In a way, it’s fitting.
Fitting that one of the biggest fishing tournaments that is held each year in the state of Texas is returning to one of the most historic tournament venues that professional bass fishing has ever seen.
All while trying to make sure that bass fishing in the Lone Star State remains good - really good - for generations yet to come.
A step in that direction will take place next week from May 17-21 when the former Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) and the former BASSfest (yes, the same one that Greg Hackney won on Lake Texoma last June) join forces on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
“Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest will combine the best features of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and our own BASSfest tournament - both of which had become immensely popular among anglers and fishing fans,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin in a news release. “Texas Fest will host a special Fan Appreciation Day offering anglers and their families opportunities to meet, greet and learn from the world’s best professional anglers.”
The old TTBC tournament, the brainchild of Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing pro Kelly Jordon - while he was deer hunting in South Texas, no less - was held every year for the past decade to showcase the superb bass fishing in Texas and to raise money to help the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its ongoing inland fisheries work across the state.
Over the decade of the TTBC’s existence, the tournament visited such superb venues as Lake Conroe, Lake Fork and Lake Ray Roberts while watching some of the sport’s biggest names on the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour circuits come to the Lone Star State.
Along the way, the TTBC helped make Huntington, Texas B.A.S.S. pro Keith Combs a rising star as he won three events in a four year stretch that began with his sudden death victory on Conroe over Mike Iaconelli in October 2011.
After finishing that three-day tournament deadlocked at 76-pounds, 12-ounces, the two anglers went to a sudden-death fish-off. In that fish-off, Iaconelli struck first but his fish was a short 12-incher that didn’t count. With only 15 minutes left in the fish-off, Combs caught a legal 15-inch bass that gave him the $100,000 top prize and a new Legend bass boat.
Two years later in October 2013, Combs went back to work again on Conroe, this time easily winning the event over runner-up John Murray. In the same calendar year that Combs outdueled legendary Rick Clunn to capture his first Bassmaster Elite Series event on Falcon Lake (with a Century Club weight of 111 pounds, 5 ounces over the four-day event), Combs used his TTBC win to solidify his presence at the top of the modern bass fishing game.
When the tournament visited Fork in May 2014, Combs further cemented that presence with a third TTBC win that saw him break the professional bass fishing world record for a three-day event with a staggering 110-pounds even, a mark that was well beyond Byron Velvick’s previous three-day record of 83-pounds, 5-ounces.
In those three TTBC wins, Combs weighed in just more than 298-pounds of bass while capturing three crystal championship trophies and paydays well in excess of $300,000.
Like they say, everything is bigger and better in Texas, right?
But the biggest winner in the 10-year history of the TTBC was the work of TPWD, thanks to the more than $2 million dollars that was generated by the event, money that went to support the state agency’s work to promote youth fishing.
And while the tournament will change a significant amount this year (with a new name and a field that will move from a mixed bag of top B.A.S.S. and FLW Tour pros to the regular 109 anglers on this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series circuit), it’s support of youth fishing and the work of TPWD will not change.
“We’re excited to develop Texas Fest into one of the biggest events in competitive fishing while featuring the great work Texas Parks and Wildlife Department does to ensure the quality of outdoor recreation for the future,” said Brent Hillyer, vice president of marketing for Gulf States Toyota, which created and sponsored TTBC from the start.
That support will grow even bigger now.
“We now have Gulf States Toyota, Toyota Motor Corporation and B.A.S.S. all coming together to provide this new tournament to benefit Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,” said Dave Terre, TPWD’s chief of Inland Fisheries Management and Research. “The tournament is under a new sponsorship arrangement - and a new name - but the funds that are generated out of this event will continue to build and continue to support youth fishing outreach initiatives in the state.”
Those funds will continue to support the Neighborhood Fishin’ Program, which TPWD says brings fishing to families in 18 urban areas around the state. Funds raised next week will also go to support the Texas Division of the Wildlife Forever State Fish Art Contest, a program that tries to interest young people in grades Kindergarten through 12 in the sport of fishing.
While the catch-weigh-release format of the TTBC will remain in place, that will be a first for a Bassmaster Elite Series event. Catches of legal bass will be weighed on identical scales by judges assigned to each boat. After the fish is weighed, it will be released back into Sam Rayburn.
An angler’s top five weights from each day will form the competitor’s daily catch for the event. At the end of the day, each pro will have the chance to bring in their largest bass (which can be live-welled if it is over 21-inches) to the daily weigh-in stage at the George H. Henderson Jr. Expo Center in Lufkin.
While the format might be new to the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, it isn’t to the old TTBC format or the Major League Fishing events that a number of B.A.S.S. pros also compete in every year.
While Major League Fishing calls its catch-weigh-release system SCORETRACKER LIVE!, Jordon points to the system’s roots in the TTBC.
“The TTBC has had a tremendous impact,” said Jordon in a TPWD news release back in 2015. “Major League Fishing is one of the most successful and exciting televised fishing events. Its rules and the way we do things are direct descendants of TTBC. We weigh and immediately release fish. I believe that is the future of competitive fishing.”
Terre doesn’t disagree.
“This is a big deal for tournament bass fishing, no doubt,” said the fisheries biologist in a 2017 TPWD news release. “We did it in the TTBC for 10 years and it really has its feet now.”