2014 Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #1 presented by Allstate
Lake Tohopekaliga - Kissimmee, FL, Jan 23 - 25, 2014

Always have a strong backup plan

Photo courtesy of Joey Nania
Joey Nania found a great pattern in practice, but it didn't hold up throughout the competition.

As I sit here and watch the snow fall from my house in Cropwell, Ala., I have a whole new respect for how much severe cold fronts affect southern bass.

Just last week at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Allstate on Lake Toho, a series of cold fronts hit the area, throwing a serious curve ball for me and many other anglers competing in the event.

Experienced anglers know that cold fronts, even in Florida, do happen, especially in the often unpredictable month of January. But few of the 200 boaters and 200 co-anglers were prepared for the turn of events that unfolded leading up to and throughout the event.

What I learned from the first stop of the 2014 Bassmaster Opens trail was that locking in on one pattern can end up locking you out of the winner’s circle.

When I arrived in Kissimmee, Fla., for practice, three different patterns were running through my head, each of which seemed to have potential to win the tournament. My first choice — and one of my absolute favorite things to do — was sight fishing. This technique of covering water on the trolling motor searching for big fish locked on beds is a proven winner if the conditions set up for it.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that no such pattern was going to prevail at this season’s event. Just one year ago during the exact same week on the exact same body of water, numerous big bass could be found and caught by sight fishing. The big change was the water temperature difference of almost 10 degrees from the previous year, putting the bass in full prespawn mode, ready to pull up into the shallow spawning areas as soon as the weather stabilized.

Looking ahead in the forecast, it was obvious that no such stabilization was going to occur. So with my excitement for site fishing cleared from my mind, my focus turned to the actual winning pattern from a year ago, punching thick matted vegetation.

Florida fishing is known for being all about the vegetation. Most of the lakes, especially Lake Toho and the Kissimmee Chain, are jam-packed with more types of vegetation than you can count. This can be very overwhelming if you don’t know what you are looking for. Fortunately for me and much of the field, it has been well-documented that prespawn fish plus a snap of cold weather equal an excellent opportunity to flip and pitch heavy tungsten weights through the thickest vegetation you can find.

Understanding that you are searching for thick matted vegetation really narrows down the search on such a large grass-filled body of water. My search began where the tournament was won the previous year on beautiful Lake Kissimmee, after a long run in my Nitro Z-8 powered by my 250HP Mercury engine. Knowing how the tournament was won last year, I immediately started covering miles of the lake looking for areas that held what is often the key vegetation to find — water hyacinth. Hyacinth mats create perfect cover for bass that are looking to absorb some heat near the surface.