Heavyweight bass are key to this week's Southern Open #1

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Shaye Baker

The first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open of 2016 heads to Kissimmee Chain of Lakes out of Kissimmee, Fla., Jan. 28-30, where anglers will compete for cash and prizes and also a berth in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.

Kissimmee, Fla. — Central Florida’s winter weather pattern was setting up the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open for another heavyweight slugfest on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Jan. 28-30.

“It has been really warm, but then we got a little bit of a cool snap followed by a cold snap,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Shaw Grigsby. “The fish had been very active. Overall the bass were in really good shape and had really good ‘attitudes’ because they like that warmth.”

When the weather is right, the Kissimmee Chain produces big catches, and that’s exactly what happened during the 2001 Florida Bassmaster Top 150 tournament, which Dean Rojas won with 108 pounds, 12 ounces. His first-round catch weighing 45-2 set the B.A.S.S. single-day record for a five-bass limit. During the 2015 Southern Open at Kissimmee, a cold front rolled in ahead of the tournament, but Elite Series angler Chad Morgenthaler still managed to catch 52-7 in the three competition days to win the January event.

The Kissimmee region has received some rain this winter, but nothing like the deluges that have flooded other parts of the country. “The water conditions are good, and the water is up,” Grigsby said. “There is hydrilla growth and good mats to flip and the water temperatures are good, so it should be a really, really good tournament. I think even if we have a cold snap, you will just have to follow the fish out [to deeper water]. If it’s colder, the bass go offshore, and if it’s warmer, they’re up on the banks.”

The Florida pro predicts the Southern Open competitors will have plenty of options on the Kissimmee Chain, especially if warm weather beckons bass to the shallows. In addition to Lake Tohopekaliga, where takeoffs will take place each day, competitors can traverse canals to reach lakes Kissimmee, Cypress and Hatchineha, so crowding shouldn’t be a problem.

Toho (Lake Tohopekaliga), which spans 22,700 acres and gave up Rojas’ tournament records, ranks 16th on Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes list for 2015.

Grigsby said Lake Kissimmee can be more productive than Toho at on the chain, while Toho sometimes is better. And the canals between the lakes can come into play as well. “You never know until you get there,” he said. The 15-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier said he had not heard any reports during the winter regarding which lake was producing better.

The Kissimmee Chain remains a consistent big-bass fishery every year, according to Grigsby. “I think you are going to see some really big fish caught,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we had a teen [a largemouth weighing 13 or more pounds] come in, but normally it takes a 9-pounder or something like that to earn the big-bass prize.”

He said the keys to victory will be finding unpressured fish and catching some of those heavyweight bass.

“There are going to be a lot of limits caught,” he added, “so getting a 7-, 8- or 9-pounder each day makes a huge difference in your positioning.”

Opens Series contenders who can catch about 17 pounds each of the first two days will have a good chance of making the Top 12 cut for the final round. The winning weight should be close to 60 pounds for three days, said Grigsby, who won the January 2000 Bassmaster Top 150 at Kissimmee with 53-11.

Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. ET at Lakefront Park/Big Toho Marina. Weigh-ins will be held at 3 p.m. ET at Lakefront Park/Big Toho Marina the first two days, with the final weigh-in on Day 3 taking place at the Bass Pro Shops in Orlando, Fla., at 4 p.m.
The local hosts for the event are Visit Kissimmee and the Central Florida Sports Commission.

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