By MLF Communications Staff

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – While the bite on the first day of Heavy Hitters was feast or famine for much of the 15-angler field, Florida’s Kissimmee Chain of Lakes served up everything a bass angler could ask for. Kissimmee produced quality bites on a diverse mix of techniques and surrendered a 9-pound Florida stud for the first big-bass bonus of the event.

Knoxville, Tenn. pro Brandon Coulter led the group after catching 12 bass for 39 pounds, 3 ounces, a near 7-pound lead over Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., who weighed 10 scorable bass totaling 32-1 to end the day in second place.

With tight weights, every angler still has a legitimate chance to advance to the Knockout Round, where the stakes are raised and the big bass payout increases to $30,000.

Huntsville, Ala. pro Ryan Salzman, who finished the day in third place, caught the heaviest bass of the day Saturday right at the end of Period 1 – a largemouth that weighed in at 9-3. The fish came on a Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a Houdini-colored Z-Man RaZor Shadz trailer. For the lunker, Salzman will take home a $10,000 Big Bass Bonus.

Big Bass Bonuses are awarded each day throughout the competition, with payouts of $10,000, $30,000 and $100,000 being awarded for the single biggest fish in the Qualifying, Knockout and Championship rounds.

The 15 anglers in Group A will now have the day off Sunday, while the 15 anglers in Group B will begin their Day 1 Qualifying Round. Group A will complete their two-day Qualifying Round on Monday.

After a slow start to the day, where he failed to catch a scoreable bass for the first two hours, Coulter caught fire for the rest of the day. He estimates catching well over 60 bass, with a dozen reaching this round's 2-pound variable minimum weight. Coulter is also right on the mark for his goal weight and shouldn't have to catch many more fish to advance when his group returns to the water on Monday.

"It was a heck of a day, and I barely missed my goal – I was hoping for 40 pounds and came up a little short," he said. "The first period, I didn't have anything going until right before the period ended. What a day it turned into after that, once I figured out the bite."

Coulter surmised that switching from a punching pattern to a frog was the key.

“I didn’t even have a bite on a frog in practice and was catching them in the hydrilla punching,” he said. “Toward the end of practice, I noticed I was getting bites as soon as the bait came through the mat, which told me they were higher in the water column, so I threw a few frogs in the boat.”

Since his mat-punching pattern was so strong in practice, he stuck with it until switching to a bone Berkley Swamp Lord frog at the end of the first period.

“My first bite was a 4-15 and she choked it,” Coulter said. “We started counting and it was 62 bass on that same frog, which was brand new out of the package earlier in the day. A lot of the fish were around 1-12, and I don’t care who you are; that’s still fun to catch a bunch of fish that size in the slop.”

Coulter fished his frog on a 7-foot, 5-inch extra-heavy Fenwick World Class rod with an 8.3:1 Abu Garcia Zenon X reel and 65-pound Berkley X5 braided line. Another key was reading the grass and finding the right areas.

“It’s the same thing I do on Guntersville and Chickamauga, and when you find the right grass mix, it becomes much easier,” he said. “It was an absolutely perfect day for frog fishing since many people haven’t gotten on the bite yet. It’s like when the fish first get out on the ledges and haven’t been harassed yet.”

Coulter is thrilled with his catch, but looking ahead, he knows that things will change when he returns to Kissimmee on Friday.

“The conditions are going to be different, and I know I’m going to do some different stuff,” he said. “I’ll treat Monday as a practice day to expand and try my best to catch the biggest bass of the day.”

The tournament features the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers catch as much weight as they can each day while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the ScoreTracker leaderboard. A bass must meet the 2-pound minimum weight requirement to be deemed scorable in the Qualifying and Knockout Rounds, but for the final day Championship Round a bass must weigh at least 3 pounds to be deemed scorable.

After each two-day qualifying round is complete, the Top 8 anglers from each group advance to Wednesday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 16 anglers compete to finish in the Top 10 to advance to the Championship Round, where weights are zeroed and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers launch each day at 7:30 a.m. ET from Big Toho Marina, located at 69 Lakeview Drive in Kissimmee. Each day’s takeout will be held at the park beginning at 4 p.m.

To qualify for Heavy Hitters, the weight of an angler’s single largest bass from each event of the seven 2023 Bass Pro Tour events was recorded. The 30 anglers with the heaviest total from those seven bass earned the right to compete.

The MLFNOW! broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney break down the extended action live on all six days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET. MLFNOW! is livestreamed on, the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app and Rumble.

Qualifying Group A – Day 1

(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish for the round)

1. Brandon Coulter -- 39-03 (12) -- 7-10

2. Brent Ehrler -- 32-01 (10) -- 6-07

3. Ryan Salzman -- 29-15 (6) -- 9-03

4. Matt Becker -- 22-01 (7) -- 4-10

5. Bryan Thrift -- 21-10 (6) -- 6-15

6. Jacob Wheeler -- 18-11 (4) -- 6-10

7. Dakota Ebare -- 10-08 (4) -- 2-12

8. Jesse Wiggins -- 10-04 (3) -- 4-11

9. Scott Suggs -- 9-15 (4) -- 3-04

10. Adrian Avena -- 9-13 (4) -- 3-01

11. David Dudley -- 8-13 (3) -- 3-03

12. Dustin Connell -- 8-09 (2) -- 4-15

13. Alton Jones Jr. -- 8-05 (3) -- 3-10

14. Marty Robinson -- 7-01 (2) -- 4-06

15. Edwin Evers -- 2-09 (1) -- 2-09