By Todd Ceisner
Jordan Lee’s tournament history at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes wasn’t that stellar prior to last week. In three Bassmaster Opens (2014-16), his average finish was 83rd. He’s cashed a couple checks in Florida in Elite Series events, but the Sunshine State has never been among his strong suits.
That might be turning around after the showing he put on at the inaugural MLF Bass Pro Tour event at the Kissimmee Chain and Lake Garcia.
After barely surviving the Group A Elimination Round, Lee used a third-period surge in the Knockout Round to earn one of the 10 spots in the Championship Round. With the scene shifting to Lake Garcia, Lee didn’t miss a beat, relying on a vibrating jig around hydrilla and a Texas-rigged soft plastic stickbait in and around lily pads to catch the majority of his fish.
“I definitely feel like I learned a lot and my confidence (in Florida) is better now,” Lee said. “I feel like I’m becoming more of a moving-bait guy. I knew guys catch catch ‘em big flipping, but I can’t ever find that bite down there with a big weight and I can’t consistently catch ‘em out of mats when it’s cold. The only other thing to do is wind a bladed jig around in the hydrilla and that’s probably my favorite bait to throw now.”
Finding the right areas to do it was critical, though, and he was able to do just enough either by design or sheer instinct to capture another milestone win to go with his back-to-back Bassmaster Classic triumphs.
Here’s a recap of how Lee put the pieces together amid challenging conditions in Florida.
A drenching day-long rain greeted the field for the start of practice and Lee opted to spend his time at Lake Toho.
“I tried a few areas where I’d caught them in the past in offshore hydrilla,” he said. “That’s what I was banking on in Toho. I thought if I could catch them there it’d be on reaction baits.”
He also flipped some and had a few bites doing that, but after a handful of keeper bites, he locked through to Lake Cypress and fished in a few canals.
“It was fairly unproductive,” he said.
He said it was challenging trying to develop a plan with just two days on the water compared to the three he’s been used to with the Elite Series.
“It’s tough because you don’t know if you need to fish slow or fish fast,” he said. “I had no clue. Practice was tough. We had no time to dial anything in. You just have to figure it out quick.”
The following day the rain let up, but the wind made it tough to be efficient. He spent the day in Lake Kissimmee, first checking an area where he’d caught fish in a previous tournament.
“I caught a couple flipping (Berkley PowerBait) The General around some pads, but I wasn’t feeling it,” he said. “The water looked good and it was kind of a community area. I caught one on a vibrating jig around some hydrilla, so I knew that had some fish. I think I had three bites. It was a place I could go back to and try to put something together. That’s really all I had was that one area.”
> Shotgun Round: 9, 17-05
> Elimination Round: 6, 13-07 (15, 30-12)
> Knockout Round: 20, 33-02
> Championship Round: 26, 55-01
> Total = 61, 118-15
As Lee prepped for the Group A Shotgun Round, he rigged up a variety of baits, but his three main focuses were going to be a Texas-rigged soft stickbait (The General) for flipping around pads, a punch rig for mats – the weather had been so cold that plenty of fish had retreated up under the matted vegetation – and a few vibrating jigs for areas that had hydrilla. All standard fare for Florida.
He started in Kissimmee with the stickbait, but it was a slow start. It was 90 minutes until he caught his first Bass Pro Tour fish, a 2-14 on The General. He added another 1-pounder a few minutes later, but he had some catching up to do. Through two periods, he had three fish that weighed 5-11.
In the third period, he swapped to the vibrating jig and began employing it around hydrilla that was close to lily pads.
“There was a lot of bait around and I started getting a few bites,” he said.
He tallied six fish for 11-10 in the third period to finish 16th after the first day.
“I was feeling pretty good considering my practice,” he said. “The game plan was to run back down there (Thursday) and catch another 20 pounds and move on.”
Things did not go as planned in the Elimination Round as Lee was without a fish for the first two periods. He ran back to Kissimmee and watched Takahiro Omori catch three fish in the same area he’d fished Tuesday. For some reason, Lee couldn’t buy a bite.
“We had a strong northeast wind and it was just dead,” he said. “I was falling down the leaderboard.”
It was a pivotal time in the tournament for him.
“I’ve done it in the past where I run away from areas I knew had fish and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I went the whole first period with no fish, but just knowing I’d caught my fish in the last period on day 1, I was okay. At the same time, I was in my best area doing the right thing and I couldn’t catch one. I knew that wasn’t good.
“The worst thing you can do in Florida is to start running around randomly, so that’s what I did, of course.”
Eventually, he wound up in Lake Hatchineha for the end of the second period with few other viable options.
“Guys were catching them and I was still falling,” he said. “I figured I could sit here and try to figure it out or go back to where I was and try to make it happen.”
He spent 20 minutes back where he’d started, but still generated nothing. He began scrambling and ran to the north end of Kissimmee to try to escape the wind.
“I put my trolling motor down and caught one within five minutes,” he said. “I caught a few more and all of a sudden I’m 7 pounds back with 20 minutes left.”
He caught a 4-05 to put himself in the mix for a top-20 finish and a berth in the Knockout Round. He added 1 1/2-pounder then a 2-12 to bump Greg Vinson out of 20th.
“It was all hydrilla mixed in under some dollar pads,” he said. “I just pulled in on them. It was perfect. I don’t know why I pulled in there. I was trying to make something happen.”
With weights zeroed for the Knockout Round, Lee was on level ground with the other 39 competitors vying for 10 spots in the Championship Round.
“I was excited going in because I’d barely made it, but felt like I’d found good stuff and could build off that,” he said.
He caught five in the first period, capped off by a 3-07, but as the sun got up and the wind slacked off, the vibrating jig bite started to fade.
“With the vibrating jig it was a light switch,” he said. “It was tough to get bit when it slicked off. It’s like you weren’t even around a fish any more.”
He tried a few other baits with no success, then he moved to a different area with the same scenario – dollar pads around hydrilla – and started catching numbers in the third period.
“I was hovering around 10th and the wind started picking up, so I knew I needed to get back where I started the day,” he added. “The better quality fish were there. Plus, I couldn’t win catching 1-pounders. A lot of people say that’s all you have to do in this format, but I wasn’t going to move on hoping to catch a few 1 1/2-pounders.”
After making the move back to his starting spot, the wind had picked up and with light-switch precision so did the fishing. He caught a 4-pounder within 5 minutes, then tacked on a 1-04 minutes later and wound up 6th, clinching a spot in the finals.
“If I don’t make that move, I don’t make that final day,” he said. “I felt good going out that day because I knew those fish would be fresh. I’d just found them and I knew I had that little advantage even though I just snuck in. That’s what happens when you’re not catching them – you have to go find ‘em.”
At Garcia for the Championship Round, he tried to locate similar grass scenarios and he started the first period tossing The General around pads, but they weren’t the caliber of fish he was going to need.
“It was okay for now, but I was not catching them fast enough or big enough,” he said. “And there weren’t enough pads to fish through.”
Still, he found himself in 2nd after the first period as he and Jared Lintner were the only anglers to eclipse 10 pounds in the first 2 1/2 hours.
Action slowed for him in the second, but toward the end of the period, he got into an area with cleaner-than-average water and some scattered hydrilla. He’d found what he was looking for.
“In Florida, in general, you have to get around the hydrilla,” he said. “If you’re around hydrilla, you’re around bass somewhere. I don’t care where you’re at. When I got around that clean water it was game on.”
He carded 16 fish in the final period for 40 pounds with virtually every fish committing to a 1/2-ounce vibrating jig that featured a gold blade. He said the water in the area he hunkered down in was 3 to 3 1/2 feet deep and he was able to slowly meander around and fan-cast the whole area.
“There were so many mats on that lake that I think it maybe threw some guys off,” he said. “Some people might think the bigger fish would be around them, but they weren’t. You couldn’t catch a bunch of them doing that.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Vibrating jig gear: 7’3” medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 17-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, various 1/2-oz. vibrating jigs (gold blade/green-pumpkin chartreuse), various straight-tail minnow trailers (green-pumpkin).
> Lee said a lot of the fish bit while he was burning the bait fast over the top of the grass. “They didn’t get a good look at it,” he said. “They just came up and reacted to it.”
> Worm gear: 7’6” heavy-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo Rocket casting reel (10.1:1 ratio), 50-pound Berkley x9 braided line, unnamed 3/16-oz. tungsten worm weight, 4/0 Berkley Fusion 19 heavy cover hook, 5” Berkley PowerBait The General Worm (black blue fleck).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “The mental side of it. When I went two periods without a fish and to come back from that and keep looking for a new water … I was just covering water. That was the key to success – finding an area with a group of fish and milking it. I had to cover a lot of water to find those key areas.”
> Performance edge – “My Lowrance electronics. I had a CMAP card for Lake Garcia that shows a lot of the areas with the harder bottom. Those are always great places to start. At Garcia, once you’re back in the stuff, you could tell it started running out of the hard bottom and those areas wouldn’t be as productive. I started in areas that were more pink.”
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