Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lake Toho Bass Fishing in the 2014 Bassmaster Southern Open

Lake Tohopekaliga is the northern most lake on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and was the focus of my 2014 Bassmaster Southern Open tournament experience. The more than 22,000 acres pose a challenge to anglers having to break down the lake in three days of practice.
Big Toho Marina at City boat ramp

Fishing on Lake Toho offered an amazing diversity of habitat that challenged even the seasoned angler. From dense shallow water cover to offshore shellbeds and submersed grass beds, the various required different fishing techniques.

I used weights up to two ounces to flip and pitch weedless baits into the dense vegetation.
Some of the open areas between lily pads could be fished pitching lighter weights, and I was able to cast worms in the larger open-water areas on the fringe.

I tried all three methods in order to determine where the bass were located on a given day.  I feel bass will change their habitat preferences throughout the day, so I change up fishing techniques every few hours to keep up with the fish.  This is especially true during radical weather changes like we experienced in the Open tournament this week.


With winter cold fronts coming through Florida in full force, the offshore habitat was a great option for finding the winning groups of largemouth bass.  Deeper water tends to stay warmer and is less affected by cold air.

The habitat offshore is managed by FWC and consisted of hydrilla beds, shrimpgrass beds (Nitella), peppergrass beds (Pondweed), and eelgrass beds (Valisneria). It was easy in the calm-weather days of practice to locate bass using lipless crankbaits.  Just find the grassbeds and crank the lures over the submersed vegetation.  It was that easy.
Hydrilla stem picked up on a cast offshore

Shrimpgrass (Nitella) held good schools of bass 4-7ft deep

Late on our first official practice day the weather really took a turn for the worst.  Central Florida air temperatures dipped down to freezing levels.  

With light to moderate winds the fishing conditions were tolerable for anglers. Bass being cold blooded, did not seem to care about the air temperatures that we humans were enduring.  Bass continued to feed on shad and bluegill as normal. I caught fish most everywhere I practiced, and Bassmaster even posted some of my practice photos (pages 7-10) on the web site.

It was the gail force winds associated with a major front on the second day of practice that I noticed made a change in the fishing (Bassmaster blog post).  The front proved to be the beginning of several high-wind days that ultimately muddied the water and dropped the water temperature enough to change the bass I had located.  Even the flipping bite changed for me, producing fewer and smaller bass.   

Tournament Day
The first day of the tournament the weather was cold with moderate Northwest winds 10-15 mph.  Ice crystals covered my boat as freezing temperatures continued to plaque Florida.  I launched out at boat #39 and was able to fish my offshore grassbeds that were now measuring 57-58F. I caught a few nice bass on lipless crankbaits fished in a slow fluttering technique.  My coangler showed me that I was still fishing too fast for the colder conditions when he caught several nice bass behind me using a slower, worming technique.  I ended day one with only three bass.

All night long a North wind blew 15-20 mph.  While the air temperature the morning of day two was warmer, only 42F, the wind drove the water temperature down another 4 degrees.
High winds the morning of day two was evident by the postion of this American flag at the BASS weigh-in trailer.
When I arrived at my primary fishing area on the second tournament day it was muddy and 54F.  I made one short pass through the area and never got a bite. My other offshore spots were all trashed by the winds and unfishable. At this point I started fishing back up areas where I caught a few bass in water only 4 feet deep. I was only able to land a small 10" bass on this backup pattern.  As the day progressed the winds howled and continued to lower the water temperature down to 53F.
My Mercury ProXS sure runs good in the cold weather! Gained 3 mph. 

I felt the offshore bass were going to go dormant and hold up on sandy shellbeds, but I did not know of any places that remained clear and not muddied by the winds.  I figured if anyone could locate calm areas they would find schools  of bass feeding on dying shad. My mistake in this event was my lack of weather planning during practice.

The last hours of my second tournament day I changed my fishing technique and went flipping shallow water areas outside spawning flats. The bass were not there in practice, but I thought conditions might make the bass move to these areas. I keyed on dying water hyacinth mats that had been frozen during the previous few days.

Natural bacteria that breakdown decaying plant material like water hyacinth actually produce some heat in their metobolic process, and I knew it would be the only warm water around.  The move produced limits of small bass for both me and my coangler.  I even flipped up a two pound bass that culled out one of my 12" fish. I ended the day with a small five-bass limit.

My final outcome was poor, but I salvaged what was heading to be horrible tournament for me.  I ended up in the first 2014 Bassmaster Southern Open with 12 pounds, 11ounces, which was good for 99th place out of 200 pros.  The points I earned could be valuable at the end of the year.

At the final weighin in the Bass Pro Shops Orlando parking lot I visited sponsor booths and learned about products such as Starbright boat cleaners. I have already been using their ethanol enzyme fuel additive Startron in my boat for several years.  Now I will have a chance to try some good boat cleaners.

Starbright pro Patrick Pierce displaying two cleaning products that make boat maintenance easier.

I was glad to see the new sponsor Allstate join the event.

I found it ironic that they are the company with the branded "mayhem" guy.  I wish they would have left the "mayhem" guy at home, he really through a wrench into this tournament for me. LOL.

The coanglers in this event beat many of the pros, so if any of you are thinking of fishing one of these events, give it a try.  You just have to remain versatile to catch bass from the back of the boat.  The best part is the pro does all the practice work and research so you get to concentrate on catching bass.  A neat game with a lot of fun and rewards. Give it a try.

Next event will be on Lewis Smith Lake in Jasper AL