Coming off my win in the Bassmaster Wildcard event at Okeechobee in December, I was really looking forward to getting back to Florida to start the 2014 season right where 2013 had ended, with another win.
It may seem like a long time ago, but I did pretty well at Toho last year, too, starting off the season with a 4th place finish in the first Southern Open of the year. This year qualifying for the Elite Series wouldn’t be on my mind, so I would be in position to take some additional chances to shoot for another win.
Prior to arriving in Florida I’d heard that Lake Toho had been on fire and Lake Kissimmee had been a little bit off. I kept that tucked away in my mind, but with six days to practice I had ample opportunity to check out all of the lakes in the chain.
I spent the first day of practice on Toho and saw enough to believe that it could be won there, but as always seems to happen in Florida we had some cold fronts pulling into the area that would push the nighttime temperatures down into the 30s, which always seems to put those Florida-strain fish into a funk. I was flipping a heavy weight around staging areas, and had figured out which locations and which types of vegetation were best. As my practice drew to a close I was leaning toward fishing in Toho. The only thing that messed that up was that the three biggest fish I caught all week came from Kissimmee.
I believed that I could get about 15 bites a day in Kissimmee, as opposed to 20 to 40 bites a day on Toho. I wouldn’t have tospend time in the lock if I stayed in Toho, but I felt that would limit my chances to bring in a big bag, so I came up with a compromise solution – I’d start off in Toho, stay there long enough to catch a limit, and then go to Kissimmee and grind it out there the rest of the day.
When I got to Goblet’s Cove on Toho the first morning of competition, it was immediately evident that the place was no secret. There were about 25 boats in there with me. With a short day (3:15 weigh-in) I didn’t want to die there, but I knew that I had to slow down to get the bites that others would miss. Fortunately, that part of my game plan worked out pretty well. I caught a limit quickly and locked through relatively early in the day. In some respects, the short day worked to my advantage because it forced me to stay in one area and work it thoroughly. On the other hand, while I caught numbers of fish down in Kissimmee I never had a big bite.
The second day of competition was my long day and I only stayed in Toho long enough to catch a limit. That might’ve been 45 minutes, which again worked well because it cleared out the huge numbers of boats from the locks. I locked through quickly and was on my best water with lots of time, but once again I never got a big bite. After weighing in 10-13 the first day, I weighed in 10-15 on Day Two. The overall catch was down a bit, though, and I moved up into 33rd place, enough to get acheck for my efforts.
I suppose I could’ve tried to throw a lipless crankbait or a jerkbait a little bit more, like several of the top finishers, but that was a very hit or miss bite. I know it exists when it gets cold down there, and I did it for a while, but in some respects it’s a luck deal. Some guys who did well with it on the first day didn’t get a bite on Day Two.
What I’m proudest of from this event is how clean I fished. I’ve changed up a few things since Okeechobee and I think they’ve made me a more efficient flipper with a better overall hookup percentage. I’d had some issues when using the big 2 ounce tungsten weight with losing some fish. I still use the same basic equipment – an 8’ extra-extra-heavy Carrot Stix flipping stick, 66 lb. Toray braid and a Lew’s Super Duty reel – but I’ve incorporated a new hook that seems to improve the process. It’s a Gamakatsu Super Heavy Cover flipping hook. It has the stoutest wire I’ve seen on a flipping hook and a friend of mine who works with steel has helped me to roll a specific little bend into it so it doesn’t flex at all. It pairs up perfectly with the Missile Baits Baby D-Bomb and that’s all I fished in Florida, in both the Bruiser Flash and Love Bug color patterns. I don’t think there’s a better small creature bait on the market today.
Next up is the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville. I haven’t fished a Classic since 2006, so to say that I’m excited would be an understatement. The catches are going to be huge and I have a few little tricks up my sleeve that I think might give me an edge over many other members of the field. I can’t wait.
33rd Place; 10 fish, 21-12