Once again the tournament season kicks off with a Bassmaster Southern Open to be held on Lake Toho. Last year I predicted anglers would find it difficult to get away from playing the numbers game to focus on big limits and quality bites. Aside from Van Soles, one could say that seemed like a pretty good call.
This year, with one fell swoop of a cold front, everything could get turned upside down. Prior to last year’s tournament the bass had just come off a major spawn and a heavy dose of chemical treatment to Lake Toho.
This year everyone seemed to get things rolling much earlier. In Florida most anglers believe our bass spawn in the first two months of the year. While they would be correct, it is our inconsistent weather that can have them spawning as early as October and as late as August.
This year would be one where the bass have been in an early spawn that started in October with steady waves moving in with each full moon. But the early spawn hasn’t resulted in what most locals would consider easy fishing.
First, our bass on Lake Toho and surrounding lakes haven’t been spawning in their usual areas making it difficult for anyone to actually know that the spawn is happening. The tricky thing about fishing in Florida when bass are spawning is the speeds at which our bass can make the magic happen. In the span of a few hours my clients have been witness to bass feeding frenzies that lasted for a few hours, and then the bass in that area literally disappear. The next day the fish you had are gone and you have to locate new fish on the fly.
Second, the people in charge of managing our lakes actually made an effort to treat the hydrilla earlier than last year. By earlier I mean a month, which isn’t a lot, but considering past actions this was a step in the right direction. The early treatment means more hydrilla has been affected and much of the dying grass is gone rather than simply sinking to the bottom. Anglers looking for offshore opportunities will find it difficult to work with the hydrilla that is still there though. Much of it is soft, stringy hydrilla that isn’t suitable for many presentations, so unless the bass start responding to moving-type baits, open water may not produce even though quality bass are there.
Third, it’s been a good year to be a duck. Late summer and fall have been on the wet side leaving water levels above average for this time of year. Lake levels should not play much of a factor in the fishing for this tournament and may benefit anglers making the right adjustments.
Based on these factors, the recent brutal cold front will completely change what we have been seeing up to this point. The angler who has spent weeks here on the Kissimmee Chain – there are a bunch – will be the most frustrated because, as is with Florida fishing, the pattern will change just days before launch. Water temperatures have been in the low 70s for a couple of weeks but should dip below 60 just before the tournament. Bass that were in open water will finally have a reason to move up shallow into areas that are more conducive to Florida-type fishing. It will also bring a wave of bass that have yet to move up – the big females. While as I said, the bass have been spawning, the larger females that moved up last year just prior to the tournament have yet to do so.
This tournament will be outside the full moon, but I feel this will be a good thing. The last full moon was an overnight full moon and not a daytime moon which affects the fishing during a spawn negatively.
So, my prediction for this year’s Southern Open on Lake Toho will be a sight fishing bonanza for just a few anglers who stick with prefishing shallow water areas. If the weather prediction holds, the first day should be perfect fishing conditions with anglers bringing in many limits. As the tournament gets deeper, more anglers will move shallow and begin to catch many of the post spawn bass and male guarding fry. But another cold front could change everything after Day 1.
This could be one tournament that is won on the first day for the right angler: 25 to 29 pounds on Day 1, 11 to 16 pounds on Day 2 and 10 to 14 pounds on Day 3.
Steve Boyd is a former Marine, tournament competitor and full-time Lake Toho guide with a 21st-place finish in the 2007 Bassmaster Southern Open on Lake Toho. For more information, visit www.floridabassadventures.com.