The City of Kissimmee hosted the first Bassmaster Southern Open event of 2013 on Lake Tohopekaliga. I must say it was nice to spend nights at home since the lake was in my home town only 45 minutes away. Still practice was typical for February in Florida with bass spawning and windy cold fronts hitting every few weeks to challenge the anglers. FWC plant management efforts were providing anglers miles of hydrilla edges to fish throughout the chain.
Nearly 200 pro bass anglers visited Kissimmee Florida for practice on Monday and a shot at winning a berth to the Bassmaster Classic. Both Monday and Tuesday practice days held nice weather, partly sunny cloud cover and a mild February breeze out of the north. Then Mother Nature realized this was the first tournament of the year and she wanted to remind everyone who was boss. She hit the area with Gail force winds over 32mph from the South none the less. Extremely unusual for the month of February. Needless to say, the winds muddied up a lot of water the night before the tournament, leaving many anglers unsure of whether they had areas to fish on day 1 or not.
My name was randomly drawn as boat #31 on Day 1, flight #2 with a weigh-in time of 3:15pm. This meant the early morning bite that I had discovered in practice had a chance to help me as it was in a wind protected area. Luckily the area held up and produced two nice keepers in the first 45 minutes while the tournament director was still launching out the other anglers one at a time. No more old fashion shot-gun starts like in the 80s.
The four pound bass I had found in practice had vacated the area and I probably spent too much of my morning searching for them. As the sun peaked higher in the horizon I headed over to some shallower spawning areas and used a soft swimbait to pick up my limit by 10:30 am. One of my personal goals of catching a five-fish limit of bass was accomplished, but I was still short of my other goal of having fish that averaged over three pounds. My research had shown that fifteen pound limits each day would give an angler a top 20 fish on Lake Toho, while an eighteen pound limit each day would make the third day’s cut of the top 12 anglers.
Fishing the 2012 tour taught me that a small limit of bass only makes an angler feel good, it does nothing to help in the tour standings. To be successful on this tour, anglers must have larger than average bass and a big bass each day. Knowing this I spent the afternoon chasing the ghosts of big bass I had found in practice. Over 30% of the water I practiced on was muddied by the unusual Gail force winds. I was able to get two good bites flipping, one four pound bass I pulled to the surface of a cattail mat before it came off, and the other I lost when my braided line slipped out the eye of my flipping hook, another rare occurrence. All the other big bass I had found under floating plant mats either scattered or were not biting. The sport of fishing is very hard when you can’t see your targets, e.g. bass. Imagine shooting basketball in a room with an invisible hoop that only showed up when you made a basket! That’s bass fishing. There could be 40 bass under a floating island and if you don’t entice them to bite a hunk of metal and plastic, things we call fishing lures, then you don’t even know they are there.
My first day's limit of five bass weighed 9lbs 9ozs, averaging only 1.91 lbs/bass which put me in 53rd place.
On day 2, I was drawn as boat #168, flight 9 with a 5:00 pm weigh-in time. This late draw was going to prove beneficial as the bass were getting more active in the afternoons when the sun was high. With an over night cold front dropping air temperatures down to 36 degrees F, I was going to need that sun to get my bigger bass active again. I launched out in the morning with hopes that the cold front would improve my flipping bite again.
I started day 2 in the same early morning area as day one, got two nice keepers on a jerkbait, a dozen short bass, and then a nice three pound fish. I flipped the mats around this area to no avail. Next, I ran the same stretch of spawning flats in Lake Toho and finished out my limit by 11:00 am. With a limit in hand I ran to south Toho and pitched floating hydrilla mats to cull up with another nice three pound bass. On my next pitch I lost a good bass of nearly four pounds. I spent the next four hours pitching and flipping mats trying to catch a big bass but all I could do was upgrade my limit by ounces. I found the big bass were no longer under my mats, but my stubbornness kept me wishing instead of fishing. I picked up my jerkbait and starting working a little deeper water around my areas and again picked up a half dozen bass that only gained me ounces.
spatterdock lilypads. I ripped that jerkbait past the pads and enticed a reaction strike from a bass. My line jumped, so I swept the rod to my right side to set the hook. It was then that I saw the bass, a solid six pounder! When I set the hook it turned her sideways to me and I could see she hit the jerkbait in the middle, with only one treble hook having a chance to hook her. That chance was slim, and when she opened her mouth out came my bait. I made many more pitches in the area knowing she never really got hooked, but I never could entice her to bite again. I fished down the bank and nailed another solid three pound bass, culled up a few ounces, then headed to weigh-in.
My second day weight of 10lbs, 14ozs put me in 45th place overall; 10 ounces sky of making a paycheck, 5.5 lbs out of the top 20 list, and only 7.2 lbs out of the top 12 cut to fish the third day. The lost four pound bass on day one and lost six pound bass on day two would have pushed me way up the leader board and given me the dream of fishing on the third day.
So there you have it, my best finish, yet the worst tournament execution of my professional fishing career. The yin and yang of fishing. I felt good about finding the fish it took to win, just could not get them in the boat. I can’t wait to try it all over again in April on Lake Douglas in Jefferson County, Dandridge, TN.