FAIRCLOTH AND MOYNAGH LEAD TTBC
Story and photos by Matt Pangrac - Moynagh photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors Communications
Conroe, TX – After practice for the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Conroe, many of the competitors predicted that while Lake Conroe’s largemouth were cooperating to some extent, the day one weights would bear little resemblance to the record setting limits that captured the headlines at the 2011 tournament.
Those predictions proved to be correct, as it took less than 20 pounds on Friday to claim a spot atop the leaderboard. Texas’ Todd Faircloth and Minnesota’s Jim Moynagh led the charge, each boating a 17 pound limit to tie for the day one lead.
Faircloth, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, and Moynagh, an FLW Tour pro, spent the majority of the 2012 season battling for the Angler of the Year title on their respective tours, and both anglers eventually finished the season in 4th place in AOY standings.
Bryan Thrift finished the day in 3rd place with a limit weighing 16 pounds, 12 ounces. While both Faircloth and Moynagh relied on consistent quality to climb he leaderboard, Thrift’s catch was anchored by a 6.22 pound kicker largemouth that came early on Friday morning.
4th place belonged to Keith Combs, the defending TTBC champion. With a limit weighing 15 pounds, 12 ounces, the Texas pro would have been vying for the lead had it not been for a missed opportunity with a largemouth that he estimated at 5 pounds.
ATX Wheels Big Bass went to Brandon Card, who lit up the Fishound.com Live Scoring early on Friday with a 7.51 pound largemouth.
Faircloth consistently upgraded
Todd Faircloth qualified for the TTBC after another impressive season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. The Jasper, Texas pro notched the third Elite Series victory of his career this past June on the Mississippi River.
He turned in a workmanlike performance on Friday, consistently culling up during the day to amass a 17 pound limit that was anchored by a 4 pound, 8 ounce largemouth. “I caught fish throughout the day and just improved on my weight as the day went along. I didn’t catch any big ones, but I caught some solid fish,” said the soft-spoken Texan.
Relying on three primary baits and culling through 12 keepers, Faircloth targeted both shallow water and deep water areas. He said that in order to remain in contention, the fish that he located at both depths will need to continue to fire.
“I know that some of these other guys are fully committed to fishing offshore,” he explained. “For me, it’s going to be important to have fish that are both shallow and deep. Whenever you go into a tournament, you have to have a game plan. That game plan may change during the day, and there was a point today when I decided to save several of my areas and really expand on several others.”
When asked if he was concerned about the fact that he didn’t boat one of the kicker largemouth that Lake Conroe is notorious for holding, Faircloth was cautiously optimistic. “History says that I’ll need to catch a couple big ones on this lake to stay at the top, but I’ll gladly take another 17 pounds tomorrow and see where that puts me,” he concluded.
Moynagh pleasantly surprised
“You have to be happy anytime that you’re leading after the first day of a tournament,” said Carver, Minnesota’s Jim Moynagh, who matched Faircloth’s 17 pound effort on Friday. “I really struggled during practice. Today was by far the best day that I’ve had this week on Conroe,” he candidly admitted.
He credited his success to the fact that he was able to key in on several minor details to make the most of his limited opportunities. “I only caught six keepers today. With the exception of two little 12 inchers, all of the fish that I hooked today were really nice ones.”
Rotating through around 10 different areas, Moynagh relied on a single bait to do the bulk of his damage. “I just picked fish off of different places, but I really don’t want to get into what I was using right now,” he said with a smile. “Tomorrow could be interesting, because it’s not that difficult to go from six to zero.”
Moynagh said that the approaching weather system, which is predicted to dump a large amount of precipitation on the Conroe, Texas area overnight and into Saturday, could affect the bite.
“I’m just going to have to see how the fish react to it,” said Moynagh as he wiped the drizzle off the bill of his cap. “Maybe the fishing will get better, but I honestly have no idea how the bite is going to change. This fishery really isn’t in my comfort zone, so I can’t sit here and make logical predictions.
“I’m just going to go back to the areas where I caught fish and continue with the same pattern.”
Thrift got healthy early
North Carolina’s Bryan Thrift didn’t have very high expectations heading into Friday on Lake Conroe. In the previous three TTBC tournaments, Thrift struggled to finish on the first page of the leaderboard, recording finishes of 37th place in 2011, 42nd place in 2010, and 51st place in 2009.
With a day one limit weighing 16 pounds, 12 ounces that included a 6.22 pound Lake Conroe largemouth, Thrift appears to have taken a giant step towards recording the best TTBC finish of his career.
“I caught my biggest fish on my fifth cast of the morning,” explained the FLW Tour pro. “I just built off of that bite and stayed in the same area for the next two hours and filled out a limit. I lost another good one in that area, so I know that there are some big ones there.”
While both Faircloth and Moynagh are relying on multiple areas, Thrift stated that his fate rests in the hope that his primary area will continue to produce as the tournament progresses. “If I don’t get a big bite in there tomorrow, it’s probably going to be a bad day,” he admitted. “I don’t think that I have any other area where I can catch the weight that I need to catch to stay in the hunt.”
Thrift said that his limit on Friday came on a multitude of baits. “I’m going down the stretch throwing one bait and then coming back up the same stretch throwing a different bait. I think that I had about 12 rods on the deck, and I threw every single one of them.”
Combs in the hunt
After winning the 2011 TTBC in sudden-death overtime, Texas’ Keith Combs wasn’t shy about expressing his desire to become the first angler to successfully defend his TTBC title this year on Lake Conroe.
While his 15 pound, 12 ounce effort on Friday was a far cry from the shocking 28 pound, 8 ounce limit that he amassed during the first round of TTBC competition in 2011, it was enough to finish the day in 4th place, well within striking distance of the tournament leaders.
“I wasn’t sandbagging when I said that my practice was tough,” explained Combs. “The thing was that I didn’t go to a lot of my best stuff in practice. When I went to those spots today, I found that nothing much had changed and the fish are still there just like they were last year.”
Combs, who lost one quality fish that would have boosted his limit on Friday, said that bite was anything but aggressive. “They just weren’t eating the bait. The bait would pop out of the bass’ mouth almost every time that I swung one in the boat.
“Tomorrow could be a day when we absolutely smash’em,” continued Combs. “We haven’t had any weather in this part of the country in a long time, so it could be just what the big ones have been waiting for.”
For complete standings, visit www.toyotatexasbassclassic.com