By Steve Boyd
Special to BassFan
For weeks now, anglers have been preparing for the Bassmaster Eastern Opens event at Lake Toho. Although January tournaments held on Lake Okeechobee are traditionally the first of the year, Toho is the place competitors and fans look forward to.
And they have good reason – Toho has a proven ability to break records and be a game-changer for competitors as well as fishing industry product manufacturers. After all, the single-day weight record, set in 2001, is still owned by Dean Rojas and Lake Toho.
It's amazing how much that tournament dictates what the anglers competing in this tournament do during practice. I can tell you that every day for the last week, the same areas where Rojas caught his giant limit are getting checked by at least 15 boats. Sadly, they all leave disappointed, as the conditions that helped Rojas win are still "once in a lifetime."
But it's not just a record-breaking history that anglers are looking forward to with this tournament. There's one thing that winter brings to Florida that everyone else gets hot under the collar about – fat-bottom girls! While winter in other parts of the country means regular reorganization of lures in the boat because of ice on the lakes or making long runs to power-plant lakes just to cast a lure, we look for big girls in Florida.
In tournaments like this, it's not enough to find a quality limit with a solid kicker because that might not even make the cut. Competitors will need to look for big, fat females with lots of junk in the trunk! And the great thing about fishing on the Kissimmee Chain is they can show up on any cast.
But that doesn't mean it will be easy. The obvious question is, will competitors be able to adjust to the changing conditions and movements these bass are making to bring big bags to the scales? On shallow-water lakes such as Toho, many elements play a role in bass behavior that can create havoc for anglers trying to figure out their movements. This week will be a perfect example of changing conditions that will feel very similar to Rojas' record breaking win.
A cold front just came through Florida that brought water temperatures down into the high 50s, and that will heavily impact the first day of the tournament. But the front will play more of a mind game on anglers than anything else. The past two days have seen high winds that might make many anglers question the areas they have been fishing. But Thursday will be a competitor's dream day for spawning bass.
The forecast is calling for a launch temperature of 49 degrees with very little wind throughout the day. So, while the morning bite might be initially slow, the mid-day bite could be on fire, with bass making a massive move into spawning areas benefiting later flights. Either way, many competitors might have to leave fish that they have found on beds because they are out of time.
Does that mean the tournament will be a sight-fishing slugfest? My prediction is no, because water temps aren't cold enough to push the bass shallow and the water color is too stained to sight-fish the deeper bedding fish.
While I have some ideas on what to expect from winning weights and what will be needed for a top-10 finish, the unknown will be the winning lake. It's easy to go with Toho right now because the lake looks great. Toho is probably the easiest to fish of all four lakes right now, but the advantage will go to anglers who have a long history fishing there, as the fish are not in the typical areas anglers expect. A one-day tournament last weekend was won with 23 pounds that came out of Toho. Expect the top 3 finishers to come out of this lake with a potential average of 25 pounds per day.
Lake Kissimmee is fishing small, but the areas that are producing are holding some big bass. Having an early flight and making the run to Kissimmee could pay off for the first two days of the tournament, but it's doubtful to get three days out of those areas to win. Expect a top-5 finisher to come out of Kissimmee.
Lake Cypress is always a sleeper in these tournaments and I can personally attribute a top-3 finish in a BFL to this lake. Winds for the last few days could make the bite there tough, but with light winds predicted for the tournament, expect some kicker fish to come from this lake that could be the difference in a win or 6th place.
Lake Hatchineha looks the best I have seen it in 10 years. It's doubtful the tournament will there – last time it happened was around 1998. My expectation is that Hatchineha will be part of a milk run that will help finish out some daily limits that contribute to a top-10 finish.
So, how many fat-bottom girls will we see come across the scales? There is a good chance we will see one 11-pounder that takes big-bass honors.
I'm predicting a tight start to the event with a few 20-pound-plus bags being caught on day 1, but the real competition will start on day 2 as conditions get ripe for more big fish being caught. Heading into the final day, look for someone to make a big leap in the standings to challenge for the win.
I won't make any angler predictions this year. The last time I did, I picked Shaw Grigsby and he bombed, and now he acts like he doesn't know me!
The winning weight should hit 75 pounds and top 10 finishers will need to be in the 50-pound range. It should be a fun tournament to keep up with and hopefully the Kissimmee Chain will represent as it always does!
Steve Boyd is the owner of Florida Bass Adventures Guide Service on Lake Toho.