The 3-day Bassmaster Classic pre-practice ended yesterday. It answered some questions, but raised a whole bunch more.

Unlike past Classics, when the pre-practice was a full month before competition, this year's pre-practice was only a week before. And it was 3 days, instead of the traditional 5.

It all began Tuesday morning, right after Mother Nature delivered a classic Florida cold front. Temperatures dipped to near freezing, the water

temperature plummeted to the low 50s and winds roiled and silted the water. That's all bad news for the guys wanting a sight-fishing tournament.

But as practice went on, glass-calm conditions and a warming trend set in. Yesterday, air temperatures approached 80 and water temperatures neared 60, with a few 60-degree spots showing up.

Mild weather is predicted from now through the end of next week, which should hold the water temperatures steady. Since the critical nighttime temperatures aren't expected to rise above 60, day and night should cancel each other out to keep the water near 60.

What does that mean? It means there should be some sight-fishing by day 1 (next Thursday), but probably not enough to carry an angler for 3 days. Which in turn means there might be split patterns. There could be an all-out land rush the morning of day 1 to big bed-fish, then a pull-out to pre-spawn fishing as the day, and the tournament, progress.

Keep in mind too that there won't be a good moon – it's waning right now – which should keep quite a few fish back.

So that's the setup. Now, here's BassFan's pre-practice report, straight from the field.

Preston Clark

There's been a lot of talk about Terry Scroggins from Palatka, Fla., but don't forget about his friend and fellow Palatkan Preston Clark.

Clark was hot last year as a rookie, and possibly knows Toho even better than Scroggins. He finished 52nd at last year's Toho Bassmaster and ended the year 15th in the Bassmaster Tour points and 2nd in the Rookie of the Year Race. He's fished Toho for much of his life and thinks some fish will be up by next week.

"The cold front that came down this past weekend probably was the coldest we've had all year," he said. "That kind of shut the fish down a little. I've still had a bunch of bites, but (pre-practice) wasn't up to par with what Toho should be.

"But things are starting to warm, and I think it could turn into a sight-fishing tournament."

He noted there hasn't been a major spawn yet, so if the fish come, it could be a big wave. "I was looking at old beds, probably from the last full moon. The fish had moved in, made a few beds, then the front came and ran them back off.

"But over the next 4 to 5 days, the fish will probably move to shore again. There could be big masses, so I'm looking for big weights to be weighed in."

He doesn't think a sight-bite would work for or against him since he's comfortable doing just about anything at Toho. "It really doesn't matter – everybody has to fish the same water. I feel like I'm just as good a sight-fisherman as I am a flipper. I think it doesn't really matter how it plays out."

He noted there's "quite a few" locals fishing the lake right now, and most are "speck" (crappie) anglers. But local pressure is significant when fish come to the bank. That's when shiner fisherman can get into a bedding area and remove a lot of fish, which could factor into the tournament.

"The shiner fishermen that are fishing out kind of deep on the outside edges of grass won't bother me any," he said. "But the ones that will go around and stake off fish on beds, and throw bullhead minnows or shiners on them – that will hurt me."

A few other items of interest from Clark:

> "We can fish all four lakes on the Kissimmee Chain (West Toho, Kissimmee, Hatchineha and Cypress), so it's kind of wide-open. Most tournaments here are won out of Kissimmee, but if it turns into a sight-fishing tournament, then it'll probably be won out of Toho."

> "A lot of (Toho) is muddier than normal, but if you get behind the hydrilla it clears up. The last couple of weeks the wind's been blowing 30 or 40 mph and it turned the lake up."

> "Pre-practice hours have been sunrise to sunset, and everybody took full advantage."

Mike Wurm's not a sight-fisherman – he's heavily focused on pre-spawn patterns.

> Normally, Classic pre-practice is held a month prior to the Classic. On this year's pre-practice being moved to the week before, he said: "If we were somewhere I didn't know, I'd like for it to be closer (to competition). Unfortunately, I know this lake fairly well, so I wish we had the practice a month ago. That would have helped me out. The fish are going to change a little, but not that much in our few days off before the tournament starts."

> "I've been coming to Toho since I was a kid, but I will say, out of all the major Florida chains and rivers, this is probably my least favorite."

Mike Wurm

This is Mike Wurm's 8th Classic. His best-ever finish is 4th (1995). "Pre-practice did not go too well for me," he said. "I'm catching a few, but it's very slow and spotty. The main reason is the water's so cold.

"Sunday and Monday night we had a heavy frost with winds out of the north at 15 to 40 mph. That really hurt these fish. There's some 60-degree water starting to show up, but it's not widespread."

He's not a sight-fisherman so that won't factor in for him. Instead, he's looking for a pre-spawn pattern.

He noted he spent his pre-practice on Toho and Kissimmee. "I've caught some fish on both, and I have yet to decide exactly where to go in the tournament. I'll use my practice day next week to really solidify that."

A few other items of interest from Wurm:

> On having pre-practice the week before the Classic: "I like it. When it's a month before, yeah, you can find fish, but you can't count on the fish being there the next month. When it's the week before, you get a real feel for what's going on, and you can count on it the next week. And it saves you some driving time."

> Anglers move to BASS-provided Classic boats next week for Wednesday's official practice. He said BASS has provided a parking lot for the field's regular rides. But under Classic rules, once he parks his rig and switches boats, he can't go back to it. "BASS gave us two large tackle bags to pack. Once we register at the hotel, we can't go back to our boats or vehicles. We can't touch them."

> Tuesday was a tough night for hungry anglers who pulled out near dusk. "It was Valentine's Day and it took forever to get a meal. It was an hour wait everywhere. I ended up eating at IHOP."

Photo: BassFan

Ron Shuffield thinks he could get a Top 25 based on what he has right now.

Ron Shuffield

This is Ron Shuffield's 15th Classic and his last BASS event for the foreseeable future (he moved over to FLW Outdoors for the 2006 regular season). He finished 4th at last year's Toho Bassmaster on a Rat-L-Trap and worm bite, but couldn't get the Trap going this week.

"I had a good day Wednesday, a decent day Tuesday and a decent day yesterday," he said. "The water's getting warmer and I think it's going to progressively get better each day."

Like Wurm, he's not a sight-fisherman. "Right now the fish are in pre-spawn – a holding mode. Lots of male bass are up in 2 feet of water or so, and I think the bigger females are in 4 or 5 (feet). I figure by the time the tournament starts there'll be quite a few big fish on the banks – right in the shallow cover.

"I'm sure some will be caught looking at them, but I don't sight-fish. I've just been doing a lot of pitching and flipping. The Trap bite hasn't developed real good for me, so I've been spending more time pitching and flipping than in previous years here."

A few other items of interest from Shuffield:

> His gut feeling about his pre-practice: "Kind of middle-of-the-pack right now. I think I could make the Top 25 based on what I have. Can I win? I don't know. But I'm certain it's going to get better each day over the next week, so I feel all right."

> On having pre-practice the week before the Classic: "You can get a lot more in-tune with what's actually going on. They're not as apt to change in the period of a week as opposed to 30 days. I think it's a great idea to have the prefish preceding the Classic."

Greg Hackney

According to Greg Hackney, his bite is on the upswing and should continue to improve. "It's getting better every day. Unless we have another severe cold front, there's going to be a lot of fish caught in the Classic."

He said water temperatures in the areas he's fishing went from 53 to 55 degrees on Tuesday to 58 to 60 by the end of pre-practice. "They're going up, but that won't necessarily be the deal come the Classic. That day right before it starts is going to be very important. There's a good chance a lot of the fish are going to be spawning.

"I think it'll probably be about 50-50, with half of them spawning and half already spawned. There should be a lot of post-spawn fish."

John Crews

Virginia's John Crews said he's been having a difficult time getting bites. "It's been really tough so far. For a place that has this many fish, they're sure not showing themselves right now, at least not where I can find them.

"But this place can turn on like a light switch. The long-term forecast is for 80 degrees at least through Monday, and if that's the case, things will warm up. I think fishing might be completely different next week than it has been for these 3 days."

If the warming trend holds, he'll dust off his sight-fishing glasses. "I don't know if that'll be the one and only pattern, but there'll be a lot of it going on."

He likes having the pre-practice period closer to the tournament. "It makes a lot of sense," he said. "You can come and practice and then do all of the festivities, and then the tournament starts. There's none of this back-and-forth stuff, so it's cheaper and there's less travel.

"You can maybe learn some things that you can actually use the next week," he added. "When it was in the summertime maybe the pattern was a little more stable, but at this time of year things change weekly."

Mike Reynolds has seen a lot of fry and thinks a post-spawn pattern is a possibility.

Mike Reynolds

California's Mike Reynolds said he's seen a lot of bass fry swimming around, which gives him the idea that a big wave of fish has already spawned.

"I think it's going to be an interesting tournament because we'll be right in the middle of everything," he said. "With all the fry I'm seeing, there's already been one mega-spawn, but I also caught a big one (5 pounds) that was still fat and was probably a pre-spawn fish.

"If it stays warm like this, the sight-fishing masters like Aaron (Martens) and (Dean) Rojas are going to find their share of fish, but I don't think it'll be a pure sight-fishing thing. They'll have to have a backup to go to, like topwater or flipping."

He didn't get a bite on the first day of pre-fish (Tuesday), but picked up a few on Wednesday. "(On Thursday) I think I could have weighed a limit, but it would have been nothing spectacular," he said. "It seems to be getting better as time goes on.

"The average fish seems to be about 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 (pounds), so I think you'll see one or two guys really take off on the first day and get 15 to 20 pounds, and most everybody else will be around 10. There'll be some guys who won't weigh five fish – it isn't easy."

He's "thrilled" that the pre-practice is the week prior to the tournament. "Being from California, it works out great for me because I didn't have to come out here twice. I don't know what it'll mean for the fishing part, but I like it just because this place is so far from home and having to make two trips would have been crazy."

Last Year's Weights

For reference, here's the Top 12 day 3 weights from last year's Toho Bassmaster. Asterisks denote anglers not fishing the Classic.

2005 Toho Bassmaster Day 3 Top 12

1. Takahiro Omori* -- Emory, Texas -- 14, 42-10
Day 1: 4, 13-06 -- Day 2: 5, 17-15 -- Day 3: 5, 11-05

2. David Walker -- Sevierville, Tenn. -- 15, 37-00
Day 1: 5, 11-12 -- Day 2: 5, 13-12 -- Day 3: 5, 11-08

3. Gerald Swindle -- Hayden, Ala. -- 15, 33-10
Day 1: 5, 10-04 -- Day 2: 5, 11-02 -- Day 3: 5, 12-04

3. Ron Shuffield -- Bismarck, Ark. -- 15, 33-10
Day 1: 5, 6-12 -- Day 2: 5, 17-11 -- Day 3: 5, 9-03

5. Jeff Reynolds -- Platter, Okla. -- 14, 33-04
Day 1: 4, 9-05 -- Day 2: 5, 11-12 -- Day 3: 5, 12-03

6. Terry Scroggins -- Palatka, Fla. -- 13, 32-14
Day 1: 5, 11-08 -- Day 2: 4, 13-07 -- Day 3: 4, 7-15

7. Scott Rook -- Little Rock, Ark. -- 13, 29-07
Day 1: 3, 4-15 -- Day 2: 5, 17-12 -- Day 3: 5, 6-12

8. Kevin Wirth -- Crestwood, Ky. -- 11, 28-10
Day 1: 5, 15-05 -- Day 2: 2, 6-11 -- Day 3: 4, 6-10

9. Jay Yelas -- Tyler, Texas -- 13, 27-13
Day 1: 4, 4-08 -- Day 2: 5, 16-10 -- Day 3: 4, 6-11

10. Jeff Kriet -- Ardmore, Okla. -- 11, 26-11
Day 1: 5, 13-03 -- Day 2: 5, 11-10 -- Day 3: 1, 1-14

11. Woo Daves* -- Spring Grove, Va. -- 11, 24-01
Day 1: 5, 12-15 -- Day 2: 5, 9-07 -- Day 3: 1, 1-11

12. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, Mich. -- 11, 22-10
Day 1: 5, 11-06 -- Day 2: 5, 9-01 -- Day 3: 1, 2-03


> The full 2006 Classic field appears below.

> This is the second time the Classic has been held in Florida. The first Florida Classic was held Oct. 26–28, 1977 – also at Toho. That Classic marked the first time anglers were given advance notice of the location (it used to be kept secret until the final hour). Rick Clunn won with 27-07 and became the first and only angler to ever win back-to-back Classics.

> BassFan News is brought to you by Rapala.

2006 Classic Field

Tommy Biffle -- Wagoner, Okla.
Chad Brauer -- Osage Beach, Mo.
Preston Clark -- Palatka, Fla.
Luke Clausen -- Spokane, Wash.
Rick Clunn -- Ava, Mo.
Jeff Coble -- Manson, N.C.
George Cochran -- Hot Springs, Ark.
Joe Conway -- Colorado Springs, Colo.
John Crews -- Salem, Va.
Anre' de Villiers -- South Africa
Edwin Evers -- Mannsville, Okla.
Greg Gutierrez -- Red Bluff, Calif.
Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, La.
Davy Hite -- Ninety Six, S.C.
Tim Horton -- Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Randy Howell -- Springville, Ala.
Mike Iaconelli -- Runnemede, N.J.
Jimmy Johnson -- La Crosse, Wisc.
James Kennedy -- Lacombe, La.
Stacey King -- Reeds Spring, Mo.
Gary Klein -- Weatherford, Texas
Jeff Kriet -- Ardmore, Okla.
Aaron Martens -- Leeds, Ala.
Mike McClelland -- Bella Vista, Ark.
Mark Menendez -- Paducah, Ky.
Jimmy Mize -- Ben Lomond, Ark.
Ish Monroe -- Hughson, Calif.
Andre Moore -- Scottsdale, Ariz.
Chad Morgenthaler -- Carbondale, Ill.
Rick Morris -- Lanexa, Va.
Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, Ark.
Skeet Reese -- Auburn, Calif.
Jeff Reynolds -- Idabel, Okla.
Mike Reynolds -- Modesto, Calif.
Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu, Ariz.
Scott Rook -- Little Rock, Ark.
Zell Rowland -- Montgomery, Texas
Joel St. Germain -- Cumberland, R.I.
Terry Scroggins -- Palatka, Fla.
Ron Shuffield -- Bismarck, Ark.
Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, Mo.
Bob Soley -- Trenton, NJ
Marty Stone -- Linden, N.C.
Gerald Swindle -- Hayden, Ala.
Mark Tucker -- Saint Louis, Mo.
Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, Mich.
David Walker -- Sevierville, Tenn.
Kevin Wirth -- Crestwood, Ky.
Dave Wolak -- Warrior Run, Pa.
Mike Wurm -- Hot Springs, Ark.
Jay Yelas -- Tyler, Texas

Field size: 51 anglers