 1-oz Strike King Tour Grade Football Jig (gp) with a Rage Craw (bama craw). “In practice I was using just straight green pumpkin, but I noticed that every fish was spitting up crawfish as I was reeling them in. They had a lot of orange on them so I changed to that bama craw. I didn’t experiment much at that point — I felt pretty dialed in.”

> 7′ 5″ H G. Loomis 894 casting rod, Shimano Curado K reel (7.4), 15-lb Seaguar InvizX fluoro.

Line choice

Interesting line choice — he could’ve used braid with a fluoro leader, or with zebra mussels a concern, Seaguar AbrazX. He said:

> “One of the things that was necessary was to make a very, very long cast. InvizX is the same type of line I’d crank with…castability. AbrazX is a little-stiffer line…it’s good but I’d rather use InvizX.

> “I could have used braid with fluoro, but I don’t use braid unless I have to. Only time…frogging, throwing a topwater, or flipping big mats or real thick wood. Especially with a heavy setup I feel like I land more fish with fluoro. Just personal preference.

> “At the end of those really long casts, if one ate it way out there I didn’t really feel a bite. Just a heavy, mushy feeling. I’d increase my reeling speed and just pull.

> “Almost every smallmouth had the whole jig in their mouth…the fish had it for a while before I set the hook. It was almost a little embarrassing, but they weren’t going to let it go so it didn’t hurt to delay my reaction. With braid I’d have probably wanted to jerk a lot sooner.

> “Sensitivity is good because it keeps you on your toes, but at the same time you have to be 100% concentrated on making sure you don’t set the hook too soon.”


> “…probably retied 25 times a day because I had a little nick….”

> “I’d see fish on the graph and drop on them with a dropshot but never caught a fish in the tournament on a dropshot. The fish weren’t reacting to it. I think they’ve just seen it a lot.

> “In practice I cranked a 6XD to find a couple little schools. I think I could’ve caught ’em cranking, but it’s so much better to catch them on a single hook.”

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