Lake Toho/Kissimmee Chain, Kissimmee, FL
Frustrated and Heartbroken may just as well be the title to this blog post. No matter how hard you prepare for something, no matter all the precautions you take or the desire you have, in this sport there’s variables that are just simply out of your control. I guess that’s what makes winning all the better. To win, you bested a stacked field. You outsmart mother nature and found a way to skirt around the road blocks. When you lost, you acknowledged that you fell and got right back up, dusted yourself off and tried it again. A true winner will take a lump right on the chin and anxiously stick their head out for another. That’s how you become a winner in the world of bass fishing, you gotta be a fighter.
I first need to apologize for my lack of posts lately but I have been down in central Florida practicing for the first Bassmaster Southern Open held on the renowned, Kissimmee Chain. My Father was able to fly out and meet me down there as we have always talked about how great it would be to spend some time in central Florida, dodging alligators in hopes of jacking up a double digit largemouth from the water jungle that is Lake Kissimmee.
My original plan was to never leave Lake Toho as this is usually the lake where most events are won but since my Dad got us a cabin at Camp Mack for the pre-practice, I decided we’d spend a few days there and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with what I was seeing.
Everyone including myself was thinking this was going to be a blowout because of the warmer temps and the full moon that was scheduled for the Saturday before our tournament. After spending a day or two combing the ultra shallows in search of bedding bass, instead all I saw was an occasional buck bass guarding fry and deserted beds. I know they spawn from February through April in Florida but I still think a good wave moved up on the new moon, which was a couple weeks prior and from what I was hearing, these fish had started spawning in December with a few claiming they caught ’em of beds in the end of November.
Florida can be tricky with all the vegetation as everything looks so good but the key to Florida is understanding the grass, both submergent and emergent. Certain strains of vegetation will grow in silt or muck and others need sand to grow. Once I figured out which grass needs sand, I could quickly find these potential spawning areas. After not having much luck finding the actual spawners, I knew the next step would be finding staging areas that held both prespawn and postspawn females. I found that if I looked right outside these spawning flats to the next drop off that I could find these staging areas with the key being finding the thickest of matted vegetation and using a 1 1/2 oz. Eagle Claw Lazer Tungsten Weight, with a 5/0 Trokar Flippin’ Hook and a Lake Fork Tackle Tube Craw (Black/Blue) and flip into these mats and hold on. Winter in Florida may seem nice to us but it’s actually a very unstable time for these Florida-strain bass that are very susceptible to the slightest changes in weather temps. The overnight lows are key and all I know is when I have frost on my boat in the morning, the bass aren’t loving life in the lake. These mats are filled with mud and even when the temperature is not favorable for bass, it’s always sunny in Florida and these mats will heat up throughout the day and the bass put their backs up into the mat and use them as a way to stay warm.
My Dad and I managed some nice fish during our pre practice time and quickly my heart was telling me Kissimmee was going to be the place that I would try to win this thing in.
Official practice started and I spent a little time on Big Toho and all that did was confirm my liking for Kissimmee. These lakes may be close together but they are completely different from one another. Toho is more manicured than Kissimmee but if you got the time to search off shore structure and like deep weedlines, this is the place to be. Instead, I focused my time on the very southern part of Lake Toho, trying to find an area to fish while I was waiting for the lock master to get us through the lock. I should probably explain for those who don’t know, the Kissimmee Chain is made up of basically four lakes though there are a few others. It starts up north in the town of Kissimmee with Lake Toho, then you lock through the dam and head down a few mile channel and come into Lake Cypress. Next you’ll run across Cypress back through another long channel which of course is named the Kissimmee River and you’ll end up in Lake Hatchineha, run through Hatch and back through the Kissimmee River and walla, you’re in Lake Kissimmee.
I did manage to find some fish in Toho but was skeptical to their size. I spent the entire official practice and the weekend before pulling on all my bites on both Kissimmee and Toho so that I wasn’t burning giants that I would need come tournament time. This takes every bone of confidence in your body too. You come all the way to Florida, the land of the giants and pull on bites without setting the hook being ultra careful not to actually catch them. It takes a special kind of dumb-ass to be a tournament angler!
To my astonishment, I drew boat 5 out of 198 anglers for the first day! Dude, it doesn’t get much better for my game plan. Being that they will only allow about 15-20 boats to lock through at a time, I knew I would skirt right through and have dibs on the best stuff on Kissimmee.
It was one of those tournaments I just felt good about. It’s not everyday you can show up to an unfamiliar body of water and have just four rods rigged up for this big of an event. Basically I had two G Loomis GLX Flipping Sticks, matched with Shimano Core MgFv high speed flipping reels and had them both spooled with 60 lb. Seaguar Kanzen Braid. Both were rigged identical except one had a 1/2 oz. Lazer Tungsten Weight for sparse pad clumps and solo reed patches and the other had the 1 1/2 oz. Lazer Tungsten for the matted stuff. Both were equipped with a 5/0 Trokar Flippin’ Hook and a Lake Fork Tackle Tube Craw and yes, both had an insert rattle in the body.
The other two rods were basically just time consumers in between good areas to try to smack a hungry bass. One was a 1/2 oz. Biovex Strangun Spinnerbait and the other was a Lake Fork Tackle Boot Tail Magic Shad rigged with a 1/8 oz. weighted Trokar Swimbait Hook.
At take-off everything went good until I got about 5 miles down the lake and I spun a hub. Are you kidding me? I rarely ever have engine issues and now? Keeping my composure, I got the Tournament Director on the phone who sent Tow Boats USA down to help me out. I got them a spare prop and as they were trying to get the prop off on the water, the realized that my hub actually melted to the prop shaft. Unusual, but they were able to pry the old prop off, replace it with a new one and send me on my way. At around 9:30, I was back in action and now waiting in line to try to lock through to head down to Kissimmee. At about 10:30, I was through the lock and racing for Kissimmee when all of a sudden my lower unit blew out. Damn it. Obviously there was more of an internal problem as the lower unit was getting so hot that it melted out another hub and completely wrecked my lower unit.
Now, I’m on my trolling motor trying to get back to the lock so that I can get towed off and get to the service trailer to try and attempt to get back on the water and salvage this day that I just soon forget. Thanks to Tow Boats USA, they had me off the water and to the service trailer where I got fixed up and sent back out with just under an hour to fish before I had to be back to weigh in. Not knowing where to go, I just jumped up on the first weedline and started fishing and managed one small fish, just over a pound and got back to weigh in.
I came to find out that my day 2 was going to be a trying day as well as there was a better chance than not that I had a more severe problem that was still not fixed that could potentially be causing these issues and no where near enough time to get it figured out. This ruled out Kissimmee and instead needing to somehow gain some points, I decided it best to just stay near the launch on the north side of Toho and just go fishing. I hadn’t practiced there but we all know Toho has giants and a good fisherman will figure out a way to at least put something together.
I did manage to put together a small limit and move up the standings but I still couldn’t have been more disappointed with the outcome. Looking back, it’s unfortunate, in fact I could throw up just thinking about it but the fact is this is the beast of our sport. Just like Nascar, we as tournament anglers demand so much out of our engines and boats that I’m just thankful for all the days where it’s gotten me on and off the water and performed at a high level. I’ve fished now competitively for over 6 years and sure I’ve had little issues but never a big one. That says volumes for today’s engines and as a professional angler I need to learn to overcome events like this because anyone who’s fished at these levels has had to do the same.
Looking back, I always try to think of what I could have done to perform better and in this instance there was none. I was around the winning fish, in fact I was sharing water with 10 of the top 12. I’m not saying I’d a been there but I had the bite dialed in, I surely would have done much better then I did staring at the back of a tow boat. All you can do is take care of your equipment, which God knows I do and practice for success because this is not something you can prepare for, you simply can’t fish scared.
I’d like to personally thank everyone at B.A.S.S. as well as the service crews that helped me get back onto the water. I’d also like to thank Tow Boats USA and just say that the $65 I spent for a year of their service not only came back ten times over, but also aided me in moving up the standings.
I can’t wait for the next time I get to get down to the Kissimmee area and get some much due revenge on these giant Florida bass. I’ll be stewing over it until then…….
One more small note, with all that happened or I guess I should say didn’t happen for me, I do have a highlight of the tournament. Being that I stayed so close to the ramp day two, I got my picture taken by Mr. James Overstreet. That may not be a big deal to some, but to me, a guy that appreciates awesome photography, Street is the best in the business in my opinion and it’s an honor to see yourself being focused into his lens. Here’s a couple of the pics for you to check out and you can surely see the rest of them here on the Bassmaster Website.