Fishing has been a part of my life since I was a young kid, learning how to fish from the banks of my grandparent‘s cottage. At age 17, fishing became my main passion and I began fishing as often as possible. Realizing there was an opportunity to combine my passions of fishing and filming, I started a YouTube channel where I am able to document and share my trips on the water. I’ve become extremely smallmouth focused and have dedicated the past two and a half years to chasing the biggest smallmouth possible.
Featured Image Credit: FLW’s Kyle Wood
With stable weather conditions and a forecast of sun and light winds through the majority of the tournament, many predictions for the 2nd stop of the FLW Tour on Lake Toho were that it would turn into a sight fishing slugfest. While the latter was true, with many Trophy Catch bass over 8-pounds weighed in, the sight fishing pattern didn’t fully play out through the event, with Buddy Gross capitalizing on his grass fishing prowess to take home his 2nd win on the FLW Tour.
See ANGLR Expert, Shaye Baker’s predictions for this event below:
Going into this event, there was a unique feel in the air, as compared to normal professional events. The Bass Pro Tour from Major League Fishing, hosted their inaugural tournament on Lake Toho and the Kissimmee chain, just days prior to official FLW practice on February 3rd. It is without a doubt that many of the anglers in the FLW field were glued to the MLF Live on Lake Toho to identify productive patterns or areas to have a head-start on their practice for this tournament.
Interesting to note are a few of the patterns that anglers employed to find success in the Bass Pro Tour – seeing the top of the field fish around offshore hydrilla for prespawn bass and watch the last minute heroics from Dustin Connell who also moved to offshore structure to catch a 9-pound, 4-ounce bass, using a 10” Googan Baits Mondo worm.
One of the challenges when coming down to fish in Florida, particularly on a chain of lakes like the Kissimmee Chain, is the decision on where to spend your time. The Kissimmee Chain is made up of 8 main lakes, all of them accessible through small canals or from Lake Toho to Kissimmee via a lock. This dynamic plays a huge role not only in the tournament decisions, but practice as well – trying to determine where to spend your time to be most successful.
While most major tournaments are won out of Kissimmee or Lake Toho; Lake Hatchineha, and smaller areas like Tiger can’t be ignored – as shown by Darrell Davis in this event, who spent a lot of his time in Tiger Lake.
The other major consideration in this decision is whether or not an angler wants to run the risk of locking through Lake Toho. In many large tournaments like this, the lock plays a big role. Only 13-15 boats are allowed to lock through at one time, meaning there is a big time commitment should you decide to lock through. Also, with all locks, you run the risk of issues that could cause you to be late for check-in should you not allocate enough extra time.
The conditions throughout practice had water temperatures pushing towards the mid to upper 60’s. These temperatures are typically an indication that the bass are ready to push shallow and start the spawning process. The challenge however, was that for the first two days of practice, the anglers were faced with overcast skies and wind that made looking for bedding fish a challenge for even the best sight fishermen – it did, however give anglers an opportunity to really explore the offshore grass and pre-spawn staging areas that these big largemouth bass would pull up on.
On Day 3 of practice, the weather broke a bit and anglers had an opportunity to push up shallow to look for beds and spawning areas. Being the first small push of fish onto beds, anglers were hoping that over the next few days, the small male bass that move shallow first, would be accompanied by many of the giant female bass that Florida is known for.
It’s important to note these practice patterns because throughout the course of longer, multi-day events early in the season when fish are in transition, anglers typically have to adjust and put multiple patterns to use to find success at the top of the leaderboard.
Buddy Gross’ consistency throughout the tournament allowed him to quietly separate himself from the rest of the field. While most of the headlines focused on the giant limits of fish or the freak catches throughout the tournament, Buddy simply stayed consistent throughout the tournament and relied upon one small area to carry him to the win – catching limits of 21-7, 20-13, 19-12, and 23-12.
Buddy won by a margin of 4-pound and 10-ounces, over Florida fan-favorite, John Cox, who weighed in over 31 pounds on Day 1 after catching a 10 pound bass within minutes of the takeoff. One of the keys to Buddy’s consistency was the area that he found in practice and was able to expand on throughout the event.
Bass fishermen use the free ANGLR fishing app to constantly improve.
Buddy decided to spend his tournament fishing Lake Toho – on a lake full of shallow grass, Buddy Gross keyed in on a small void or ditch in the hydrilla to hold almost every bass he caught this week. His lone spot was a tiny area that he sat on for almost the entire tournament, only moving his boat to present his bait from different angles in an attempt to re-trigger his school of fish. Buddy’s spot, which he called a “ditch,” was really nothing more than a break in the grass lines – the depth which was 7 foot deep, was the same between the two areas of grass and was just a void in the hydrilla that bass would use to ambush the baitfish as they swam by.
The key to this area however, was that this spot had fish constantly coming and going – the fish were using this as a funnel to transition from pre-spawn to spawn and then back out into the post-spawn and deeper waters.
Buddy Gross’ spot was an offshore “ditch” – a void between two patches of hydrilla – that fish were using to ambush bait as it swam by.
One key characteristic from most of the top finishers was that they relied on small areas to catch the majority of their fish. Crowds were the norm as most of the fish seemed to be grouped up in certain areas of the various lakes throughout the Kissimmee Chain – predominantly a small area on Lake Toho and throughout Lake Kissimmee.
Had the bass been pushed up on beds or been moving shallower throughout the tournament, competitors likely would have been able to spread out. They could have focused on individual bass that were locked on beds, but because of the pre-spawn, the anglers were targeting staging fish. There were small patches of offshore grass that held the bigger bass necessary to be successful.
Below is a look at some of the top areas from the Kissimmee Chain:
When someone thinks of Florida fishing, typically tall round-reeds, dollar pads, and big hyacinth mats come to mind. Most often, especially in the spring, anglers rely on these forms of shallow cover to target the biggest bass in the lake.
In this tournament however, as key as finding good grass was, finding those small areas of hydrilla offshore was extremely important. The bigger bass were staged up, just outside of spawning areas, waiting to pull up onto beds and they were using these small patches of offshore hydrilla as staging points before moving up.
Spawning Bass – Targeting Pad Stems and Round Reeds
Spawning bass, while less of a predominant pattern, and one that seemed to fizzle out as the event went on, was a factor in some of the biggest fish weighed in during the tournament. Fishing for spawning fish was one of the main reasons that anglers’ weights throughout the tournament would fluctuate so much – weighing in a big bag one or two days of the tournament. This is fairly typical during spawning events, because you’re keying in on a few big bites from fish that are on bed, or have moved up on a bed during the event.
Anglers that were bed fishing, found a majority of their success around round reeds and pad stems.
These two pieces of cover provide a hard base that bass will be able to make their beds and spawn around. Pads in particular are held in place underwater by large root systems, which anglers including Scott Martin were seen fishing during their time on FLW Live.
While I wouldn’t necessarily consider swimbaits a predominant bait that many anglers used, it’s the technique that Buddy Gross used to capture his win on Lake Toho. Buddy relied on a variety of Scottsboro Tackle Swimbaits (Natural Shad color) for all but one of his fish – using a 4” Scottsboro Tackle Swimbait on the back of a ½ ounce swim jig, and a 5” model swimbait rigged on an 8/0 Owner Beast Hook 3/8 oz belly-weighted swimbait hook. He was targeting offshore grass beds where bass were pushing up and feeding on baitfish, so using a swimbait and swim jigs gave him a natural offering for his fish.
Chatterbaits were also a predominant bait used this week, in particular, a Z-Man/Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait. Similar to the swimbait technique that Buddy used, anglers would use a vibrating jig to key in on these offshore grass beds – fishing it just above the grass and igniting a reaction bite by ripping it free from the tops of the hydrilla.
Pictured is the Strike King Thunder Cricket (Vibrating Jig) in White and Chartreuse and Green Pumpkin. Both colors played a role this week as anglers targeted bass keying in on Shad and Bluegill around shallow grass.
Weighted Texas-Rigged Worms and Stick Baits
Many of the anglers that were sight fishing or targeting shallow cover used a variety of Texas Rigged Worms and Stick Baits. Darker colors like Junebug and Black and Blue were the most commonly used colors on Lake Toho this week.
The key to this presentation was using the lightest possible weight and pitching the bait to the base of the reeds and pad stems where the fish were spawning. By using a light weight, the angler could work the bait through the reeds without having it get buried into the roots or reed heads. The lighter weight also allowed for a slower fall rate which was key for some of the bigger spawning bass.
Casey Scanlon breaks down how he caught Day 2’s biggest bag of 28-pounds and 2-ounces
Swimming Worms and Buzz-Plastics
Swimming worms and Buzz-Plastics are Florida staple baits, so it is no surprise to see these techniques playing a role in this event. One thing that makes these presentations so successful is that they allow an angler to cover water quickly, while still targeting fish on beds or moving up to spawn.
The new Berkley Powerbait Wind Up was one of John Cox’s main baits this week that he used to target shallow fish just outside of spawning areas. Other key swimming plastics were the Florida-classic, Gambler EZ Swimmer as well as a Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm – mainly in darker colors like Junebug, a classic color when fishing Florida waters.
Did you know you can use ANGLR to uncover the best times to fish based on your own fishing data?
With the 2nd event of the FLW Tour season in the books, we look forward towards the rest of the season. Terry Bolton, the winner of Sam Rayburn event in January, is in the lead of the 2019 AOY race, four points ahead of second place – Joseph Webster.
The next event on the FLW Tour schedule is Lake Seminole in Bainbridge, Georgia, March 7-10. With the way that the weather is setting up, and hitting Seminole on a New Moon, expect it to be another shallow-water slugfest. Tune in to ANGLR.com and our social pages for “Predicting Patterns” from ANGLR Expert, Shaye Baker, and another recap following the tournament.