KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The 12 boats launched for the final day of the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open split up in groups as they left Big Toho Marina this morning.
There are three places on the Kissimmee Chain where the majority of fish were caught, and the anglers were headed back to them. One is in Lake Toho and two in Lake Kissimmee, and most of the anglers will be fishing within sight of their competitors.
Leader Gerald Swindle, who has totaled 55 pounds, 5 ounces through two days, and fellow Elite angler Terry Scroggins are fishing roughly 800 yards apart in Lake Toho. Scroggins, who started Day Three in seventh, has been fishing within sight of Swindle the entire event.
Larry Cahan, Ott Defoe and Cliff Prince, fourth, fifth and 10th, respectively, again expect to be within shouting distance of one another on Lake Kissimmee. Defoe brought a 29-11 bag on Day Two, so he knows big fish are in the area.
"We've been fishing a bunch of bedding fish in one area, and they really came on yesterday," Defoe said. "It's not as cold as we thought it might be today, so we'll all be in there chasing the same fish. Cliff was already in there when I got there yesterday and Larry didn't come in until around 9 a.m. because he had a later flight, but we're all leaving at the same time today, so we should all have the same amount of time to fish the spot."
Elite Bobby Lane and Trevor Fitzgerald, second and third, are also heading to a bedding area on Lake Kissimmee's east shore.. Northwest winds at 10 to 15 mph may muddy up that shoreline, but the two still think that spot will hold out.
Swindle didn't expect to do so well in the tournament given what he found in practice. Everything he knew about bass in Florida waters told him that there should be fish staging for the spawn in deeper water, so that's the pattern he committed to. It paid off. "I only had a couple of bites in practice, but I knew that they lived in the area and they'd likely group up before they moved shallow," Swindle said. "I just tried to do my best, and in this case, it happened for me."
After coming to the weigh-in on Day Two, Defoe knew it was the right move to trust the typical Florida January spawning pattern. That was a tough call after a poor showing in practice. "The largest fish I caught in practice was two and a half pounds," he said. "There were beds in the area and we had the full moon, so I just had to have confidence those fish were going to come in. Around midday on Day One, I started seeing fish pushing up onto the beds, and it's gotten better every day since then."
Swindle has the dubious honors of winning over a $1 million in his career and a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, but he's never won a B.A.S.S. tournament. He was in the lead on the final day of a tournament out of Smith Lake last year when his day went down the tubes. He holds a 3-pound, 4-ounce lead today. "I've been here before, and I can't do anything about it. I'm just sitting on a spot, if they bite, they bite, I can't do anything to make them bite," he said.
Swindle is fishing in Lake Toho, where he has an offshore bite that has allowed him to bring over 30 pounds to the scale on Day One and over 24 pounds on Day Two, so he feels confident that the fish he needs to win are still in that location.
While he may have a cavalier attitude about the bite, deep down, he desperately wants his first win. "I always want it, don't misunderstand that part of it, but I know getting upset won't help," he said. "I've been steadily improving in Florida and learning to offshore fish more. A lot of it's just understanding fish and knowing how to catch them." "I think wins come the best and the easiest to people when they don't expect them. You just go out fishing and it all comes together. So that's what I'm going to do today, just go fishing."
Cliff Patrick is in fifth place in the co-angler division, just 2-14 out of the lead in his second event. "I'm from Sanford, Fla., and this is one of my favorite lakes," he said. "I fish it all the time and usually like to fish topwater. All my fish yesterday came on a Devil's Horse topwater plug."
Patrick drew Bobby Lane as his partner for the final day. All of Lane's fish have been on the beds where sight casting with worms, tubes and craws are the order of the day. "I expect to be pitching to beds or holes most of the day. I'll do whatever it takes, but at some point in the day I'm going to make at least a few casts with my Devil's Horse," Patrick said. "It's worked for me so far."
Marlon Crowder of Tampa, Fla., who is fishing the final day with leader Gerald Swindle, is in eighth. He has been fishing bedding fish all week and now will fish for bass in a deep water staging pattern. "If they're there, I like my chances," Crowder said. "In this type of fishing, I get to fish a lot of water that the angler in the front hasn't already covered."
Crowder is a regular co-angler in Bassmaster events, and has placed second twice, once on the Harris Chain, and once on Okeechobee. "I've got a lot of water to fish," Crowder said. "If they're there, I like my chances. I'm tired of second place."
Lake Kissimmee regular Bobby Lane spent Day Two fishing bedding fish in shallow water only to find holding his boat in place was going to be tougher than expected. Early in the morning, Lane's twin transom mounted Power Poles stopped working. "These Power Poles are so important any more, they're like you're depth finder in that if you lose use of it you are definitely handicapped," Lane said. "Fortunately for me I was in shallow water so I could drop my big motor down and hold my boat in place. You don't realize how much you need them until they don't work."
After weighing in his fish on Day Two, Lane immediately went to the service area where workers tried to find the problem. His boat remained there until 7 p.m., when then finally got the shallow water anchoring system functional.
"They're definitely going to come in handy today with this northwest wind," said Lane. "I'm on the east side of Lake Kissimmee directly in the wind, so I'll be using them all day. "