By BassFan Staff
For the vast majority of his 14 years away from the FLW Tour, Johnny McCombs couldn't have believed that a day like Sunday would ever come.
"I still can't believe it," the Alabama resident said after winning at Beaver Lake despite weighing only two fish on the final day. "I feel like I'm in a dream world. Somebody needs to wake me up."
He competed on the circuit for several years around the turn of the millennium with moderate success that included a couple of top-10 showings at Beaver. Then, after the 2003 campaign, he was gone.
He revealed that the reason for his long absence from pro fishing was substance abuse. He said he's been off the junk for a little less than a year.
"I was hooked on drugs for a long time, but I finally got clean," he said. "It was six days before Mother's Day last year."
He took control of the annual derby in northwest Arkansas on day 3, when he caught a tournament-best 18-15. He sacked less than one-third of that on day 4, but his 5-04 stringer was enough to hold off Jason Reyes by almost 2 1/2 pounds.
McCombs finished with a four-day total of 47-01. Reyes, who caught three final-day keepers that weighed two ounces less than the winner's two fish, ended up with 44-11.
Bryan Thrift, who's opened up a commanding lead in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race in what has been a dominant season for the North Carolinian to this point, caught one of only two limits on the final day. His 43-03 aggregate (10-08 on day 4) gave him his third top-3 finish in five events and his fifth straight top-12 placement.
Rookie Keith Bryan, the owner of Powell Rods, weighed a 10-08 limit that was the top bag of the day and moved up four places to finish 4th with 42-14. His fellow Californian Cody Meyer, who led after the first two days, completed the top 5 with 40-10 in the wake of a three-fish, 5-04 stringer.
Here's how the bottom half of the top 10 lined up:
6. Scott Canterbury: 39-08
7. John Cox: 38-07
8. Chris Brasher: 37-08
9. Brandon McMillan: 36-00
10. Dean Alexander: 34-05
The bite got progressively tougher throughout the event as the water level continued to rise rapidly due to heavy rain in the region. By some angler estimations, it was up at least nine feet since the start of practice the previous weekend and had increased several feet overnight after a torrential downpour on Saturday.
McCombs was able to boat-flip this quality largemouth into his Nitro, but lost three good bites in the early hours.
The latest round of storms also brought a mass of cold air the temperature was down about 15 degrees (to the mid-50s) from the previous day. That undoubtedly had an impact on the mood of the fish that were already dazed and confused by their ever-expanding universe.
The Tour will take the next two weeks off before reconvening at the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wis. May 18-21.
McCombs in Disbelief
> Day 4: 2, 5-04 (17, 47-01)
McCombs is competing this season on a shoestring budget, so the six-figure payday is huge for him. He runs an unwrapped boat and fishes in a gray T-shirt emblazoned with his name, the FLW logo and a graphic of a bass that's bisected by the handle #teamoldschool. He said his parents, who drove 10 hours and were on hand to see him receive the trophy, are his only sponsors.
"It hasn't sunk in yet and it probably won't for awhile," he said of his triumph. "I was as nervous as a cat until the end of the weigh-in. I was just shaking."
He wouldn't have been so jittery had he not lost three good bites at his first stop. He put his first fish into the livewell at about 8:30 and the second perhaps a half-hour later, and that was it for the day.
Jason Reyes' three-fish bag was highlighted by this smallmouth.
"I missed so many good bites that I felt like I didn't deserve to win. I could've had a big stringer, but that's just the way it goes."
A buzzbait accounted for 16 of his weigh-in fish, with the other coming on a follow-up cast with a jig after a missed bite. Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published this week.
2nd: Reyes not Downcast
> Day 4: 3, 5-02 (18, 44-11)
Unlike McCombs, Reyes didn't farm any quality bites on the final day. That made coming up a little bit short somewhat easier to swallow.
"I'm not that guy who's going to make any excuses," the Texan said. "I didn't lose anything that cost me, I just had a couple of followers that I never had on. I didn't give it away with a lost fish or anything like that.
"We had a different start time today yesterday I had a limit by 6:50 and today we didn't take off until 6:45 and I caught two real quick. If I'd had another 10 or 15 minutes in the morning, maybe I could've caught a couple more, but I certainly don't know that for sure. I'm not going to complain I made some moves today (with the idea of) trying to win the tournament."
He employed a wacky-rigged worm the first two days, and then a shaky-head and a Texas-rigged Senko over the weekend as his targets got deeper.
3rd: Thrift Happy
> Day 4: 5, 10-01 (20, 43-03)
Thrift, the No. 1 angler in the BassFan World Rankings who's pocketed an astounding 980 out of 1,000 possible AOY points, had no regrets about his final-day performance.
"I was happy with it," he said. "I figured it was going to get tougher with that front coming in. I still got a lot of bites, but I just caught a lot of short fish.'
His bag was topped by a 2 1/2-pounder.
"I caught 15 or 20 fish, but I only had seven keeper bites. It was right up there with the toughest days I've seen on Beaver."
He said his mindset for the final two regular-season events won't change in light of his enormous lead in the AOY race. He won the points title in 2010 and has eight top-10 finishes on that list in his 10 seasons to date.
Bryan Thrift now leads the Angler of the Year race by more than 80 points.
"I'm going to keep fishing like I always do. I'm usually good for one screw-up, so hopefully I'm going to skip a year on that."
He threw a Damiki Stinger soft stickbait for most of the first three days. He caught all of his final-day fish on swimbaits.
4th: Bryan Pumped
> Day 4: 5, 10-08 (20, 42-14)
Bryan, who came in with a 35th-place finish at the Harris Chain and three that were deep into the 100s on his ledger, was thrilled to end up in the top 5.
"It's awesome," he said. "It's kind of surreal, but very gratifying because I've taken some lumps out here, as I anticipated. I'm still new out here and you can look on the results sheet for this tournament and see that there were some huge names who struggled.
"I know I'm going to take some more bruises, but the good thing is I've recouped all of my entry fees. My only goal was to make one check."
His bag was highlighted by a 4-pounder, which was easily the biggest fish to come to the scale on the final day. He fished a dropshot for most of the tournament, but relied on a spinnerbait on day 4.
5th: Meyer Light Again
> Day 4: 3, 5-04 (18, 40-10)
Meyer boxed 28 1/2 pounds over the first two days, but only 12 on the weekend. Nonetheless, he won't leave Arkansas with a bad taste in his mouth, as he's now up to 21st on the points list on the strength of back-to-back top-10s.
"Obviously I wanted to win the tournament, but I'll tell you, I think this is my seventh year coming to Beaver and out of all the days I've fished, this was the toughest I've ever seen. I think that showed because most people didn't catch hardly anything.
"On day 1 and day 2 I was catching 25 to 30 fish a day and even on day 3 I probably caught 15. Today I just couldn't get anything to bite."
He threw a tube and flipped debris mats occasionally over the first three days, then turned to a small swimbait on day 4.
> Day 4 stats 10 anglers, 2 limits, 4 threes, 2 twos, 2 ones.
1. Johnny McCombs -- Morris, Al -- 14-3 (5) -- 8-11 (5) -- 18-15 (5) -- 5-4 (2) -- 47-1 (17) -- $100,200
2. Jason Reyes -- Huffman, Tx -- 13-13 (5) -- 14-9 (5) -- 11-3 (5) -- 5-2 (3) -- 44-11 (18) -- $30,000
3. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 12-15 (5) -- 10-10 (5) -- 9-9 (5) -- 10-1 (5) -- 43-3 (20) -- $25,100
4. Keith Bryan -- Novato, Ca -- 13-5 (5) -- 9-13 (5) -- 9-4 (5) -- 10-8 (5) -- 42-14 (20) -- $20,000
5. Cody Meyer -- Auburn, Ca -- 16-1 (5) -- 12-8 (5) -- 6-13 (5) -- 5-4 (3) -- 40-10 (18) -- $19,000
6. Scott Canterbury -- Odenville, Al -- 9-5 (5) -- 12-5 (5) -- 11-10 (5) -- 6-4 (3) -- 39-8 (18) -- $18,000
7. John Cox -- Debary, Fl -- 14-4 (4) -- 8-14 (5) -- 12-1 (5) -- 3-4 (2) -- 38-7 (16) -- $17,000
8. Christopher Brasher -- Longview, Tx -- 15-11 (5) -- 7-8 (5) -- 8-13 (5) -- 5-8 (3) -- 37-8 (18) -- $16,000
9. Brandon McMillan -- Clewiston, Fl -- 12-2 (5) -- 12-11 (5) -- 9-8 (5) -- 1-11 (1) -- 36-0 (16) -- $15,000
10. Dean Alexander -- Georgetown, Tx -- 9-15 (5) -- 16-4 (5) -- 5-14 (5) -- 2-4 (1) -- 34-5 (16) -- $14,000