By Sean Ostruszka
Special to BassFan
It's amazing how much the fishing can change in a week, and the pros on the FLW Tour certainly are hoping it does.
A week after the MLF Bass Pro Tour had its inaugural event on the Kissimmee Chain, the FLW Tour swings into the chain for its second event of 2019. Yet, don’t expect many FLW Tour pros be looking back at the BPT event for help with patterns.
The BPT anglers got hit with a brutal cold front throughout practice, and the Florida bass did what they historically do when it gets cold – they didn’t bite. Only a dozen of the 40 anglers caught 10 or more bass the first day of the event, and big bites were very few and far between.
All that said, there’s plenty of hope for this week. Despite an abnormal two-week stretch of cold weather, the water temps are primed to bring the biggest wave of spawners in with the new moon. If the weather forecast holds true and finally brings some stable, warm sunshine, the anglers could be greeted with a sight-fishing blitz come Thursday.
Here's a look at the venue that will host the anglers this week.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Kissimmee Chain (lakes Tohopekaliga (Toho), Cypress, Hatchineha (Hatch), Kissimmee, Tiger and Rosalie)
> Type of Water: Shallow Florida natural lakes
> Surface Acres: Approx. 67,000 among the four lakes
> Primary structure/cover: Grass and vegetation (many types)
> Primary forage: Shad, bream, grass shrimp, shiners
> Average depth: 5 feet
> Species: Largemouths
> Length limit: 14 inches
> Reputation: Record-setting fishery with legendary potential, but quirky and apt to turn off due to weather
> Weather: Sun and air temperatures in the 80s the first two days before potential showers and low 70s on the weekend
> Water temperature: 65-70 degrees
> Water visibility: Varies depending on location
> Water level: Normal pool
> Fish in: All depths
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn, spawn
> Primary patterns: Flipping and pitching vegetation, moving baits in offshore grass, sight-fishing
> Winning weight: 80 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (top 30 after 2 days): 31 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 with the potential to go higher
> Biggest decision: Find a bite in the deep grass or stay shallow and hope the spawners come to you
> Wildcard: The big spawning wave and whether or not it comes in
About to Bust Open
Capt. Blake Smith caught his first bass flipping on the Kissimmee Chain and considers it his home body of water. So he knows two waves of spawners have already come up – one on Dec. 28 and a second on Jan. 21. Neither was the “big one", though.
“The big one is coming,” Smith said. “Even with all this cold weather we’ve had lately, the water temps are still 65-70 degrees. They’re ready. All we’ve been missing is the stable element with the weather.”
If the forecast holds true, Smith thinks there’s a chance to replicate the historic Bassmaster Top 150 event at Lake Toho in 2001, when Dean Rojas sacked a record 45-02 limit and Mark Davis also weighed in 41-10. That event was a perfect-storm spawning scenario, and Smith and many other pros think this one might be similar.
As for which lakes to watch, Smith says all have the potential to give up a 30-plus-pound bag, but Toho and Kissimmee are the most consistent. Toho, especially, may be the biggest player this weekend, as it currently has the best water clarity in the chain after the weeks of wind and cold had churned up the water. It also has as much healthy grass as Smith has seen in all his years fishing the chain.
“Guys are going to catch a lot more fish than they did last week, even if the wave doesn’t come in,” Smith said. “The conditions are just better. The key is getting in the right area. You might go a long time without getting a bite, but then crack 20 pounds in no time.”
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
“The lake is just different; off compared to in the past. The fish seem to be really grouped up. One of the days I went 2 miles on the trolling motor over the course of 4 hours and never got bit. Then I went another 50 yards and got five bites.
“Right now I’m trying to stay open-minded because you have fish in all three phases. I’m just hoping Mother Nature cooperates because if she does, it could be really good.”
"So far it’s not been what I expected. I always dreamed of coming to Florida because I love to pitch and flip, but I can’t get it going. I joked before the event I was only going to bring two rods, but I’m glad I didn’t.
“I’m actually getting plenty of bites, though, fishing some slower techniques. I just haven’t caught a fish over 3 pounds.
“I have found some areas with a lot of males, and my hope is that by the time the tournament comes they’ll have drawn in some big females to join them.”
John Cox is one of many anglers who hope the big wave of females will show up on the spawning grounds.
If you'd asked me the first morning I’d have said it was awesome. I went to a spot where, historically, I’ve been able to catch a quick limit, and my first bite was a 7-pounder. But then I didn’t get another bite the rest of the morning.
“It’s just been such an extreme with the weather. These fish are used to a few days of cold weather, but not 2 weeks like we’ve had. It’s made the fish pretty stagnant, but it’s good they’re stagnant now and not in the tournament.
“It’s setting up like a tournament on Okeechobee a few years back. After practice I didn’t think I could catch 8 pounds a day, and then the first day we go out and more fish had moved up on beds than I’d ever seen in my life. I’d love that again.”
"I’m not on anything, but I know they’re going to catch them. It’s fixing to be a slugfest.
"The first two days of practice were cloudy, but [the third day] is sunny and you can tell there’s more signs of life. So those big females may still be sitting out deeper, but it won’t be for long. It’s liable to happen any day, and if it does, you may bring in 20 pounds and be sitting in 50th. There’s potential for a 30- to 35-pound bag.
“My issue so far is I just haven’t run into a big girl yet to get a clue of where they’re sitting or potentially moving. I think I’m being a little stubborn, trying to make them bite the way I want to fish, but I know if things get right, what I’m doing now will be good.”
A Few to Keep an Eye On
Here are a handful of anglers who might fare well considering the way that Kissimmee is set up this week.
Bryan Thrift – Arguably the top angler in the sport, Thrift has a top 10 on the chain back in 2008 and he just spent finished 13th at the FLW Series event on Okeechobee last weekend. He should be pretty in tune to the Florida bite.
McMillan brothers – Brandon has a top-5 finish on the chain in a Bassmaster Open in 2015, while both he and younger brother Jared are among the best in the state of Florida.
John Cox – He won a BFL on Toho back when he was a teenager, and if the fish get on beds he’s one of the best sight-fishermen in the sport.
Bryan Schmitt – If the big wave of spawners delays, numerous pros mentioned Schmitt should crush them on a vibrating jig out in the deeper grass, as it sets up perfectly for his strength.
Brad Knight – He's struggled recently and may seem like an oddball on this list, but his last three finishes on the Kissimmee Chain are 21st, 12th and 12th.
Anglers will take off at 7 a.m. EST each day from Big Toho Marina, located at 69 Lakeview Drive
in Kissimmee. Weigh-ins on days 1 and 2 will be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. Weekend weigh-ins will also be held at the marina, but will begin at 4 p.m.
The FLW Live on-the-water program will air on from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on days 3 and 4. The broadcasts will be live-streamed on FLWFishing.com, the FLW YouTube channel and the FLW Facebook page.
> Thurs., Feb. 7 – Mostly Sunny - 81°/59°
- Wind: From the ESE at 9 mph
> Fri., Feb. 8 – Partly Cloudy - 81°/59°
- Wind: From the NNE at 6 mph
> Sat., Feb. 9 – P.M. Rain - 73°/65°
- Wind: From the NNE at 16 mph
> Sun., Feb. 10 – Showers - 75°/63°
- Wind: From the E at 14 mph