Crowded field for the first Open of 2013

KISSIMMEE, FLORIDA -- When you have nearly 200 anglers and another 200 co-anglers fishing in one tournament, you’re bound to get a wide variety of responses to the question “What’s the key to winning this thing?”

But here at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #1 on Lake Tohopekaliga in central Florida, there appears to be a trio of factors being mentioned by most.

First and foremost is the fishing pressure, which seems obvious because of the sheer number of anglers entered in this three-day event. So what do a lot of the entrants plan to do to find some space? Well, they plan to make a run to Lake Kissimmee, which involves going through a locking process, which can only allow a certain number of boats through at a time. Thus, the waiting game will be tedious for those anglers who took off in later flights.

And last, but surely not least, anglers are saying the weather could play a factor in the outcome of this Southern Open. Temperatures in the Kissimmee area were well into the 80s on Wednesday afternoon, but a front moved through the area overnight on Thursday morning, which brought with it some pretty brisk winds and decreasing temperatures. The thermometer read in the mid-50s when the anglers launched from Big Toho Marina at 7 a.m. and weren’t expected to climb out of the 60s today.

Florida pro Terry Scroggins, who is as familiar with Lake Toho as any angler in the field, said all three factors will come into play, but he’s worried about one more than any other.

“There’s a bunch of factors today,” he said. “Weather is a factor, the lock situation is another. But mainly, you’ve got 200 boats trying to fish all in the same area. I’ve fished here the last month or so and it’s been really good. But if you go around those mats that I’ve been fishing, it looks like a superspeedway. There’s no grass at all. People have been running circles around them. So it’s torn up pretty good right now. So, I think the fishing pressure is the big factor in this deal. I tried to find some stuff out of the way. I think I have a few. We’ll just see what happens.”

Mississippi pro Paul Elias echoed Scroggins’ sentiments.

“I found several bedding areas, but I’ve been shaking fish off,” he said. “I don’t really know what to expect. I got a few bites one day, not so many another day. Pressure could be a big deal. I think I’m going to be in a really crowded area. There will be a luck factor involved, some guys should get some big bites. But guys like Terry, Bobby Lane, they should blow this thing out.”

Scroggins would like that to be the case, but the lack of vegetation in Toho has him a bit concerned. He took off eighth Thursday morning, so he plans to lock down before the rest of the crowd can join him.

“It’s an open event, so there’s no limit on (practice) fishing, so a lot of these guys have been down here for a week or better. There were biting on those mats in Toho) and everyone knew it. The mats were thick. We don’t have that problem now.”

Despite drawing number 180, Georgia’s Carroll Blevins plans to make his way to Kissimmee, though he’ll have to wait a while to lock down to that lake.

“You have to lock down in a decent time,” he said. “They’re saying 80 percent of the field is going to Kissimmee, and I definitely feel that’s where the tournament can be won. I’m gonna try it on Toho, to kill a couple hours. Then I’ll see how the lock looks.”

Georgia’s Brett Self will get a much earlier start to the locks, though he said the practice bite should determine who will win the event.

“The people that have spent some time here, the ones that have been getting some bites, that’s been in (Lake) Kissimmee. So a lot of people will be locking down….If the practice went well, I think people can get a few bites. The key is whether the bites are quality or not. Granted, Toho has the potential to produce a great sack. Really and truly, it’s going to be who has the most consistent bite for their type of fishing.”

Louisiana’s Brent Bonadura said his practice was a hit or miss affair, but knows that this fishery can produce lunkers if all things go his way.

“It’ll take some weight to win it, for sure,” Bonadura said. “This is Toho. Somebody will catch them big. They always do.”