By MLF Communications Staff

After bringing 24 pounds to the scale on Day 1 and 27-11 on Day 2, Umatilla, Florida's Kennie Steverson weighed 20-02 on Friday to close out the win at the Toyota Series event at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla. earning the top payout of $102,000. Over the three days of competition, Steverson’s catch of 15 bass totaling 71-13 earned him the win by a commanding 7-06 margin over Eric Panzironi of Longwood, Fla., who finished runner-up with a three-day total of 64-07, good for $27,500.

Each day Steverson traveled from the launch in Lake Harris to Lake Apopka, roughly 60 miles per day round trip. With 260 boats in the field, and so many locking through Apopka’s tiny three-boat lock, the wait times were roughly 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get through the lock. Each day, Steverson averaged just 3 hours of fishing time in Apopka. Since each official tournament day is 8 hours long, across three competition days he had a total of 24 hours to fish, but only fished 9 of those hours – basically just one-third of the allotted time.

“I got a bunch of bites in Apopka in practice, but didn’t set on them. So I really didn’t know what I had,” Steverson said. “But once I drew boat (No. 2) on Day 1, I knew I could be the first through the lock and have first pick of the water down there. I had to go, it was like a guarantee that no one else would be on the stretch I wanted to fish.”

Anyone who has tournament-fished knows that when making long runs, especially through locks, when you finally get to your water and you’re the first one there; you can’t help but be just a little jacked up when you land. With so much fishing time sacrificed, the tendency is to fish fast and cover water – but not for Steverson.

Once he hit the Power-Poles and came to a halt in the shallow reeds of Apopka, that was it. That’s where he was fishing. All told, Steverson’s best stretch was maybe 100 yards long. But he didn’t fish all 100 yards each day. Instead, he slowly digested only 30 to 40 yards of it per day.

Steverson said he needled the hay grass and reeds with a standard 6-inch Yamamoto Senko on a 1/2-ounce weight, tied to 65-pound-test Fitzgerald Vursa Braid. The power end of the business was done with a 7-foot, 6-inch Fitzgerald All-Purpose rod with a Fitzgerald Stunner reel.

“I’m a slow fisherman by nature anyway,” he said. “So, these Florida bass sort of suit my style because you can’t rush them. I’ve learned to take my time, let them get comfortable and pick them apart as slow as possible, even when I only have 2 1/2 hours to fish.”

Here's a look at the final Top 10:

1st: Kennie Steverson, Umatilla, Fla., 15 bass, 71-13, $102,000 (includes $35,000 Phoenix MLF Bonus)
2nd: Eric Panzironi, Longwood, Fla., 15 bass, 64-07, $27,500
3rd: Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., 15 bass, 63-14, $18,000
4th: Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 15 bass, 63-00, $16,000
5th: Cory Johnston, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, 15 bass, 61-11, $15,000
6th: Chad Mrazek, Montgomery, Texas, 15 bass, 57-04, $11,500
7th: Ken Thompson, Roaring Springs, Pa., 13 bass, 55-10, $10,000
8th: Darold Gleason, Many, La., 15 bass, 52-11, $8,500
9th: Rodney Marks, Apopka, Fla., 15 bass, 51-13, $7,500
10th: Tyler Sheppard, Yulee, Fla., 15 bass, 50-12, $5,500

In addition to his tournament winner payout, Steverson also took home the $500 Day 1 Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division Wednesday with a chunky largemouth weighing 9-10. On Thursday, Jessie Mizell of Myakka City, Fla. earned the prize after bringing a 9-11 bass to the scale.

Steverson earned an extra $35,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $35,000 per event in each Toyota Series tournament if all requirements are met.

For complete final standings, click here.